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The Life and Legend of Bob Marley

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Submitted By lisakitten1
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Marilyn Johnson
George Buck
ENC. 1101 MWF 11am
April 18, 2012

The Life and Legend of Bob Marley

Culture is defined by those who affect it. Bob Marley was one of those figures. He was a dynamic singer-song writer, musician, and activist who dramatically influenced popular culture, Reggae, Rastafarianism, and social awareness. His life is a cultural blend of integration through musical expression and involvement within the human rights movement striving for peace and equality.
Robert Nesta Marley, known to the world as “Bob Marley” was born in Jamaica on February 6th, 1945. At the time of his birth he resembled his fifty year old father Captain Norval Sinclair Marley. “Nesta” as his mother liked to call him, was born into an inter-racial family; his mother was African American and his father was Caucasian. His mother, Cedella Booker, also known as “Ciddy”, was an eighteen year old young woman at the time and came from moderate means that was a sharp contrast to her husband, a colonial functionary. His father was mostly absent during Bob’s upbringing as a result of his family’s disapproval of the interracial marriage. Captain Norval family ensured that he was demoted to the lowest possible ranking in the British navy, barely earning enough money to feed himself let alone a young wife and child. Ciddy sent many letters to Captain Norval but received no reply. She raised Bob in the countryside of Jamaica on her own by opening a produce shop selling the food grown on her father’s farm. Ciddy was the predominant figure during Bob Marley’s childhood. This inter-racial structure as well as the un-involvement by his father, many would say, contributed to Marley’s active roles in Rastafarianism and the human rights movements later in life. (”Rasta-man-vibration)
Marley lived with his mother in the countryside until the age of ten when he was sent to Kingston for school. Bob was a gifted student his teachers put him in school a year earlier because he was as smart as boys twice his age. His father, Captain Norval, wrote a letter requesting that he be educated in the public school in Kingston that was far superior to the countryside schools of Jamaica. While Marley attended his school, his mother remained in the countryside.
“Ciddy “had not seen her son for several months after his departure for Kingston. She became worried that her son had become lost. One day she was told by one of her aunts that she had seen Bob on a business trip to Kingston. “Ciddy” went to Kingston to find “Marley” playing with his new friends; she brought him home the very next day. Upon Marley’s return home from Kingston, for the first time he, began to exhibit an interest in music which was quite contrast to his former interest in palm reading. This revelation occurred when one of Ciddy’s customers’s asked Bob to read her palm; to which he replied, “No, I don’t do that anymore I am a singer now.” He sang a song that he had learned in Kingston. (web.bob)
Music in Jamaica is an escape from the callousness of everyday life, a feel good time and a verbal record of current events. Reggae is an allegory of this idea of what Jamaican music is and should be. The genre gained mainstream popularity as a result of Marley’s work in the 1970’s. Reggae music began as an evolution from Ska and other local Jamaican variations on Calypso, Rhythm and Blues, as well as Rock and Roll. Reggae has a strong accented and syncopated subsidiary beat as well as lyrics that are influenced by social protest and Rastafarian ideals. (”Rasta-man-vibration) Marley’s music and lyrics were shaped and influenced by the political climate of Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s. Human rights social unrest and inequality were the issues at the forefront of societal discussions. We can see the influence in popular songs such as, “Buffalo Soldier, “One Love”, “War/No More Trouble”, “Exodus”, “I Shot the Sherriff”, as well as many others. One of Marley’s famous quotes is from his song Exodus ("Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied with the life you are living?) (We know where we are going; we know where we are from.)". (”Rasta-man-vibration) This quote is an example of the type of lyrics that Bob wrote as a result of the climate during the 1960s and 1970s in Jamaica and the world.
The song “One Love” is on the Exodus Album. The lyrics personify who Marley was and what is influence was on Reggae music. His thoughts about the injustices in the world are present in his lyrics:
One Love! One Heart!
Let's get together and feel all right.
Hear the children cryin' (One Love!);
Hear the children cryin' (One Heart!),
Sayin': give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Sayin': let's get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo!
Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One Love!);
There is one question I'd really love to ask (One Heart!):
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner,
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs?
One Love! What about the one heart? One Heart!
What about - ? Let's get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One Love!);
So shall it be in the end (One Heart!),
All right!
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.
One more thing!
Let's get together to fight this Holy Armagiddyon (One Love!),
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One Song!).
Have pity on those whose chances grows t'inner;
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation.
Sayin': One Love! What about the One Heart? (One Heart!)
What about the - ? Let's get together and feel all right.
I'm pleadin' to mankind! (One Love!);
Oh, Lord! (One Heart) Wo-ooh!
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.
Exodus Album, Bob Marley and the Wailers (1977)
