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A Visit to the Bob Marley Museum

The Bob Marley Museum was not on my list of places to see on this visit to Kingston but when my other plans fell through, it sounded like the perfect backup.

Bob Marley Museum entrance
Entrance to the museum

Located at 56 Hope Road in a 19th-century colonial house that was the home the Reggae superstar, Rastaman and activist was living in when he died in 1981, it was converted into a museum by his widow, Rita Marley, and opened to the public on May 11, 1986.

On the main floor of the Bob Marley Museum is a working recording studio, memorabilia from Marley’s performances, and numerous awards. Included as well are costumes that were worn by the I Threes — Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths — his backup singers from 1974, and an image of Bob.

Bob Marley Museum
Bob Marley’s former home

On the second floor, Bob’s bedroom with his guitar, looks like he’d be returning any minute to get it. Next to the room is a kitchen, family room turned portrait gallery and a replica of the record shop the Wailers owned. Included is the bicycle they used to deliver their records. The second floor also has memorabilia from Bob’s trips to Africa, including his performance at Zimbabwe’s independence celebration.

The tour includes a visit to the room that gunmen sprayed with bullets in 1976 in an attempt on the singer’s life. Rita, Bob and their manager were wounded. Unfortunately, the bullet that hit Bob in the arm could not be removed. The attack was widely believed to be politically motivated.

Bob had planned a free concert, Smile Jamaica, and been outspoken about the glaring inequities within the Jamaican society. In the tense and violent run-up to the 1976 general election, his comments were perceived to be supportive of the ruling PNP of Michael Manley and against the JLP’s Edward Seaga, had allegedly been receiving backing from the US and the CIA. Graffiti at the time labeled Seaga “CIA-ga.”

Mural at Bob Marley Museum
Mural with images of Bob and the Wailers

Two days following the shooting, Bob performed, as scheduled, at the Smile Jamaica concert which was held at National Heroes Park. However, after the concert, he left the island for England where he spent 18 months.  Now the walls of the room are plastered with newspaper accounts of the incident except for a few areas where bullets pierced the brick.

Sign at the Bob Marley Museum
Sign at the cafe – Friendship keeps your heart full

The museum also features Bob’s original mixing board. The tour ends with a 20-minute film, with the pulsating rhythms and unforgettable lyrics playing in the background, and featuring footage of interviews with the reggae artist.

In the courtyard of the Bob Marley Museum are several murals, one with images of Bob and his sons — the daughters’ are to be drawn. Bob had 12 children. Another mural is dedicated to Haile Selassie. Near the entrance, the wall is covered by photos of Bob, the Wailers and the I-Threes. A statue of the singer, in an iconic pose – right fist clenched, reaching above his head, his left clasping his guitar – stands near the entrance to the museum. There’s also a restaurant, Legend Cafe. In the back, a fish pond and a small marijuana plant.

Bob Marley Museum - Marijuana, ganja, weed, herb, collie or collie weed
Marijuana plant

Planning Your Visit to the Bob Marley Museum

Bob Marley Museum, 56 Hope Road, Kingston, 927-5152
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 9:30 first tour, 4:00 last tour
Tour lasts an hour
Cost: US$25 (Non-Resident Adults); US$12 (Non-Resident Children aged 4-12); J$500 (Residents, with proper ID)
No photography is not allowed during the tour however, photos can be taken after.


At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary

I like happy coincidences. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had no plans to visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston but then there I was. So last Thursday evening when the new Marley documentary  premiered at Emancipation Park, I knew I had to be there.

As I walked to the park at around 6 pm, I could hear Bob’s music, specifically the song I had heard at his Museum a few days before, the one I wish now I had asked about. Scores of people had already gathered, some were sitting on the grass, others were milling around. Kids were playing happily. I wondered how many of them really knew why their parents had brought them to the park.

The main stage was draped with the red, green and gold of the Rasta flag and several screens had been placed around the park so that viewers could sit where ever they wished to watch the documentary. The mood was festive.

