By BENJAMIN NJOKU
Tuesday, May 11, was exactly 40 years since Bob Marley’s transition, yet the world is still standing up for the late Jamaican reggae icon.
This is not because of his disposition as the King of reggae , but also, because of the strong impact his music has continued to make on the global scene decades after his exit.
Marley succumbed to death on the 11th of May, 1981, at the age of 36, after suffering from skin cancer. While he lived, he was considered as the most influential reggae star that used his music to fight against injustice, oppression and inequality in the society, regardless of race and religion.
The Jamaican musician was not just an icon, he equally influenced many artistes and inspired many new music styles including eggaeton, dub and dancehall. It’s not for nothing that the world is still talking about the man and his music after four decades of his exit.
For many, Marley left a vacuum that no musician has been able to fill. In fact, the popular belief is that reggae has not fared very well after Marley’s death.
On the international scene, some notable musicians like Snoop Dogg who once tried to revive reggae with his ‘Lion reincarnation,’ Virginia-based reggae band,SOJA , Black-Am-I among others have tried to sustain the tempo, but to avail. Even Bob Marley’s children, including Ziggy Marley, also have been some of the frontline artistes who have tried to replay the legend. They have not succeeded.
All over the world, secular music has taken the centre stage, while reggae is steadily going into oblivion. Emerging musicians are no longer conscious of their message, instead they are after what their music will bring to them in return.
Conscious music as propagated by Marley deserves a seat at the mainstream table, instead of what music is today, which is to talk about money, getting messed up, sex and being generally better than everyone all at the same time.
Marley was not only a musical maverick but also a philosopher; a prophetic storyteller.
According to Jibraeel Adu-Faried, a New York-based fan, “Bob Marley was and continues to be the voice of liberation for oppressed peoples everywhere. On one level his distinctive reggae style was always easy to listen/dance to, accessible when he sang about love and life yet he was a deeply unapologetic voice in condemning the powerful whose policies trapped the majority of the world’s population in a cycle of violence and poverty. His was a call to action. No condition was permanent and our destiny is ours to claim.”
For an American sociologist, Richard Taub, Bob Marley’s music is joyful, infectious and appeals to people all around the world. “The beat and melodies bring smiles to peoples’ faces. The message of his lyrics are political, spiritual and above all promotes, peace, love, justice and harmony for all people,” he said.
Marley’s discography incubates a host of fiery themes that have over the years empowered peoples and inspires radical changes. Today, his evergreen songs such as “Get Up, Stand Up”, “Redemption Song”, “No Woman, No Cry”, “One Love,” containing in the 1977 album, Exodus and ‘Buffalo Soldier” which was the singer’s biggest song in the UK, in 1983, have continued to inspire many lovers of reggae.
Indeed, forty-one years ago, Marley’s music became the soundtrack to the sovereignty of an African nation and, by extension, a comfort for the people of Zimbabwe.
He penned the song, Zimbabwe, to rally a suffering people to change their circumstances. The love song to the African country stands as one of the singer’s most beloved hit songs.
With lyrics such as “every man got a right to decide his own destiny, and in this judgment there is no partiality,” the bones of the track ring true 40 years later, as minority people of the world still face oppressive systems and inequity.
Bob Marley also, in his 1979 song, “So much trouble in the world” from the ‘Survival’ album predicted what is happening in the world today, where millions are wallowing away in poverty, while men are sailing on their ego trips to the space.
So much trouble in the world
So much trouble in the world
Bless my eyes this morning
Jah sun is on the rise once again
The way earthly things are going
Anything can happen
You see men sailing on their ego trips
Blast off on their spaceships
Million miles from reality
No care for you, no care for me…
The lyrics of Marley’s song ‘War’, from his 1976 album, ‘Rastaman Vibration’ also speak volumes about today’s power, as much as they did 40 years ago.
The lyrics were lifted directly from part of a speech by Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie before the United Nations General Assembly in October 1963. Selassie had died in 1975. However, his words, Marley’s song and its message about “international morality” remain prophetic and inspirational till date.
The same became true of Marley’s celebration of Zimbabwean independence in 1980, with his song Zimbabwe, written in Ethiopia the year before. With only four days’ notice, Marley paid the band’s own way to Harare to honour an invitation to sing there at the official independence celebration, only to find that his audience included Prince Charles and other dignitaries while ordinary Zimbabweans were shut out and then dispersed with tear gas when they broke into the stadium.
Two days later the Wailers reportedly went back to Rufaro Stadium to play a free concert to an estimated 100,000 people and sang ‘Zimbabwe must be Free.’
Forty years later, we still live in a world that is fighting against racism; a world where class and racial inequality has increasingly become a way of life, a world where the regimes Marley sang against have been toppled but were not “utterly destroyed” and instead have created new forms of oppression; a world where the African continent does still not know peace…
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another inferior
Is finally and permanently
Discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war
That until there no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war
That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all
Without regard to race
Dis a war
That until that day, dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war
Love is the universal language and also featured prominently among the reggae icon’s music. Marley more than capably serviced the niche with classic love songs such as Guava Jelly, Stir it Up, Waiting In Vain, Satisfy My Soul, and “Is This Love and “One love, one Heart.” His music was positive, spiritually uplifting and politically insightful. The songs were not only framed to mentally unshackle the marginalized, but to, also, liberate the oppressed. And that’s why no musician has been able to step into Bob Marley’s shoes.
Forty years after his death, the singer’s legacy remains more popular than it was during his lifetime. The Gong brand is preserved and nurtured by his children and their children and, in the future, their children’s children; the Babylon System icon will live on for generations to come.
A patriarch of reggae music scions and an architect of Jamaica’s global footprint, Marley’s body of work is as undeniable as his lyric. The depth of his songs continue to resonate with reggae music lovers, music art enthusiasts. The release of the album ‘’ Catch a Fire’’ put Bob Marley at the top of reggae music.
Marley is said to have seen music and art as a weapon to advance change. His last three records, Survival, Uprising and Confrontation were conceived as a trilogy, a melodic call to arms, that we should still heed. The enduring popularity of Marley and his revolutionary music is evidence that he tapped into a deep desire among humans across the world, young people especially, for love, peace, equal rights and justice.
According to Tuesday Editorial of Maverick Citizens, “ The fact that so much of Marley’s vision remains to be fulfilled is our problem. The arc of history may ultimately bend towards justice, but since Marley died it has bent the wrong way and the world is now more tortured than it was at the time of his death. The issues he denounced are more pronounced despite political freedom coming to many former colonies. Added to the injustices of the 1970s are issues like the climate crisis and Covid-19 which were not part of Marley’s world, although the seeds were being sewn; the first cases of what became known as Aids, for example, were recorded on the 5th of June 1981, barely a month after his death, marking another anniversary.”
As a confirmation that Bob Marley still lives on, his Grammy-winning children and chart-topping grandson, including Stephen Marley, Cedella Marley and her son, Skip Marley,recently joined forces to produce a new version of “One Love,” which will be released July 17 and will also include special guest appearances from other musicians. The project is being put together to assist children affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the world is still in search of another Bob Marley, it’s pertinent that the present day musicians should begin to imbibe the ideals of the reggae icon. Particularly, in Nigeria, we are more in need of protest music now than ever. The time is now, for the emerging singers in the country to use their music not only to preach love and peaceful co-existence in the face of rising insecurity, ethnic clashes and senseless killings going on in the country, but also, to fight for the oppressed, with lyrics addressing socio-political issues and inequality.