Marley shared sentiments with legendary figures such as John Lennon and George Harrison who had written legendary songs such as “Imagine” and “Give me Love”. Their common ideal was that people should stop fighting and become one. Marley’s “One Love” differs in theme from his fellow musicians, as he conveys that people will eventually pay for their evil deeds. Marley wrote this song during the Jamaican elections of 1976 where the political climate was torn between two parties; a very violent time in Jamaica. Marley was more popular than both of the political figures in Jamaica during the 1976 elections. Bob tried to stay politically neutral and offer sanctuary to whomever he could. Journalist Vivien Goldman remembers Marley writing his song that was both peaceful and angry at the same time while sheltering visitors at this home. Marley’s music was from the heart and promoted both peace and unity. (”Rasta-man-vibration)
In 2001, twenty years after Bob Marley’s death, Exodus which was Bob Marley and the Wailer’s ninth album was named the greatest album of the twentieth century. In the same year Bob Marley was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime music award. The song “One Love” was named the song of the century and is a theme of peace across the world being awarded the peace medal of the third world from the United Nations. In 2001, Bob Marley was also posthumously given a star in the Hollywood walk of fame. In 1994, Bob Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. (Wikipedia)
He was known internationally for Reggae music and Rastafarianism. He was a brilliant and evocative musician; accredited with broadening Jamaican music, culture, as well as Rastafarianism. He has become immortal more than two decades after his death while his songs and albums still sell. During his life and after his death his music captures a diverse audience. Marley, through his music, made his life a cultural blend of integration, singing and writing about justice, peace, and human rights. Bob’s music bridges the cross-cultural divide, soothes the heart and mind from “mental slavery”, and can be heard by people of every gender, race, religion and political affiliation. His music was and still does symbolize the unity of race, class, protest, and political symbols. He was the first black musician from a third world country to become internationally known.
His image looks out from t shirts, posters, billboards, and walls. His unchanging face represents the iconic struggle for justice, peace, and human rights through his music and image left behind twenty years ago. His influence on popular culture could not be more personified than by the use of his lyrics and music in the blockbuster movie “I am legend”. Will Smith who plays the main character in the movie is explaining who Bob Marley was and what his life meant through his lyrics to a woman who had never heard of him. Will Smith’s character is quoted as saying that “Bob Marley had a revolutionary virologist’s idea that you could literally cure racism and hate; literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives”. The character that Will Smith plays goes onto speak about how “Marley was shot at his home before he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally. Two days later Marley walked up on that stage and sang. Bob wouldn’t take the day off because as he put it those who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off so how can I?” Light up the Darkness, part of the lyrics from the song Redemption is used in this movie. (I am Legend). The use of Bob Marley and his music in this movie that millions of people saw almost thirty years after his death imprints him as an iconic and legendary influence on popular culture for generations to come. Those who did not know who he was before that scene do now.
Bob Marley, though raised in the catholic tradition, became captivated by the Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960’s when he was no longer under his mother’s influence. Marley’s practice of Rastafarianism contributed to art, music, and politics. The Rastafarian movement is a monotheistic, religious society that was conceived in the Christian culture in Jamaica in the 1930s. It is a highly organized and disciplined religion. It is both a movement and ideology. (”Rasta-man-vibration).One trademark of the movement is dreadlocks; the locks were predominantly fashioned by Marley. Many Rastafarians debate that it is more like a way of life and not a religion. This way of life encourages them to find faith and inspiration within themselves. Bob Marley was one of the leading voices for the Rastafarianism movement. The movement consists of peace, love, and freedom. They believe that marijuana is a spiritual outlet that cleansed the soul according to the Rastafarian followers. Bob Marley is quoted as saying “conquer the devils with a little thing called love”. (”Rasta-man-vibration).This statement embodies the tenants of love behind the Rastafarian way of life.
Rastafarians worship a single god whom they call “Jah”. One of the tenants of Rastafarianism is a connection to God through the use Marijuana. The smoking of this herb is one of their connections to a higher power. Rastafarians often burn herb when they need insight from Jah. After they smoke weed they read scripture for hours from the Torah, which is their holy book. (”Rasta-man-vibration).The Rastafarian movement has spread throughout much of the world largely through the interests generated by Reggae music, especially by the singer-song writer Bob Marley. Many Rastafarians use the biblical verse from Genesis 3:18 “thou shall eat the herb of the field” to show that God wanted us to use the herbs that he provided us, one of which is Marijuana. (Wikipedia) Haile Selassie I, who was the Ethiopian Emperor during Bob Marley’s life, was seen as the second coming of Jesus Christ by Rastafarians. He was such an influential figure that upon request by Selassie, Marley did performances in neighboring African nations.
