Bob Marley: the reggae legend who inspired a generation
He was the first pop superstar to emerge from the Third World. He was spiritual and militant in the same breath. He embraced God and brought reggae music onto the turntables of the West en masse. He was Che Guevara crossed with John Lennon. He was the one and only Bob Marley.
Robert Nesta Marley was born in February 1945 in the village of Nine Mile in Jamaica, to a white father and black mother.
“I don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side,” said Bob, “I dip on God’s side.” However, Marley would go on to find his roots in Africa. Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican publisher and orator, and Haile Selassie, were two of the great influences in his life.
Throughout his career, Bob wrote passionately about black and African people’s fight against oppression from the “Babylon” West. He also wrote about the poverty he saw in Jamaica, and about the spirituality of his Rastafarian faith, and brought it all out centre-stage at the heart of his music.
After touring with Johnny Nash, The Wailers found themselves stranded and broke in London, where Marley wandered into Chris Blackwell’s office at Island Records looking for a cash advance to record a single.
Bob walked out with £4000, having agreed to record an album, Catch A Fire (1973), in Jamaica. It was a critical success.
No Woman, No Cry
Later that year, Burnin’ appeared, with íts mighty anthems Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot the Sheriff, which was later covered by Eric Clapton, boosting Marley’s international profile.
Marley soldiered on as Bob Marley & The Wailers and was rewarded with his first hit outside Jamaica in No Woman, No Cry the following year. In 1976, his Rastaman Vibration album charted in the USA for a month. In December of the same year, gunmen entered Marley’s home in Jamaica and opened fire on him, his wife Rita and his manager, Don Taylor.In 1974 Bunny and Tosh quit The Wailers to pursue solo careers.
The attack had taken place just ahead of the band’s appearance at the free Smile Jamaica concert, organised by Prime Minister Michael Manley to ease tensions between violent political factions on the island. Bob was wounded in the chest and arm but he still played the gig, saying “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”
The next two years saw him move to England at the height of Punk – Marley doffing his dread hat to “The Damned, The Jam, The Clash” on 1977′s Punky Reggae Partytrack.
During this time, Bob injured his toe playing football. While he was being treated for the injury, a malignant melanoma was discovered. The cancer would eventually spread throughout his body.
Marley returned to Jamaica in 1978, performing at the One Love Peace Concert - another attempt to restore calm between Jamaica’s violently polarised political parties.
The enduring image of this concert, and possibly his career, is that of Bob bringing rival party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga together on stage to shake hands at the show’s climax. Later that year, Bob received the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations.
Marley’s illness and death
Bob continued touring despite his illness. His condition deteriorated rapidly in 1980 and he flew to Bavaria for a radical cancer treatment which would prove futile.
After eight months in Germany, Bob flew home to Jamaica to die. But his condition worsened on the plane, and after landing in Miami he was rushed to hospital, where he died on May 11 1981, aged just 36. He received a state funeral in Jamaica.
Bob Marley’s legacy is universal, because oppression, poverty, love and faith are everywhere. He was, and still is, all things to all people. A true superstar. A true legend.