At the Premiere of Marley, the Documentary
At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary

Wandering around, I bumped into a human chain formed by several young men and women who were wearing Marley T-shirts. They made up part of the VIP entrance. Standing behind the human barrier for a few minutes — they wouldn’t let me cross — I caught the arrival of the Marley girls, a former government minister and a group of people I didn’t recognize. They were ushered into an official area in front of the stage. Later, I would learn that in that group was none other than Kevin Macdonald, the film’s Academy Award-winning director.

Marley premiere, Emancipation Park
Marley documentary premiere, Emancipation Park, Kingston

But too many people were gathered at the VIP entrance and I couldn’t get clear shots of anything or anyone so I wandered towards the main gate where the officials would arrive.

Continue reading “At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary”

Soulful Sundays: Bob Marley

I thought I knew every song that Bob Marley released. But on a visit to the Bob Marley museum in Kingston, I heard a song I didn’t recognize and heard it again at the premiere on Thursday of the latest documentary on the life of the Rastaman and reggae icon appropriately titled, Marley (more about that later). I kick myself now because I should have asked the name, now I can’t even remember the melody.

Bob Marley, photo from the Internet
Bob Marley, photo from the Internet

But anyway, it prompted me to think of featuring Bob as this week’s Soulful Sunday performer. Surprisingly, I hadn’t done that before though I’ve written about him in previous posts.

I saw Bob once at a concert in Montreal sometime in 1980. I don’t remember much about the evening, except that we had lousy seats — I could hardly see him when he came on stage and we left shortly after so that my boyfriend could make the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Ottawa to get some sleep before going to work the next day. A few months later, we heard that Bob was sick. The next news was that he’d died.

Robert Nesta Marley was born in St. Ann on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles, St. Ann, Jamaica. Bob was always interested in music and decided to concentrate on his music after a brief stint as a welder’s apprentice. At 16, Desmond Dekker introduced him to Jimmy Cliff who in turn introduced him to producer, Leslie Kong for who Bob recorded his first singles, Judge Not, Terror and One More Cup of Coffee. None of the singles became hits and Bob left Kong, who’d only paid him $2 for his work.

In 1963, Bob and Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer), his childhood friend, began taking lessons from Joe Higgs who introduced him to Peter McIntosh. The three became good friends and later formed The Wailing Wailers. The group also included Junior Braithwaite (d. 1999), Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith (d. 2008).

The group’s collaboration with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd produced their first hit, Simmer Down, which sold 80,000 copies. They also recorded an early version of One Love, which was voted Song of the Century in 2009.

Bob, the Rastaman

Bob Marley was, without a doubt, the most well known Rastafarian there is. He became a Rastaman following the visit of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966. Through his music and his uncompromising stance, he legitimized Rastafarians, and when he sang about the plight of the poor in Jamaica, he touched poor people everywhere. Bob literally and figuratively brought the ghetto (Trench Town, where he grew up) and Rastafarians uptown (Hope Road where he lived and had his studio), to the other side of Jamaican society.

It’s difficult for me to select a Bob song that’s my favorite as I have many. Here are a few: War (from a speech by HIM, Haile Selassie I to the UN in October, 1963 – excerpt below) and Burnin’ and Lootin‘.

Excerpt of HIM’s speech, which Bob used verbatim in War:

“…until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil…”

Bob not only quoted from Selassie, he borrowed from Marcus Garvey as well as he did in Redemption Song when he sang, Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind. – Marcus Garvey, October, 1937

Bob, the Loverman

Bob wasn’t just about revolution however. His soft side can be heard in two of my favorites, Waiting in Vain and Turn Your Lights Down Low.


Soulful Sundays: Burning Spear

I’ve been a fan of Burning Spear (the Spear) since high school. It was the height of the Black Power Movement in the U.S., a movement that had spread to the Caribbean and expressed itself in a growing consciousness and pride in our Africanness. The Spear’s third album, Marcus Garvey, became an anthem, an indictment of the times. Marcus Garvey words come to pass, Burning Spear sang and we cheered.

It was one of the first albums I bought; it almost never left my room or my sight. I played it every chance I got. There were many favorites.

