By Francis Ngwa Niba
“Money can’t buy life” were the last words Bob Marley said to his son Ziggy Marley shortly before he died on May 11th 1981. Bob died exactly 32 years ago today.
His facebook page has 42 million likes and counting and his twitter page has 510 000 followers and I just learnt another new fascinating fact about reggae’s first superstar Robert Nesta Marley; his favourite musician was Stevie Wonder. Marley, a documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald has been nominated for the Best Documentary category in BAFTA, the British film award ceremony scheduled for tommorow in London.
Marley’s smiling widow Rita Marley, tells Macdonald in the documentary that she was Bob’s “guiding angel” as she managed to control the dozens of women who threw themselves at him. Why has Bob Marley continued to charm, fascinate and intrigue our collective consciousness 32 years after his dead?
Kevin Macdonald says he decided to do a special Biopic of Bob Marley because “there’s a reason why he is on every student’s wall”. I too bought my own Bob Marley posters as a teenager. An old man now, I still yearn for those times years ago when I could literary “Kill for Marley”. Welcome to my world, welcome to the fascinating world of millions of Marlian followers; a utopic world created by a mixed race boy whose father abandoned him. His son Ziggy Marley says his greatest life issue was his search for an identity. He was not white and was not black and was endlessly teased by his friends because of that. “Bob Marley is not my name. I don’t even know my name”, Marley said in an interview. Bob Marley’s father was a white British naval officer Norval Sinclear Marley. His mother Cedella Booker was a starry eyed 17 year old teenager when she met 60 year old Norval and they married a year later. They separated shortly afterwards and Bob was the only child of the Union.
Bob Marley was deeply ashamed of his white parentage and said in an interview;
“My father was white and my mother black you know. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Well, 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, who gave me this talent”
In his music, he tries to search for his missing identity and partly discovered it when he became a Rastafarian. He wanted to immigrate to Ethiopia, home country of Ethopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1, “King of kings”. In 2005, his widow Rita Marley had to quickly deny reports she was planning to have Marley exhumed and re-buried in Ethiopia, the spiritual home of Rastafarians. Jamaica rightly claims Bob Marley a national hero and his grave in the small Jamaican village Nine Miles still attracts thousands of pilgrims and their dollars. Moving his remains to Ethiopia will have badly affected the national psychic of Jamaica and millions of dollars in revenue.
Bob’s endearing appeal-The Singing Marley Clan
Bob Marley “officially” had twelve children with nine women and there are accounts of other “unclaimed” children by the superstar. One of the reasons his music lives on is that most of these children including his eldest son Ziggy Marley are today musicians in their own right. Non will ever achieve the global fame of their father but they help to keep the Marley dream alive in their songs and covers of their father’s songs. In 1999, the Marley clan and some close musicial friends like Jimmy Cliff, Tracy Chapman, Queen Latifah played at a sold out memorial concert in Jamaica. The musical family has also performed in Ehtiopia and around the world therefore keeping Marleys’ music alive years after he passed away. Ziggy Marley sang the lead vocals in The Melody Makers, the child singing group Bob created for his four children and wrote their first two singles, What a Plot and Children Playing in the Street. Their dad and mum were musicians; music is all they grew up to know. Cedella Marley is also a fashion designer.
The other Marley children joined the singing clan much later when Rita officially recognized and accepted them as his children.
Appeal of his songs
Slogans and Iron Lion Zion are two of the best Bob Marley songs released posthumously but which made a huge impact on the reggae landscape. Like most of his songs, Slogans is particularly critical of politicians who make promises and promptly fail or are unable to deliver when they are elected.
“Wipe out the paintings of slogans
All over the streets (ooh, ooh, ooh),
Confusing the people
While your asphalt burns our tired feet.
I see borders and barriers,
Segregation, demonstration and riots (ooh, ooh, ooh),
A-sufferation of the refugees,
Oh-oh, when, when will we be free?”
Bob Marley. Slogans.
The video film for One Love/People Get ready, one of the signature tunes of Bob Marley was made after his dead and featured among others the now disbanded Musical Youths and Paul Mccathney of The Beatles fame. The lyrics for his anthem War was actually the words of a speech by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie Haile. In the song, Bob warns;
“ until there’s 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
Each of his songs had a powerful message that has stood the test of time and is still as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. That is why Redemption Song, No woman No Cry, Get Up Stand up, Waiting in Vain etc are still attracting a legion of young people to the music of Bob Marley. Most of Bob Marley’s followers today were not even alive when he sang.
Some juicy Quotes
“love the life you live.
live the life you love.”
“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”
“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”
“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”
“Live for yourself and you will live in vain;
Live for others, and you will live again.”
Bob Marley Timeline
February 6 1945: Robert Nesta Marley is born in Nine Miles, St Ann’s, Jamaica, the son of a middle-aged white British naval officer and teenage Jamaican mother.
1962: Records his first song in Kingston, Judge Not, recorded by legendary reggae producer Leslie Kong.
1963: He forms the original Wailers – then known as the Teenagers – with Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingstone, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith.
1963 – 1966: The band, who change their name to Bob Marley and the Wailers, record over 70 songs for producer Coxsone Dodd, including many tracks Marley would re-record to international acclaim in the 1970s.
1966: Marley marries soul singer Rita Anderson, a member of The Soulettes and later the I-Threes, with whom he will have five children. Shortly after marrying, he moves to the US to work in a factory.
1969-71: The band record with noted Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. This period includes many classic tracks such as Small Axe, My Cup and Sun is Shining.
1971: Marley forms his own record label, Tuff Gong.
1973: Bob Marley and the Wailers sign to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. They release the album Catch a Fire, the first to make a major impression in music markets outside the Caribbean. Livingston and Tosh, however, leave the band to embark on solo careers.
1974: Eric Clapton covers The Wailers’ I Shot the Sheriff and takes it into the UK top 10, further adding to their reputation.
1975: The band release the seminal album Natty Dread, which contains their landmark song No Woman, No Cry. Marley becomes a star all over the globe.
December 3, 1976: Marley and wife Rita are injured in an assassination attempt in Jamaica. Days later, he takes to the stage with his arm in a sling.
July 1977: Marley breaks one of the toes on his right foot in a football accident in Paris. Doctors find cancerous cells and remove them.
1978: He holds the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, bringing the leaders of Jamaica’s rival political factions to the stage to shake hands.
1980: Marley and The Wailers kick off the year with a concert in the newly-independent African nation of Zimbabwe. Later in the year, while jogging in New York’s Central Park, Marley collapses. Doctors discover cancer has spread to his lungs, liver and brain.
May 11, 1981: Marley dies in hospital in the US, aged 36.
May 1986: The Marley Museum is opened in Kingston, on the site of his former home.
1990: Marley’s birthday is declared a national holiday in Jamaica.
1994: Bob Marley is posthumously admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame