By the middle of the s 80 percent of the island's wealth was owned by just 2 percent of the population and 24 percent of adults were unemployed. Despite having his first number one hit in Jamaica in , Marley was one of the many trapped in this cycle of poverty. It was not until wealthy white Jamaican Chris Blackwell offered the Wailers a lucrative contract with Island Records in that fame and fortune came Marley's way. Even at the earliest stage of his career Marley and his fellow Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer articulated the anguish of Jamaican society.
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The number one record 'Simmer Down' directly addressed the stifling alienation felt by youth at a time of few opportunities. In some senses Bob Marley is difficult to fathom.
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He was notoriously hard to understand in conversation. This encouraged speculation that a man so apparently incoherent couldn't have written his own lyrics. In truth his indecipherability had more to do with his heavy dialect and the prodigious amounts of ganja that he smoked! More particularly, the difficulty analysing Marley lies in the apparently contradictory philosophy that inspired his writing.
He vehemently denied any interest in what he termed 'politricks', proudly proclaiming that his belief system was religious.
His religion was Rastafarianism, a bizarre cult whose followers declared that the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie born Ras Tafari was the living god, or 'Jah' as they called him. This claim was difficult to maintain for a number of reasons. Firstly, neither Selassie himself nor his family ever accepted such an ultimate accolade, though he was happy on occasion to bask in the adulation it afforded him.
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Secondly, his year rule was characterised by nepotism, personal cowardice and tyranny. Finally and perhaps most conclusively, he died in , thus giving the lie to his followers' claims of his immortality. Rastafarians were subjected to disdain, harassment and exclusion in Jamaica. Yet there is a real sense in which, given the island's tortured history, we can understand the sect's appeal to the young Marley.
Writing in in response to fellow German philosopher Hegel, Karl Marx argued: 'Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. In short, religion provides a framework within which a believer can understand their suffering and take some comfort from the hope that as long as they maintain their faith a better world awaits them in eternity. Rastafarianism is founded on a belief that the promised land can be found in the here and now, on earth, in Africa.
Rastafarians incorporated ganja into their belief system, regarding it as a sacred herb that provides followers with nourishment and 'upliftment'. There is also a distinctly political element to the origins of Rastafarianism. The sect stems from the Back to Africa teachings of black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.
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In Garvey, who was himself born in Jamaica, declared that a saviour of black people was coming. When Selassie became the leader of Ethiopia in he appeared to be the living embodiment of that being. Marley was an immensely political figure despite his protestations to the contrary. He was certainly regarded as such by those jockeying for power and influence in Jamaica. By he was well on his way to international stardom. As a result he was also becoming an increasingly influential figure in Jamaican society.
In November of that year, two days before the Wailers were due to perform at a rally organised by the Peoples National Party PNP during a fractious general election campaign, Marley and his wife Rita were shot and wounded. He was probably the only person who could have achieved this in a country dominated by corrupt, divisive and often violent patronage.
In April he played at the celebrations marking the end of white supremacist rule in Rhodesia. His song 'Zimbabwe', celebrating the new black-led nation, features on the album Survival.
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This release, which carries the flags of all Africa's countries on the sleeve, is a clear and uncompromising call for African unity. He railed against injustice and inequality, incorporating the words of a brilliant speech Selassie had delivered at the United Nations in into his song 'War'. He distrusted politicians: 'Never make a politician grant you a favour. They will always want to control you forever. The militant message and call to arms was mixed with calls for peace and love and an ultimate belief that faith in Jah would lead to the exodus of his followers from Babylon to salvation in Ethiopia.
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Music itself was a key means by which this transformation and transportation would occur. Hence Marley implores his comrades to:. Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom Cause all I ever had, redemption songs. In the wake of his shooting Marley fled to Britain. During his exile he found a degree of tranquillity during which he recorded a couple of more reflective albums, Exodus and Kaya. His separation from the day to day struggle helps explain this and allows us to forgive the atrocious 'Three Little Birds', especially as he rediscovered his appetite for beautiful love songs such as 'Turn Your Lights Down Low' and 'Waiting in Vain'.
While in Britain Marley identified with and celebrated the creativity of the new wave music that exploded onto the scene in the late s.
Sadly Marley's premature death ensured that what could have been the greatest punky reggae party has instead become one of the most poignant missed opportunities. In Red Saunders went to Jamaica to shoot a photo story on the various music labels for the Sunday Times.
When he went into Bob's old office a copy of the letter that he and Huddle had written to the New Musical Express, which launched RAR - and which famously declared, 'Who shot the sheriff Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you! Barely a year after the Zimbabwe concerts Marley was dead, killed by cancer. He was far too young, but at least he gave the world a wonderfully defiant, sincere and spiritual music, which inspired others including his former partners Tosh and Wailer, compatriots Burning Spear and Black Uhuru, and here in Britain the likes of Steel Pulse, Aswad and dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.
A generation after Marley's death reggae is once again in the headlines, but for altogether less savoury reasons. However even with a sampling of Bob Marley hit songs it is still evident that Marley deserves the respect of all for churning out such timeless, inspiring and revolutionary material. Many critics of Marley have failed to realize that he was a man who read widely, was deeply interested and knowledgeable in African and World history, acknowledged and appreciated the teachings of great Black prophets and leaders such as Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Walter Rodney and Haile Selassie.
He lived in a time when the black man was still fighting for a place in society.
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Hence his lyrics call for deeper examination of human relations moving beyond the captivating rhythms and melodious harmonies. It is remarkably that at passing away at the very young age of 36 years old, this artist was able to leave behind a legacy which includes 20years of musical work. Bob Marley's approach to music and song writing was more serious than many observers have realized. Bob Marley was indeed a lover but he was also an avid fighter for the rights of the down trodden.