While Bob Marley is known by many as a singer-song writer, his impact as an activist cannot be overlooked. Marley was a revolutionary who spread the message the message of love and Rastafari to the world. He campaigned for peace, justice and equality. Emperor Haile Selassie and his status as a symbol within the Rastafarian movement help to bring the issues surrounding Africa in the 1970s to the forefront for Bob Marley. He became especially focused on the struggle for liberation in Zimbabwe. He sought to help the oppressed people. When Bob reached Ethiopia to visit Emperor Selassie in 1978 the struggle had reached its climax. The time for the people of Zimbabwe to find independence was near and consumed Marley. When he performed at a benefit concert in Gabon for President Omar Bongo’s birthday he thought it would be in an effort to bring Zimbabwe’s people closer to independence. Unfortunately, the reality for the accomplished musician was that he only performed for the Gabonese elite. (Rasta)
As a reaction to this event Marley held a benefit concert in Boston to raise funds for the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe. The title of the concert that played to over 25,000 people was Amandla. The title was short for the phrase Amandla Ngawetu meaning “power to the people”. (Rasta).During this concert rather than just playing his music and singing the lyrics that were laced with lessons about oppression, unity, human rights, and peace he strayed from the script and spoke about African unity to the crowd. He wrote the song Zimbabwe in honor of the struggle for liberation in Africa. The lyrics of the song “Every man got a right to decide his own destiny and in this judgment there is no partiality so arm in arm we’ll fight this little struggle because that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble”. (Rasta) The lyrics speak of unity and how together we will persevere and overcome the trouble; together we make our own destiny. These lyrics became a motivational battle cry for the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe. Marley used popular culture to lend aid to the cause and help Zimbabwe finally find independence in 1980. On April 18th, 1980 Bob Marley and the Wailers performed at independence celebration, one of the highest honors of Bob’s musical career. (Wikipedia)
Bob Marley died while battling cancer on May 11th, 1981. His practice of Rastafarianism that contributed so much to his life and many others lives. It ironically contributed to his early passing. In 1977 he injured his foot while playing soccer with some friends. (”Rasta-man-vibration).An injury that became worse with time rather than healing led him to see a Doctor where he was diagnosed with melanoma. The doctor recommended an amputation of the limb. Bob an avid practitioner of Rastafarianism chose not to amputate his foot as it was seen as sinful by the Rastafarian way of life. The verse Leviticus 21:5 is the verse that leads Rastafarians to the foundation and belief in wearing of dreadlocks as well as the belief that amputation is sinful. Rastafarians refer to the body as a holy temple. (”Rasta-man-vibration)In Marley’s song, One Love/People Get Ready, he sang “Give thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel all right.” These were not words merely sang in passing, but a moral belief for his life. When faced with a life-threatening cancer, Marley chose to rely on his religious devotion and refused medical advice that most likely would have saved his life. Perhaps, there is no better display of faith than decisions such as these. To reject the recommendations of trained professionals and instead place one’s physical health in the hands of the divine, is certainly an indication that one is a “true” believer. These displays of faith appear to reinforce the beliefs that provide existential meaning and protection from the awareness of personal mortality. However, these efforts may ironically contribute to the very outcomes they aim to transcend.
By September of 1980 Bob Marley and the Wailers performed for the last time. By May of 1981, the cancer had metastasized throughout Marley’s body and eventually reached his brain where he died while traveling to his home of Jamaica. According to some reports Bob’s final words were to his son Ziggy Marley “money can’t buy life”.(Wikipedia). Marley left behind a wife, nine children, and a legacy that still lives on today. Most of his children followed in his footsteps. They are gifted musicians, activists, and Rastafarians. The children he left behind are carrying out his legacy.
Bob Marley was the third world’s first pop star. A man who introduced the world to the mystic power of Reggae, helped promote Rastafarianism, became an iconic symbol within popular culture, and used that his widespread status and music to influence human rights in Jamaica and freedom in African countries such as Zimbabwe. Bob Marley brought his personal charisma and essential vocal styles into one voice. Marley evolved into a global symbol that has been endlessly merchandised through a variety of mediums. Bob Marley is still serving people through his music and its message that advocates for social change, for freedom of all mankind; regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status. He is a legendary icon that cannot and should not ever be forgotten. Bob Marley was a true messenger and ambassador of peace.

Work Cited http://www.rasta-man-vibration.com/jamaican-politics.html 2012 Web 20 April. 2012

http://www.rasta-man-vibration.com/

“Bob Marley.”Wikipedia free encyclopedia.wikipedia, 2012 Web 20 April. 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Marley

http://WWW.BOBMARLEYMAGAZINE.COM/lyrics/files/4/3/7/1_survival_845314.jpg

“Marley pictorial retrospective.”BobMarley. 2012 Web 20 April. 2012

http://web.bobmarley.com/index.jsp

Exodus Album, Bob Marley and the Wailers (1977)

Flim: I am Legend (2009)

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