The Sun (Malaysia)
Not quite the end
Bob Marley’s message has not lost its relevance
HAVING listened to Bob Marley’s records growing up, relistening to them now provides an entirely different perspective as a more informed individual, privy to the full extent of his life.
Back then, his music was inspiring, and for some – particularly those from a similar background as him – Marley’s music was empowering.
Listening to them now, juxtaposed with back then, it’s harder not to miss the commentary on social justice and human rights. In those younger years, all I could hear were his thoughts on unity and love.
Even easier was the ability to read between the lines. Marley was peaceful, but unlike the commercialised image that painted him as a pacifist, he supported Black liberation and recognised armed solidarity in the fight for rights (see: Buffalo Soldier and Get Up Stand Up).
It made sense after taking into account Marley’s background and life history.
Born in 1945, Marley would spend most of his early life in Jamaica, witnessing and being influenced by the many changes that occurred in Jamaica from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, particularly in its social aspects such as the growth of Rastafari and the political violence that was ripping the country apart.
By the time he recorded Judge Not, his first debut single, Marley’s socio-political consciousness was primed to shape the views and messages he would push through using his music, which inadvertently made him a countercultural icon that exploded out of the Carribbean island nation.
The mark that was left continues to pervade modern times, with even a new film about him, Bob Marley: One Love, being slated to release next year.
Through sheer grit
At the height of Marley’s domineering presence, the unexpected – or perhaps, for some, the expected – happened.
In 1976, the political situation in Jamaica was a tinderbox; every group and party were attempting to start “fires”, and they did so very violently. Towards the end of the year, Marley was slated to perform at Smile Jamaica.
A free concert, Smile Jamaica, was supposedly an attempt by thenJamaican President Michael Manley to de-escalate tensions between two political groups.
Two days before the concert, a group of armed assassins attempted to gun down Marley in his own home. His manager, Don Taylor and
Marley’s wife, Rita, were seriously injured while the singer himself sustained minor injuries. Despite his injuries, Marley bravely performed as scheduled to a crowd of 80,000.
All three eventually made a full recovery and Marley moved to England, as the belief was that the assassination attempt was politically motivated.
After a two-year exile in England, Marley recorded Exodus and Kaya.
Exodus contained several of Marley’s most famous songs, such as the title track, Jamming, and One Love. The album also stayed on the British album charts for an entire year.
Shedding his previously ambiguous writing, Marley’s subsequent albums, Survival and Uprising, were all politically and socially charged, taking aim at the African struggle and South African apartheid with Uprising pushing a religious angle.
There’s a reason Exodus had a more lasting impact compared with the fiery later two albums; it still had a veneered pacifism that others associated with and continue to associate with Marley, while Survival and Uprising were Marley at his most politically and religiously overt.
Prior to Uprising’s release in 1980, Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma under his toe. Four years later, in the US, he collapsed while jogging; the cancer had spread to vital organs.
Again, like the Smile Jamaica concert, Marley performed two days later at a Pittsburgh show despite being in extremely poor health. The rest of the tour was then cancelled.
Eight months later, after numerous attempts to treat the rapidly advancing cancer, Marley died on May 11 after the cancer spread critically into his brain and lungs.
Ten days later, Marley was laid to rest in Jamaica at a state funeral.
Delivering the final eulogy, the Jamaican president at the time, Edward Seaga said that each encounter with Marley was an experience that left an indelible imprint.
“Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”
At the time, it would be easy to dismiss Seaga’s words due to recency bias; Marley had just died after all, and speaking of him in broad platitudes was unavoidable.
But now, over 40 years later, the late Jamaican president’s words still ring true with each word still gripping firmly against the passage of time.
Marley remains unforgotten. Though his various messages have been watered down due to the commercialism of his image and music for easy listening on the radio, remnants of what once was still exist in between the words and notes.
For those who grew up during his era and those from a similar socioeconomic background as his, Marley’s music still wafts and lingers in their minds.
With each new generation of youth born with the curiosity and inquisitiveness to delve into music from the old days, Marley’s records lie in wait.