11 May 2006
It was exactly 35 years today May 11th 2016 when Bob Marley-a reggae music icon and international star died. Marley’s name keeps on resonating because of his contributions in projecting reggae music and his country (Jamaica) unto the world stage. He was born Robert Nesta Marley in Rhoden Hall Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. His absentee father was a white British captain and his mother Cedella Booker was a black Jamaican.
Robert Nesta Marley left school at the age of 14 to learn welding. It was during the time he spent in the welding workshop that he came across like-minded and musically talented youths like Bunny Livingston and Peter McIntosh with whom he later joined to form a band in 1963 initially called ‘Teenage Boys’. When his peers at the time taunted him about his mixed race status, Marley replied; “I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-cast or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.” Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny were later to change the name of their band to ‘The Wailers’. They released successful albums including ‘catch a fire’ and ‘Burnin’ before they split in 1974 to pursue their respective solo careers.
Bob Marley & The Wailers was the name Bob gave his own band. He teamed up with talented people like Junior Marvin, The Barret Brothers and the I Threes (comprising wife Rita, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths) to distinguish his band from the crowd of Jamaican reggae artists. His success was phenomenal as he released album after album that topped the charts and sold millions of copies. Rastaman Vibration was released in 1976, Exodus 1977, Babylon by Bus 1978 and Uprising in 1980. Time Magazine named Exodus as ‘the greatest album of the 20th century’.
Bob Marley’s music was usually laden with messages on themes such as love, equality, revolution, unity, freedom and religion. He was converted from Christianity to Rastafarianism in 1967. The Rastas believe that Haile Selassie I (late Ethiopian king) was the living God, that smoking marijuana had beneficial ‘spiritual’ effect. Rastas are proud of the black race and most do not comb their hair that usually turns into what they call dreadlocks.
Bob Marley was such a unique person that his speech was easily understood when he was singing than when he was speaking. I remember watching one of is musical videos that had interludes of interviews in between the songs. I could clearly understand everything he sang in the lyrics but hardly could I grasp what he was saying during the interview. His music practically infected youths in the Americas, Europe, Africa and beyond. “If you get down and quarrel everyday, you are saying a prayer to the devil”. “One good thing about music [is that] when it hits you feel no pain.” “I and I gonna liberate Zimbabwe”. These and many other meaningful comments that appear in the lyrics of his songs and touching on issues of the time brought Marley nearer to the hearts of his audience. Marley’s songs were used to boost the morale of soldiers fighting the white minority regime of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the late seventies. He was eventually invited to come and stage in Zimbabwe at the dawn of independence in 1980 in recognition of his contribution to the liberation struggle.
Bob Marley died on the 11th of May 1981 at the age of 36 in Miami, Florida after losing a battle against cancer. “Money can’t buy life” were his last words to his son. He was given a state burial in Jamaica. Bob has a long list of awards including the 1978 United Nations Medal for Peace. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. “Everywhere I go in the world, Bob Marley is the symbol of freedom.” Said Jack Healey-a former Amnesty International USA executive director and current head of Human Rights Action Center.
Njei Moses Timah
Originally published in May 2006
Njei Moses Timah