Remembering Marley’s famous NZ visit
It’s impossible to over-estimate how important the music and the mana of Bob Marley and The Wailers have been to Aotearoa’s own musical and cultural evolution.
Marley has sold vinyl and
CDs here in numbers that eclipse almost any other artist. Legend, his 1984 greatest hits collection, has sold more than 300,000 physical units. Only Abba and Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms are ahead. (And Dire Straits are skewed by being the first commercially available CD in our stores.)
But in the late 1970s, when Marley was at his creative peak, you would have been lucky to have heard him, or any reggae, in the rock, pop and disco wasteland that was our daytime commercial radio soundscape.
When Bob Marley and the Wailers announced they would play at Auckland’s Western Springs in 1979, the authorities and much of the country was amazed at the reaction. And yet, if you knew, you knew. Bob might not have been on the airwaves much, but out in the suburbs and the provinces, Marley was huge.
When Bob Came is a smartly put together and very watchable portrait of the times. Against a backdrop of the 1978 Takaparawhau/Bastion Point occupation and evictions – and widespread disgust at the dawn raids, which were only just beginning to be wound up, Marley was a beacon and an inspiration to Mā ori and Pasifika youth and musicians.
Marley asked to visit a marae while he was in Auckland – and he was greeted with a po¯ whiri suitable for a major dignitary. A close friend of Marley’s calls it ‘‘one of the two or three greatest days of Bob’s life’’.
Footage of the late and very lamented journalist Dylan Taite turning up in his football boots to interview the football-mad musician is classic New Zealand television archive. The interview Taite scored that day is legendary.
When Bob Came captures a shift in our history the mainstream didn’t even realise was happening. From a four year old Che Fu – backstage with his dad Tigilau Ness – to the men who would become Herbs, Dread Beat and Blood, Unity Pacific and Twelve Tribes of Israel, Bob Marley at Western Springs was the seed from which our own expression of roots and reggae – and then hip-hop – would grow.
Troy Kingi maybe puts it best when he says that Marley had the perfect balance between message and melody.
A Marley lyric could be incandescently angry, political and pointed, but the tune underpinning it would be a lilting, singable gem. Marley worked his magic so often, he made it look easy. But even today, Marley’s songs are some of the greatest reggae – or any modern music – has ever produced.
When Bob Came draws a line from Marley’s Wailers to L.A.B, Shapeshifter, Trinity Roots, Fat Freddy’s Drop, SWIDT and so many more. The choice of interviewees is pretty much perfect – and James Rolleston does a fine job of narrating the threads.
This six-part show is a great introduction to a nugget of local history that reverberates through four decades now – and changed our country, a little, forever. Have a look.
When Bob Came debuts on TVNZ+ tomorrow - what would have been the late singer’s 78th birthday.