Chanting Down Babylon
Prof. Marvin Sterling
November 18, 2013
How did Bob Marley make a huge impact on Jamaica? Why is he considered to be one of the most talented musicians that Jamaica has ever seen? Why was Bob Marley’s funeral a day to remember in Jamaican history? Nesta Robert Marley, also known as Bob Marley, was a musical icon in his home country of Jamaica as well as in America. Many people doubted that Bob Marley would be successful due to his familial background. Marley was biracial. His father was white and his mother was black. Due to the color of his skin, Marley faced many questions throughout his life concerning his racial identity. While Marley understood that he was from a diverse background, he related more to the Jamaican culture and proudly identified himself as a Jamaican man. Even though there were doubts concerning Marley’s potential for success due to his background, these doubts did not interfere with his main goal of becoming a musician. Ultimately, Bob Marley became one of Reggae’s most recognized performers, and he was one of the first Jamaican artists to be recognized for his music and its impact on society. Marley’s music was famous for explaining the everyday hardships of the Jamaican people. Many of Marley’s most famous songs focused on peace, and the impact of these songs continue to have an impact on many artists over the generations, including his own family members. Despite his talent, Bob Marley lived a difficult life, and what some thought were just lyrics about peace were truly reflective of his life and surroundings. By examining Bob Marley’s focus on peace by discussing his life as a Jamaican, his belief in Rastafarianism, and his impact on society this writing will evidence how Bob Marley made a huge impact on the country of Jamaica.
One description of Jamaica is that “the story of Jamaica is that of an island that can be simultaneously heaven and hell” (Salewicz 2009: 15). For Bob Marley, Jamaica was definitely hell instead of heaven. Bob Marley was a poor farmer boy who lived a Kingston ghetto. The education system in his neighborhood was very poor; however, his mother realized that it was important for her to find a good school to enroll him in. She worked as hard as she could to earn the money to send him to a better school; however, she never earned money illegally. Even though he was raised in a poor neighborhood with very little opportunity, Marley did not see it as an option to live the life of a gangster. Bob Marley followed his mother’s example and made it a goal to make an honest living for himself as a musician. This was not an easy task considering Jamaica’s constant turmoil. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Jamaica every year. Often times these tourists only see the beauty that Jamaica has to offer. Unless they venture away from the commercialized cruise ports or luxury resorts, they will not truly experience the surroundings that Bob Marley grew up in. While Bob Marley was attempting to develop himself as a musician, citizens protesting for freedom from Britain and encouraging the country to go to war surrounded him. The unrest surrounding Marley did not discourage him, but it motivated him to work harder and began to give him inspiration. Over time the political issues in Jamaica grew worse. While the island of Jamaica was still fighting for their freedom, Bob Marley helped to form a musical group in 1962 comprised of himself, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. The group recorded their first singles entitled “Terror” and “One Cup of Coffee” in Leslie Kong’s Record Shop. However, this partnership did not last and it was said that “Bob had broken off his relationship with Kong when the producer failed to pay him for the last two songs he’d done for him” (White 2000: 152). Following the split from their first producer, the musicians sought a name that represented them as a group. The group finally settled on being called the Wailers and enlisted two Rema girls to sing backup vocals for them to help with their overall sound. This was the beginning of a life of music written and performed by Bob Marley that would reflect the political and social activities of his society.
As Bob Marley and the Wailers were touring during the 1960’s, Bob Marley started to learn more about himself as a person. During this time he became interested in Rastafarianism. Marley was raised as a Catholic, and his mother did not agree with the Rastafarian lifestyle. During the 1960’s Rastafarians were viewed as being poor, defiant drug addicts. However, Bob Marley realized that the beliefs of Rastafarians were not far from his own beliefs. Rastafarianism was founded in the 1930’s and was reflective of the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Rastafarians had a strong belief in freedom and fought to be freed from their past image as slaves as well as British Colonialism (Rastafari 2008). As Rastafarianism became more popular in Jamaica, the rhythms frequently played by Rastafarians began to be heard in music listened to by the masses. This resulted in Rastafarian messages eventually being sung over these rhythms. While Rastafarians do not like to involve themselves in politics, the lyrics in their songs spread the word about poverty, criticism of colonialism, and fighting back against oppression (Rastafari 2008). After deciding to become a Rastafarian, Bob Marley’s talent allowed him to internationally become the most well-known reggae artist spreading a Rastafarian message. Marley became known for singing about the everyday struggles on the Jamaican people and speaking out for peace, equality, and freedom from colonialism. Prior to Bob Marley popularizing the Rastafarian message, many people around the world did not know the religion existed or what they stood for. Bob Marley even had to explain the basis of the religion to his mother who was unhappy that her son had strayed from Catholicism. Bob Marley was ultimately the artist that made Rastafarianism attractive to popular culture around the world. Thus, he helped to spread a message of peace that fought back against oppression.
