The honourable Robert Nesta Marley was buried today May 21 1981, exactly 33 years ago. He died 10 days earlier on May 11 and that is the day the Music died. The Man and his legacy however, will live on forever.
I still remember the first time I heard Bob’s song “One Love/People Get Ready”. It was in downtown Bamenda (Cameroon) in the small student room of a dear friend who loved reggae music like crazy. I had heard some other Marley tunes so could easily recognize his soulful voice but I still had to crosscheck.
“Who played that song? I asked
“And what is the title?”
“One Love/People Get Ready”. My friend Walters liked to prove he knew everything and so gave me the full title of the song. He could sing the song back to back.
“Which album is that?” I was still in secondary school but had four Bob Marley albums already and wanted to buy as many as I could.
“Legend” Walters said knowingly.
I bought the album the very next day
Many people might disagree but “One Love” to me is an embodiment of the soul, the essence and relevance of the music of the first ever third world reggae superstar Robert Nesta Marley-known to most people simply as Bob Marley.
Speaking during his state funeral in 1981, the then Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga declared;
“His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation”
Before Usain Bolt, there was Bob Marley. The world’s fastest man from Jamaica captured the world’s imagination with his feet, Bob Marley did the same thing with his guitar and his coarse sounding voice. Bob has sold more than 100 million singles and albums, a record for any Jamaican singer
In 2012, Jamaica, Bob’s country of birth and the tiny Caribbean Island with only 2.9 million people celebrated its’ 50th anniversary of independence from British rule. The country has a simple motto, “Out of many, one People”. The motto stands for everything its first superstar also stood for; Love, Unity and togetherness.
In 2012, media consultant Roifield Brown, did a series of podcast named “How Jamaica conquered the world” that adequately capture the essence and influence of the life and culture of the small island nation on the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, he devoted two episodes of the 26 he did in total to the country’s most famous son, Bob Marley.
Bob Marley inspired a lot of Jamaicans and he started the revolution that made the island an influential country on earth today” one of the speakers in the podcast says about the role Bob played in making Jamaica one of the smallest but best known country’s on earth.
The best way to understand the man and his music is to listen carefully to the large catalogue of music he left behind.
In “concrete jungle”, Bob rails about the difficulties people encounter on a daily basis in big cities; most of the problems he faced when he moved from Nine miles where he was born to the jungle that was (and still is) Kingston, the Jamaican capital
“No chains around my feet,
But I’m not free, oh-ooh!
I know I am bound here in captivity;
G’yeah, now (never, never) I’ve never known happiness is” (concrete Jungle)
Bob critical gaze examined most aspects of life in Jamaica and around the world including the university system. For someone who did not attend regular school and only had elementary education, he was still aware universities are not the pivots of intellectualism and development as they should be. He indicated his scorn for some university education in “Babylon system”.
Babylon system is the vampire, yea! (vampire)
Suckin’ the children day by day, yeah!
Me say: de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Suckin’ the blood of the sufferers, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah! –
Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
Me say them graduating’ thieves and murderers;
Look out now: they suckin’ the blood of the sufferers. (Babylon system)
Bob even found time to write about love and the everyday issues we all face in the drudgery of our daily lives.
“The road of Life is rocky and you may Stumble too
While you’re pointing your fingers, someone else is judging you” (Could you be Loved)
A staunch defendant of the rights of the oppressed, Bob believed in the wisdom and overriding influence of an omnipotent God. He believed bloodthirsty politicians who do not care for the common man and only remember them during elections time will pay for their “crimes” eventually
“ someone will have to pay
For the innocent blood
That they shed ever day, oh children mark my word
It’s what the bible say Yeah! Yeah” (We and them)
In “Who the cap fits”, Bob cautions people against “hypocrites and parasites” ready to “take a bite” only when things are good and disappear immediately things turn sour. The song is a cautionary tale against having fake or false friends
“Some will eat and drink with you,
Then behind them su-su ‘pon you.
Only your friend know your secrets,
So only he could reveal it.
And who the cap fit, let them wear it!” (Who the cap Fits)
A product of a white father and a black mother, Bob was never comfortable in his own skin. He regarded himself as a full blown black man even if his skin colour was not black. Not one to be beaten down, Bob expressed his annoyance with class and race divisions and chose a speech presented by Ethiopian king and head of Rastafarism (Rastafarism was named after him; Rastafari ) at the UN to protests against racism
Until there is 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 (War)
Bob did not only rail against evil popiticians and their bad “Babylon systems”. He was also a passionate womanizer and had more than twelve children with different women. Most threw themselves at him and his wife Rita, with whom he had three children grudgingly accepted there was nothing she could do to stop his womanizing. In her own words in Kevin MacDonald’s 2012 documentary Marley, she became Bob’s guiding angel choosing the women for him. She thought if she could not stop his womanizing, she should at least have a choice in the kind of women he had. 33 years after his death, Rita and his many children are keeping the legend alive and gave him a fitting tribute in this 1999 concert in Jamaica (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuVZltXrX2g)
I will end this tribute with one of my most memorable quotes from the reggae king. Thing about the destruction Islamic fundamentalists are wrecking in Nigeria, across Africa and its relevance to what Bob sang more than 40 years ago in “Rat race”.
“Political violence fill ya city, ye-ah!
Don’t involve rasta in your say say;
Rasta don’t work for no c.i.a.
Rat race, rat race, rat race! rat race, I’m sayin’:
When you think it’s peace and safety:
A sudden destruction.
Collective security for surety, ye-ah!
Don’t forget your history;
Know your destiny:
In the abundance of water,
The fool is thirsty (Rat Race)
Rest yeah in peace Rasta Bob, your legacy lives on.