Marley: his magic, music, legacy

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By Claude Mills/YardFlex Reporter

'I feel like bombing a church
now that you know that the preacher is lying.'

LegendBobMarley.jpgI wish I had met this great man face to face. However, as a rabid fan of Marley's music, I'm glad I never met him, or got the chance to form prejudices about this artiste who was well ahead of his time. Therefore, the mystique of the man will stay with me forever, despite the millions of words that have been penned and countless tomes painstakingly constructed, in his honour.

Certainly, the man who wrote the incendiary words italicised above was no ordinary singer or performer, but a man who - even under the influence of his favourite plant - was able to mesmerise and bring under his influence thousands through his soul-searing, energy-filled performances.

There is an ineffable something about Marley that I cannot deny, maybe if I could

figure Bob out, if I could box him in and categorise him then his magic, essence and power would wither and die, but I cannot, and therein lies his enduring charm.

Marley was born on Jamaica to a young black mother and an older white father in February 1945. A precocious musician, a teenaged Marley recorded his first song, 'Judge Not' in 1962, but afterwards, formed a vocal trio in 1963 with friends Neville "Bunny" O'Riley Livingston (later Bunny Wailer) and Peter McIntosh (later Peter Tosh). The group members had grown up in Trench Town, a ghetto neighborhood of Kingston, listening to rhythm and blues on American radio stations. They had been influenced by such names as Ray Charles, the Drifters, and Fats Domino.

The group christened themselves the Wailing Wailers (shortened to the Wailers) because they were ghetto sufferers who'd been born "wailing." The trio began to practise Rastafarianism - a sect that revered Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (a.k.a. Ras Tafari) as a black Messiah. As practicing Rastas, they grew their hair in dreadlocks and smoked ganja (marijuana), believing it to be a sacred herb that brought enlightenment. Rastafarians took their name from Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie's title before he was crowned emperor in 1930, described in legend as a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who ruled 2,000 years ago

On February 10, 1966, Bob Marley and Alpharita ("Rita") Constantia Anderson got married. The union produced five children.
The Wailers recorded prolifically for small Jamaican labels throughout the Sixties, during which time ska - Jamaican dance music that drew from African rhythms and New Orleans R&B - was the hot sound. The Wailers had their first hit in 1963 with "Simmer Down," and they went on to record 30 sides in the "rude boy" ska style for Jamaican soundman Coxsone Dodd's Studio One.

As the music evolved from the bouncy ska beat to the more plaintive, sensual rhythms of rock steady, Marley struck up an with Jamaican producer Lee Perry resulted in some of the Wailers' memorable recordings, including "Soul Rebel" and "Duppy Conqueror," and the albums Soul Rebel and Soul Revolution. It was a remarkable time in Jamaican music history with the classic heavyweight lineup featuring Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett.

Though the Wailers were popular in Jamaica, it was not until the group signed with Chris Blackwell's Island Records in the early 1970s that they found an international audience. After Catch a Fire (1972) and Burnin' (1973), Marley raised eyebrows but it was not until May 10, 1975 that he gained commercial success when his Natty Dread became the first album by Marley and the Wailers to make the U.S. charts, reaching #92.

On May 13, 1976, 'Rastaman Vibration,' by Bob Marley and the Wailers -and featuring an American, Don Kinsey, on lead guitar - was released. It became Marley's highest-charting album, reaching #8 in the U.S. and #15 in the U.K.

Marley was on his way to international stardom, but life would throw him a curve ball when there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt back in his homeland of Jamaica. When intruders entered the Marley compound on December 3, 1976, two days before the historic 'Smile Jamaica' peace concert at the National Stadium, little did the players in that early morning drama know that they would set in motion a series of events that would propel Bob Marley into the international spotlight. Though Bob and Rita Marley were grazed by bullets, they electrified a crowd of 80,000 people when both took to the stage with the Wailers on the 5th - a gesture of survival that only heightened Marley's legend.

In fact, he was so influential a cultural icon at that time in Jamaica that Time magazine proclaimed in an editorial that, "He rivals the government as a political force."

Still, the assassination attempt scarred him physically and emotionally. In a SUN newspaper article dated February 10, 1978, Bob Marley was quoted as saying: 'That shooting may be the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to leave Jamaica. I still can't go back because the men who tried to kill me have never been arrested. They might try again.'

After the shooting in '76, Marley went into a 14-month period of exile, and a period of intense creativity during which the albums, 'Exodus' (1977), the brilliant 'Survival'(1979) released at a time of great political turbulence and social unrest in Africa, were unleashed on an unsuspecting world. At the historic 'One Love Peace Concert' on April 21, 1978 on the 12th anniversary of Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica, his popularity grew. He convinced JLP leader Edward Seaga and late former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley to shake hands. Later, he was summoned to the United Nations in New York and given a UN Peace Medal.