On August 6, 1962, Jamaica became an independent state. This was about that same time that Bob Marley’s message was reaching the masses and people were being made aware of the hardships many Jamaican’s faced. Jamaica’s Independence Day was celebrated with dancing, music and celebrations. The next ten years showed that there was growth in the Jamaican economy. Tourism was a major factor in this growth as well as the development of the manufacturing industry. While the country as a whole was growing, improvements were not seen in every social class. Many believed that the increases in wealth were not being used to assist the poor. As a result, even though the country initially rejoiced in their independence gained in 1962, there was still unrest in Jamaica. It can be concluded that the increase in violence and crime stemmed from the frustration of very few resources being used to help those who needed it the most. In response to the violence, Bob Marley composed and performed “Simmer Down” in 1964. The purpose of this song was to encourage Jamaicans, specifically those living in Kingston to calm down and stop fighting because the violence would only cause more deaths or make the problems worse. “Simmer Down,” declared Bob on what was one of his greatest songs” (Salewicz 2009: 85). This song became so popular that it was listed as the number one song on the Jamaican popular music charts. “Up and until then no one in Jamaican music had been expressing ghetto thinking” (Salewicz 2009: 89). Bob Marley and the Wailers were trailblazers for taking their Jamaican experience and using their songs to provide clear advice to the public. Since this song made it to the popular charts, all people and Jamaica were able to listen to its message, which Marley hoped would impact not only the violence, but bring awareness to the problems faced by the poor.
After receiving notoriety from “Simmer Down”, Bob Marley and the Wailers received an opportunity to affiliate with Studio One, one of Jamaica’s most popular and respected record labels. The studio was founded by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and hosted many famous musicians from around the world. While recording for Studio One, Marley strove to become a better musician as well as build a better image for himself. “He now had sufficient funds to pay for the nutrition of his body: as well as having ordered gold lame collarless suit for the three men in the group” (Salewicz 2009: 90). Marley’s relationship with Dodd helped offer more opportunity for development to Marley. Marley and the Wailers were given the chance to improve their sound, and this resulted in an increase in popularity. Through his affiliation with Studio One, Marley was able to build a better image to show to the world as he performed his music as well as develop his sound to attract more listeners. By doing this Marley was able to show society that even though he grew up poor he was able to become successful.
Marley continued to see changes in Jamaican politics. “As the 1960s progressed, Jamaican politics began to display elements that were almost anarchic” (Salewicz 2009: 187). The happenings in Jamaica as the 1960’s progressed continued to have an impact on Bob Marley and The Wailers’ music. After the Jamaicans received independence, the Jamaican political party started to attract multiple gangs onto the island. Their main goal was to protect the island by any means necessary. The increase in gang activity began by the members sneaking guns into various places by placing them inside children’s stuffed animals. The rioting in Jamaica continued as a result of the poorest citizens feeling abandoned; however, the gang involvement made it more violent due to the increased number of weapons. Despite everything going on around them, Bob Marley and the Wailers still performed in different shows around the island of Jamaica. One of the songs that Bob Marley and the Wailers performed while they were going on different shows was called “Keep On Moving”. “Keep On Moving” was a song basically about everything that was happening in Jamaica during the time while Bob Marley and the Wailers were traveling from show to show. The meaning of this song that Bob Marley and the Wailers performed was about how people that lives in Jamaica just have to have the faith to keep on moving and everything will be okay, including himself. If he and the people that lives in Jamaica just keep on moving then later on down the road the island of Jamaica will find the strength to make piece and end all of the violence that they have been having. That was the main reason of why Bob Marley and the Wailers sang this song while they were traveling from different shows. If it was not for this song then Bob Marley and the Wailers, including people that lives in Jamaica, would not even had the courage to fight on everything that was happening during the time that this song was made.
