November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Bob Marley/Retro

By Jonathan Evans

Twenty-Ten recently saw the nineteenth anniversary of the death of one of the most exciting and revolutionary musicians of the second half of the twentieth century.  In the field of popular music, he’s right up there with The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley.  Of the above, only Dylan, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still survive. Sadly, Bob Marley is not among them.  He died back in 1981, aged only thirty six — but perhaps the most interesting thing about him is the fact that he is way bigger now than when he died.  His songs and message just keep on spreading and growing in stature.  His music is still played massively all over the world, in Africa, Indonesia, India, the States and Europe; in Jamaica he has achieved god-like status and there are statues erected to him all over that island.

Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the leadsinger, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands, The Wailers (1964–1974) and Bob Marley and the Wailers (1974–1981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican reggae music and the Rastafarian religion to a worldwide audience.

Marley’s best known hits include “I Shot the Sheriff”, “No Woman, No Cry”, “Could You Be Loved”, “Stir It Up”, “Jammin”, “Redemption Song”, “One Love” and “Exodus”.  The album Legend, released three years after his death, has sold more than twenty million copies across the world, and just keeps on selling.

Marley started out in Jamaica playing ska music in the Wailers with some local success, but signed with Island Records in 1974 and combined the Jamaican shuffle rhythm with a hot rock backing to virtually create what is now called reggae.  Early on, Eric Clapton recorded a rather limp version of “I Shot the Sheriff” which focused public attention on Marley, who went on to record eleven albums during his short lifetime.  He was a charismatic performer, his long dreadlocks swinging wildly as he sang, and I was lucky to hear him in concert several times.  I’ll never forget seeing him perform at a huge bull-ring show in Ibiza, Spain, with a brilliant full-moon rising up over the rim of the arena as he came on stage to sing “Get up, Stand up” to an explosive roar from the crowd.  I caught him again in London, and three times in New York.  There, fearlessly posing as a High Times Magazine reporter at a press conference, I even met him once and got to talk with him and then hung out with his band, The Wailers, in the dressing room at the Apollo Theater in Harlem after the show.  He was short and intense and it was hard not to be intimidated by his obvious power.  For Bob Marley’s message was always a universal one, not only aimed at Whitey the oppressor, but aimed at oppression existing everywhere.  When I first heard the song “Exodus” in 1977, an incredibly powerful track exhorting all people to leave Babylon and to go to a new Promised Land, I remember thinking that change was in the air.  Marley combined a powerful Messianic message with a fabulous reggae disco beat  surely, nothing could be the same again!  I was naïve and mistaken of course — music might change the way people think but it doesn’t overthrow systems.  The sixties demonstrated that clearly.  But Marley planted the seeds of change where they had never existed before, and over the past two decades, his influence is felt more strongly than ever.

Rastafarianism, the fundamentalist, herb-smoking religion that he expounded, is still strong in Jamaica but its presence in more developed countries looks to be little more than a fad attitude.  Dreadlocks and biblical platitudes cover a multitude of beliefs and sins, and these days, outside of parts of London, Africa and even India, it is hard to see expounders of this faith as more than making a fashion statement.

The music is something else though. As well as writing militant political songs, hedemonst rated over and over again his generous sensitivity by writing and recording some of music’s most impassioned and moving love songs.  “No Woman, No Cry” and “Waiting in Vain” have outstanding melodies coupled with some of the most soulful and expressive lyrics and singing ever.  For a period in the mid to late seventies, he seemed unstoppable to those of us who listened and cared.  He exemplified the voice of the Third World underdog and had enormous critical and commercial success.  But life caught up with him quickly; he developed a melanoma  that killed him just as he hit his prime.

Since Marley’s death, there have been many other reggae stars but none have reached out to cross borders, races and cultures in the way that he did.  He sang to all people and addressed issues which affect us all and still show no sign of being resolved.  As Bob Marley’s message is spread further and further worldwide, there will come a time when his words cannot be ignored.  People must never be judged by their color as they still are all over the world (think about it — how crazy and evil that is!) and one day, a world of equality based on love and mutual respect will surely prevail.  His sons and daughters are all musicians with greater or lesser success, and although none of them have his original vision, his philosophy is still getting out there through them.

“— Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war

That until there are no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war

That until the basic human rights are equally
Guaranteed to all, without regard to race
Dis a war

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion
To be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war, war —”

(Bob Marley- ‘War’)