Most of us outside the reggae culture have the tendency to make negative associations in regards to the followers of the natural mystic and the Rastafarian movement (the Rastas are synonymous to the hypnotic positive vibrations) drawing our conclusions from stereotypes – ‘dem put in place by crazy baldheads, mon! This Afro-centric spiritual movement came into being in the 1930s Caribbean, borrowing core beliefs from Christianity and elements of a troubled Atlantic slave trade history. Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia is considered the reincarnation of Jesus and the saviour that will return black people to the Promised Land.
|Bob Marley with the universal colours of Ras Tafari|
During my convalescence, I became addicted to a book my father gave me called, “Bob Marley: The Stories Behind Every Song,” by Maureen Sheridan. This reggae pioneer is undoubtedly the most recognized ambassador of this religious and spiritual movement. This religion was his muse and he wanted to spread the word throughout the globe. The book provides a truly inspiring picture of this humble country boy and his humble journey that led to international stardom. In his lifetime, he became one of the most successful artists - and to many, a world hero - hailing from the developing world. Not even Ricky Martin has managed to match Jamaica’s most famous son’s prowess. The local street culture and vibes dominating every day life in Trench Town, one of the toughest ghettos in Jam-rock in his time also is instrumental in his music. He actually began his musical career first as a solo artist while living in the slums, and afterwards befriended Neville O’Riley Livingston – better known as “Bunny Wailer” - and Peter Tosh, eventually giving birth to the Wailers, a true blessing that launched reggae music to an international audience hungry for a new sound.
The beauty of the instrumental doctrine adopted in most melodies is the simplicity. In the words of the reggae man himself: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” His powerful poetic lyrics did just that job without the need to shout. Much of his material originated from a tough childhood where he faced rejection from his white father, watching people starve while they earned relatively nothing for a day’s work, his comfort in the love of Jah and his dissatisfaction with a system that disenfranchised much of his brethren. When his music hits you that is what you are feeling. His songs were loaded with messages of hope that captivated huge crowds from Kingston to Sydney. Everyone wanted to see the show and those who had not, said they did. Leading entertainment personalities such as Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger were also drawn to his music, but he remained a down-to-Earth dreadlock Rasta, looking to help each and every person who came to see him on his beloved island – even after an attempt on his life that forced him into exile. He promoted respect for one another, one love one heart, - meaning we are all part of a global family regardless of our skin colour, belief and social status – and standing up for our rights, which all continue to resonate today.
Bob’s magic was his incredible ability to reach out to people – although he was frustrated to have had little effect on African-Americans for reasons beyond his understanding. Concerts in Milan, Tokyo and other cities where English was not widely spoken, everyone in attendance was always able to sing along to the Wailers, skankin’ to the lively beat. The music enters through the ears and flows into the veins and you enter the universal realm of rhythm and global dance of peace. In Sheridan’s book, she mentiones that Marley was under CIA surveillance due to a seemingly “communist” belief system and his ability in influencing and drawing large crowds. Among the most important gatherings in his performance history and in duty to his people, was the Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston, aimed at uniting warring political factions. Right wing and left-wing gangs were engaged in shootouts, leaving significant casualties, including women and children caught in the crossfire and the split between haves and have-nots continued to grow at an alarming pace. Hostilities ceased temporarily, but perhaps primarily because of a tainted past, Jamaica has been unable to pull out of a violent and poverty stricken reality, often teetering on the brink of failure as a nation-state.
|The legacy continues|
Bob Marley’s legacy continues after his tragic passing at only 36 years old because of a widespread, untreatable cancer. Pick up the book if you come across it and you will not regret it. His music has inspired many musical acts, including a massive boom in countries where reggae is hardly part of history such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela, just to mention a few. His success was not only fueled by his love of music and natural gift to connecting with a diverse audience, but because of his devotion to his craft. His peers described him as a man on a mission. He was constantly plucking at his guitar strings, writing lyrics and having jam sessions lasting several hours without a break. His children still harbour certain resentment towards their rock star parents’ lifestyle, growing up neglected (their mother was part of Marley I-Threes chorus) and perhaps it was a sacrifice for a short lifetime of achievement.