While Bob Marley and the Wailers were still having a good career together, in spite of everything that was happening in Jamaica. However, Marley, Peter, and Bunny decided to split up for a while Marley to have a solo career. Bob Marley’s new album was called “Natty Dread”, and it was a huge change for him because he did not have his two group members that he had been working with. However, Marley and his new backup singers, the I-Threes, eventually came together with the Wailers to perform together. One of Bob Marley and the I-Threes song that they sang that caught everyone’s attention was the song “No Woman, Nuh Cry”. This song was currently a love song for all of the females that lived in Jamaica. His lyrics in this song talked a lot about the days that he and everyone else that he was referring to spent in “a government yard in Trench Town”. When Bob Marley was growing up and when he also sung this song, Trench Town was a very horrible place in Kingston. There was always violence everywhere in Trench Town. That is why in part of his lyrics of this song it says “Good friends we have, good friends we’ve lost, along the way”. Besides of that, Bob Marley comforted all of the females when he sang this song by saying “In this great future you can’t forget your past/ So dry your tears I say”. Marley did not want them to cry and to deal with all of the suffering they had when they was going through all of the terrible thing that Trench Town was doing. This song had a huge reflection on the people that listened to this song and had a huge reflection on all the different things that was going on in the society at this time.
Marley became known around Jamaica as the “King of Reggae.” However, he was facing more competition with other musicians on the island. One artist in particular was Dennis Brown, and he was known as “The Crown Prince of Reggae”. Brown and Marley began competing against each other; however, this only made Marley’s music even more powerful. During this time, Bob Marley and the Wailers composed another album entitled “Rastaman Vibration”. This album “rocked into the British and US Top Ten album charts” (Salewicz 2009: 287). However, it was Bob Marley and the Wailers only album that made it to the top ten charts in the United States. As a result, the new album not only made them serious contenders in Jamaica but in the United States as well. “Rastaman Vibration” had one specific song that resonated with anyone who listened to the album. This song was called “War”. The lyrics of the song were meaningful, strong, and had immense power. As a result, it touched many people who listened to it. When Bob Marley wrote this song in 1976, he was witnessing the continued protesting and war between parties that was going on in Jamaica. In this song Bob Marley explained that he wanted everyone to be equal in each other eyes and proclaimed his desire for peace. Ultimately, Marley wanted all human beings to know that no man or woman deserves less than the person to the right or to the left of them.
In the 1970s, Michael Manley and the People’s National Party started to go to war with Edward Seaga and the Jamaican Labour Party. The two parties did not agree with each other on most issues and at times innocent people were often killed as a result. Rastafarians were the primary targets because of their beliefs. One of the innocent people that they tried to kill was Bob Marley. A man with an automatic rifle invaded Marley’s home and shot Marley and his wife. Following this incident Bob Marley disappeared. “Three days after the ‘Smile Jamaica’ concert, he met his mother briefly in Nassau, then left the island and laid low for a full month” (White 2000: 294). When Marley emerged from hiding, he did not come back to Jamaica. He moved to England and started composing his next album entitled “Exodus.” Most of the songs on this album discussed the difficult life of the Rastafarians, including himself, during the war between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga and how they needed to create a new path for themselves. Marley wanted to save his people from all of the suffering that they were going through and help them exodus, or depart in masses, from this way of life.
A few years later, Bob Marley returned to Jamaica following his move to England. After Marley returned, he saw that Michael Manley and Edward Seaga had not improved their relationship, and he knew that he had to do something to end the hatred. Marley realized that the best way to spread his message was to go on tour with the Wailers. This tour was entitled the “One Love Peace Concert”. This tour was designed to try to end the violence and as well as the issues between Michael Manley and the People’s National Party and Edward Seaga and the Jamaican Labour Party. Marley wanted the two sides to come together and make a vow of peace and equality. Moreover, the first day of the concert, which was held in Kingston, Bob Marley brought Michael Manley and Edward Seaga on stage. His only purpose was to make peace and end the hatred between them. Bob Marley connected the hands of the two men, and raised their arms above their heads and allowed them to look into each other’s eyes. That was the spotlight of the whole “One Love Peace Concert” and was also the spotlight of the whole tour. After Marley finished performing at the concert in Kingston the violence worsened. Innocent people were killed because of what happened between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga onstage. However, that did not stop Marley from continuing his tour in the remaining cities. Eventually, the violence calmed down in Jamaica when the citizens began to understand the meaning of the whole “One Love Peace Concert” was about. The concert was not to force one party to take on the ideals of the other, but it was to encourage each party to respect each other without violence.
