Thursday, 19 May 2011


 Two weeks ago I argued in this column that individuals are shaped by their circumstances. That personalities (like recently killed Bin Laden) do not rise out of dust, religion or dollars but from real conditions. The gnawing problem of Palestine sits at the heart of an unresolved issue that has for over sixty years produced anger, frustration plus bloodshed in an unending Middle East crisis with its nemesis: global religious terrorism.
Yes, history is shaped by individuals and their surroundings.
And so we must look at the music of Bob Marley.
Bob Marley...

Exactly thirty years have passed since the charismatic songwriter died of cancer. He would have been 66 years old today and probably performing like fellow Jamaicans Jimmy Cliff, Toots and The Maytals and his former band mate, Bunny Wailer; all still musically active.
I remember May 11th 1981 very well.
The day was misty and slightly wet in Dar es Salaam....

A couple of residents openly dressed in black to mourn the loss. I reviewed a small booklet on Marley by Professor Horace Campbell, a Jamaican scholar lecturing at the University of Dar at the time.  I wasn’t that impressed by Bob Marley, nonetheless. Like many others, I held ignorant and biased views regarding his unknown brand of Reggae music. That it was chiefly about Bhangi or Ganja.
Reggae had been around for over a decade; a few hit songs by Jimmy Cliff and Johnny Nash were played regularly by Radio Tanzania. Some were, “No Woman No Cry” and “Stir It Up” composed by an unknown Bob Marley. Reggae’s success in this part of Africa was therefore spread through Jimmy Cliff and Johnny Nash than Bob Marley. I actually did not know these amazing songs were his creations until post May 1981.
Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” is another example, recorded by iconic musician, Eric Clapton, in 1975. Ironically it was after this famous English rock entertainer (then referred as God of Guitar) released I Shot the Sheriff that Reggae was unfurled to the mass market thus making Bob Marley “acceptable.” The two ended becoming acquainted and according to one of his various biographers, Bob Marley was allegedly buried with the Gibson guitar that Clapton presented him.
Many therefore, started paying attention to Reggae music and Bob Marley after his passing. I personally still play Reggae and met The Wailers, Bob Marley’s band in Brazil in 1991. They still perform regularly and his music continues through them and his many children some of who are very successful, e.g. Kimani (a Kenyan name), Julian and Melody Makers led by eldest son, Ziggy.
Jamaica is a small Caribbean island with a population of approximately 3 million. I have worked with several Jamaicans who form part of the black population in London. They are street wise, clever and very self confident.
Historically, Jamaica has given birth to heroic figures notably Queen Nanny, the female rebel who challenged slavery in eighteenth century and Marcus Garvey the Pan African journalist and leader of early 20th century. Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela are examples of leaders inspired by Garvey’s philosophy of African unity. Bob Marley’s lyrics reflect the teachings of Garvey in songs like “Who the Cap Fits”, “Get Up Stand Up” and “Redemption Song.”
Marley’s music covered a wide range of topics especially those addressing burning issues of the 1970’s: “War”, “Africa Unite”, and “Zimbabwe” (where he performed during 1980 independence celebrations); while “Burning and Looting” and “Johnny Was” express realities of gun crime and civil strife in Jamaica. Global questions are further penned in “So Much Trouble in the World”, “Rat Race” and “Survival.”
I have met many who believe Bob’s death was due to Marijuana. His demise was caused by a wounded toe while playing football in 1976.However, due to his religious beliefs restricted him cutting off his toe as it developed gangrene then liver cancer.
Much has been said about the man’s unique qualities. Judy Howatt his backing vocalist recalls a woman giving birth during a concert in Canada.  His widowed wife Rita in her 2004 book: “My life with Bob Marley” says he was financially honest; paying people and musicians, getting up early (5 am) every day to jog or play football.
“Bob worked very hard, on the road and in the studio day and night; he was very serious about his work and the future welfare of his family. His achievement, which lives on, is testimony to that.”

Published in Citizen Tanzania:

1 comment:

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