Wednesday, May 14, 2014

“Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers”

The former British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which was renamed Rhodesia in 1964, gained independence on April 17, 1980. The country was renamed Zimbabwe, the name of an ancient African Empire which once ruled these lands. The newly independent country’s new leaders invited Bob Marley, the reggae legend, to perform at the Independence Ceremony. It is said that the first official words spoken in the newly independent country were, “ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) was born in Nine Mile, Jamaica, on February 6, 1945. In the late 1950s, he moved to Trench Town, a low income community of squatter settlement and government yards developments. Despite its bad reputation as a center of unsavory trades, Trench Town was a cultural hub. This helped the early music career of Bob Marley. The Jamaican music industry was also in its nascent stage, giving rise to an indigenous Jamaican musical style named ska. The poor youth of the country found solace from their harsh lives in this music.
Bob Marley live in concert in Dalymount Park on 6 July 1980 (Pic by Eddie Mallin)
The mid 1960s were a significant period in Bob Marley’s career. In 1963, along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Marley created a music group. They experimented with music as well as a name to their band, ultimately ending up with “The Wailers” as its name. Members came in and went out, but the band remained and produced reggae music over the years. Initially they were not very successful, but in the 1970s their music broke into the world stage, especially after their first album with Island Records, “Catch a Fire” was released in 1973.

It was in the mid 1960s that Bob Marley started to follow Rastafari Movement, an African based spiritual ideology. Its adherents worship Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I and believe that Africans living elsewhere should return to Africa. It seeks a way out of Babylon, the term given by Rastafai believers to oppression, materialism and other evils of society. They hope to return to Zion, which is Ethiopia, where they believe to be the original birthplace of humankind.

Bob Marley’s songs are abundant with reference to evils of materialism (e.g. Concrete Jungle), belief in the Living God (Jah) Ras Tafari the Ethiopian emperor (e.g. Forever Loving Jah), his past experiences is Trench Town (e.g. No Woman No Cry), African unity (e.g. Africa Unite), the oppression to which the African people were subjected to (e.g. Buffalo Soldier), slavery (e.g. Redemption Song) and peace (e.g. One Love).

Marley practiced what he preached and this is one reason why his songs attracted millions of people. He was the single most effective Ambassador of Rastafari Movement in Jamaica and elsewhere. It had a profound impact, not only in Africa but elsewhere. One event which clearly showed the Marley effect was in New Zealand in 1978 when the Maoris greeted him with a dance reserved for foreign dignitaries. Bob Marley’s manager Don Taylor later stated that it was “one of my most treasured memories of the impact of Bob and reggae music on the world.”

In the 1970s, Jamaica was a politically divided society with the rivalry between the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) and opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) resulting in many political deaths especially at election time. In December 1976, a Bob Marley concert named “Smile Jamaica” was organized to ease tension. Two days prior to the event, on December 3, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on his life. Assailants shot at his home, injuring Marley, his wife Rita and manager Taylor. Marley’s injuries were not severe but the other two had to undergo surgery. Taylor’s wounds were critical but he survived. However, Marley reportedly said that “the people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?” and the concert was held as planned.

However, several months later, Marley went to London. It was there that both Exodus and Kaya albums were released. Exodus transformed Marley into an international star. The title song “Exodus” remained in UK Charts for 56 weeks. His songs “Running away” and “Time will Tell” from Kaya album were stark, haunting reminders of the assassination attempt.

Back in Jamaica, Marley held another political concert titled “One Love Peace Concert” on April 22, 1978. The concert’s most memorable scenario was when Marley summoned JLP leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley onstage. As the Wailers pumped out the rhythm to “Jamming”, Marley urged the politicians to shake hands. He raised their arms aloft for all to see, and chanted “Jah Rastafari!” Despite this act, a look of reluctance was seen in both faces of the politicians. The 1980 election was marred in violence, in which more than 800 people died. JLP recorded a landslide victory and Seaga became Prime Minister. Jamaica has moved forward from that age and today the political environment is much more peaceful.

Bob Marley was a victim of cancer, and died on May 11, 1981. Earlier, Marley turned down his doctors' advice to have his toe amputated, citing his religious beliefs. Despite his illness, he continued in his work till the end. He was given a state funeral and was buried at Nine Mile, his place of birth. “Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation” Prime Minister Seaga stated in a fitting eulogy.

Bob Marley Quotes

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but our self can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.”
(From: “Redemption Song”)

“Time alone, oh, time will tell
Ya think you're in heaven, but ya living in hell”
(From: “Time Alone”)

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned
Everywhere is war”
(From: “War” Adopted from a speech by Emperor Haile Selassie I at the UN General Assembly)

“Open your eyes and look within
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
We know where we're going; we know where we're from
We're leaving Babylon, we're going to our fatherland”
(From: “Exodus”)

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