After the “One Love Peace Concert”, Bob Marley made a significant impression on a variety of individuals. At 56 Hope Road, Ghetto and Junior Rankins had been known to come there to hustle Bob for money, but this changed. The youth could now hang out there without fear of the police. The people they called “mad” would come down and look through the fence because they felt welcome. Michael Manley would even come down and spend some time. The gangsters and gunmen who would appear at the events where Bob entertained did not have an effect on the way he thought and acted because Bob was tough. He believed in being a problem solver and not a problem. Marley loved people and wanted to help them. He had power and wanted to use it. He did not promote violence; he wanted to help people change. After a long day, Marley would sit with his close friends and pick out a new or an old song on his guitar. This was a time for him to be at peace and to be creative at the same time.
In spite of everything that happened during and following the “One Love Peace Concert”, something amazing happened to Bob Marley that he will not never forget. Marley received the United Nations Peace Medal in 1978. The Peace Medal was important to Marley, he was not looking for recognition. Marley’s main goal was peace. After receiving the Nobel Peace Medal Marley received tragic news that he was dying of melanoma. Despite this news, Bob Marley and the Wailers made another album, which was entitled “Survival”. This album had one specific song that brought out the whole album. This song was called “Zimbabwe”. It painted the image that people all around the world have to fight and pave their own way. That is what Marley meant when he was singing this song. While Bob Marley and the Wailers were doing their last tour called “Uprising”, his song “Zimbabwe” was the only song that he performed from his “Survival” album. Unfortunately, the Uprising Tour was Bob Marley and the Wailers final tour.
Before Marley’s death, the island of Jamaica had forgotten everything that Marley had done for them. No one in Jamaica would speak of his name. A year later in 1981, Bob Marley passed away. His funeral was “the largest funeral a Caribbean nation had ever known” (Salewicz 2009: 392). Even after his death, Bob Marley’s legacy will live on around the world. However, it was only a few years ago that people remembered that Bob Marley had changed the island of Jamaica. Bob Marley was one factor that stopped Jamaica from fighting and engaging in violence.
On Bob Marley’s second anniversary of his death, one of the places where he recorded at was, Island Records, made his last album. This album was called “Confrontation”. “Confrontation” was an album that Island Records made that had some of his songs that he sang, however they was never mention until this album was released. Furthermore, Bob Marley’s album that was made by Island Records was just one out of the many things that will be created to live for a long time to remember Bob Marley. Not only was the album “Confrontation” made, but also “Legend” was made too. “Legend” was an album that was made that had all of Marley’s greatest hits that made him an icon that he is in the island of Jamaica and in the United States. As years kept on going after the death of Bob Marley, people around the island of Jamaica kept doing a lot of different things to remember him by. They also created a statue of Bob Marley that was placed in Kingston, the place where Marley was born at, to keep his remembrance and his legend going from years on down the road.
All in all, Bob Marley was an icon in Jamaica as well as around the world. His music will live through everyone that listened to it. While Bob Marley was growing up he had a very difficult life, however when one of his albums is playing, the listener can hear that he had a message for everyone to listen to. He wanted his fellow Jamaicans to stop fighting and come together to make peace. Without Bob Marley’s music and his legacy, Jamaica probably would still be having problems. His legacy meant everything to the island of Jamaica and in the United States, and no one in the history of Jamaica could have ever done what Bob Marley did. His legacy will continue on for this point on and he will never be forgotten.
"Rastafari." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 14 Nov. 2013 . Salewicz, Chris. Bob Marley: The Untold Story. 1st ed. 1. Great Britain: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. 1-391. Print. White, Timothy. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. 1st ed. 1. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2000. 1-316. Print.