However, the fearsome hoofbeats of doom soon thundered into Marley’s life. In 1977, surgeons removed part of a toe that had been injured in a soccer game, upon which a cancerous growth was found. This led to the discovery of spreading cancer in 1980, after Marley collapsed while jogging in Central Park. The cancer would claim his life less than a year later, but not without a fight.

According to the book 'Chanting Down Babylon', in April 1980 Marley was invited to headline the Independence celebrations in Zimbabwe. He was the only performer on the main stage that night, squadrons of jets screamed overhead and 21 cannons were fired. Thousands of freedom fighters broke down the gates to enter the Harare National Stadium as he sang 'Zimbabwe', from the album 'Survival'.'

On September 21, 1980, Bob Marley performed the final show of his career, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The tour's remaining dates were canceled as Marley sought treatment for his spreading cancers. Marley was buried on the island with full state honors on May 21, 1981.

Here's a list of his international influences: Johnny Nash re-recorded 'Stir It 'in 1971, and it hit the UK charts in '72. Amnesty International used the single 'Get Up, Stand Up' as its anthem, features Peter Tosh on vocals. Another Marley creation, 'I Shot the Sheriff', was recorded by the legendary rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton and gave Clapton his first number one US single. The

anti-racist 'War', with lyrics taken from a speech by Emperor Haile Selassie made in California on February 28, 1978 became an unofficial anthem of the guerrilla fighters in South Africa.

On October 4, 1980, Stevie Wonder's tribute to Bob Marley, the reggaefied "Master Blaster (Jammin')," entered the singles charts, eventually topping the R&B chart for seven weeks and peaking at #5 on the pop chart.

In a savage twist that Tuff Gong himself would have smiled at, Marley's pacifist reggae anthem, "One Love," was adapted as a theme song by the Jamaican Tourist Board, a remarkable about-face for a society where Rastafarians and their music had once been reviled and suffered physical abuse at the hands of the agents of the Jamaican government,

Marley's 'Zimbabwe' tune was inspirational to the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA) freedom fighters.The electronic drum machine employed on a version of 'No Woman No Cry' qualified that single as a widely regarded rock classic.

The hurricane relief concert in London in 1988 used 'Smile Jamaica' as its theme

song. Bob Marley Day is celebrated in Toronto and in Zimbabwe, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Berkley and Washington D.C.

In Addis Ababa, he is thought of as a modern reincarnation of the ancient Ethiopian church leader, the Holy Yared. Marley struggled in favour of history in defending Emperor Haile Selassie even in the dark days when it was almost considered as a subversive act to utter the name Selassie I. Marxist officers overthrew Selassie's feudal government in 1974 and he died a year later. Under dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu, whose government killed tens of thousands of its critics, it was taboo to speak of the emperor, or of his family, who were exiled until Mengistu was himself toppled in 1991. In a fitting twist of poetic justice, Marley's 60th birthday anniversary was celebrated in Ethiopia, last year.The celebrations move to the west African nation of Ghana which will host this year's Africa Unite Bob Marley celebration show. Plans are in the pipeline to stage the Bob Marley 62nd birthday celebrations in South Africa in 2007.

On a mountainside above Lima, Peru, carved in huge letters, are the words 'Bob Marley is King'. Maori, Tongan and Samoan islanders have formed a band called Herbs to sing Bob's 'songs of freedom'.

In 2001, on Bob Marley Day in Hollywood, the late reggae superstar claimed his own bit of real estate in the land of the rich and famous. He was accorded the 2171st star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by the Hollywood Historic Trust and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce during a ceremony of pomp and pageantry of which the reggae king was totally worthy. According to a Gleaner article written by Andrew Clunis published February 8, 2001, "significant of the nature of the man, the massive gathering could have represented the United Nations, as Rastas of all nationalities and general fans from all walks of life transformed 7081 Hollywood Boulevard into a kaleidoscope of red, gold and green".

Such was the awesome force of the man!

Bob Marley is indeed one of the greatest artistes of all music forms of the 20th century. Marley's influence on the worldwide music scene is undeniable, having been inducted in Rolling Stone's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 19, 1994, a first for any artiste from a Third World nation. Bono of U2 was his presenter, and Rita Marley accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.

He was also dubbed Time magazine's artiste of the century, and One Love was dubbed 'Song of the Millennium' . Marley's Legend album, which features some of the most popular Bob Marley & the Wailers standards, is by far the largest selling Jamaican album internationally, selling over 10 million copies in the United States.

Marley combined his own particular spirituality with his intimate knowledge of the deprivation and social injustice which, to some extent, still exist in local ghettos. Marley's lyrics are all at once a call to political action, rebellion, religious mysticism and universal love and brotherhood delivered in hypnotic rhythms that carry an unmistakable signature.

He will not be forgotten. Ever.