Burning Spear, photo from the Internet
Burning Spear, photo from the Internet

Burning Spear, who took the name of the former president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, was born Winston Rodney in 1945 in the parish of St. Ann.  Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley have been credited as his major influences. The Spear has been connected with several legendary Jamaican producers and studios of the 1960s and 70s. He was with Island Records until 1980 when he formed his own label. Burning Spear Music Production company and Burning Spear Records handle his bookings and music.

Now living in New York, the Spear tours extensively. Nominated 12 times, he won Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album for Calling Rastafari (2000) and Jah is Real (2009). In 2007, he was honored by the Government of Jamaica with an Order of Distinction (OD).

I saw Burning Spear in concert in New York a few years ago. The show was memorable for several reasons. First, it was the Spear. Second, it was the only time I remember going to a show on a Sunday night, getting home after 3 a.m., and going to work the next morning. (It was after this show, I think, that I discovered Red Bull.)

When we arrived, there were only a few people in the audience. However, by the time the opening acts had warmed us up sufficiently and the Spear took the stage, the crowd had swelled considerably. There was no place to stand in this standing room only show. I could hardly see him — and my friends and I had been standing only a few yards from the stage.

Here are a couple of my favorites — Marcus Garvey and Slavery Days. Take a listen.


Remembering Bob Marley

Reggae icon, Bob Marley would have been 67 years old today. It’s interesting to see how many people Bob touched with the message of his music.

When I was planning my trip to South Africa, I happened upon a link to an Earth Festival that was being put on by the Knysna Rasta Village. I called the village right away and made arrangements to visit. I looked forward to the tour and to meet these South African Rastas. When we got to Cape Town, however, we had so many things scheduled, we had to postpone the trip which was about a day’s drive away.

Bob Marley, photo from the Jamaica Gleaner
Bob Marley, photo from the Jamaica Gleaner

If Bob’s music had reached this community in South Africa, imagine my surprise when I saw the documentary, He Koha Ma Bob Marley. It followed the Maori musician, Ruia Aperahama, as he traveled to Bob Marley’s former home in Trench Town, Jamaica and presented a gift to the Marley family. According to Aperahama, Bob came along “when it wasn’t cool to be Maori, it wasn’t cool to speak our language, it wasn’t cool to be ourselves.” His music gave them hope and helped them see themselves. Talk about reach and impact.

Here in Jamaica, a week of activities are planned to mark the singer’s birthday. Meanwhile, more voices here have been added to the list of people calling for the Jamaican government to make the Rastaman a national hero and to designate his birthplace and final resting place in Nine Mile, St. Ann, an official tourist attraction.

Listen here to Natural Mystic, one of my favorites.

A new biopic, Marley, which was created in collaboration with the family, will hold its World Premiere this month at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival. It will have its North American premiere at South by Southwest film festival in March and open in theaters on April 20th.

Without a doubt, Bob Marley is more popular now than when he was alive. From the Jamaica Observer, here are a list of awards and honors he has received:

* March, 1994 — Bob Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In his tribute, British singer Robert Palmer said, “No one in rock and roll has left a musical legacy that matters more or one that matters in such fundamental ways.”

* Exodus, the ninth studio album for Bob Marley and the Wailers, was recognised as Time magazine’s Album of the Century in 1999. The album contains the tracks Waiting In Vain, Three Little Birds and One Love.

* On February 6, 2001, Bob Marley was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It would have been his 56th birthday.

* February 2001, Marley received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rebel Music, the documentary on his life, was also nominated for Best Long Form Music Video at the Grammys.

* In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Marley number 11 on its list of 100 Greatest Artistes of All Time. In the Rolling Stone article, rapper Wyclef Jean said, “Marley brought the idea that through music, empowerment and words, you can really come up with world peace”.

* One Love, the song Marley and the Wailers first recorded at Studio One in the 1960s, was named Song of the Millennium by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

* Marley was voted one of the greatest lyricists of all time by a BBC poll in 2004.

* 2006: A blue plaque was unveiled at his first British residence in Ridgemount Gardens, London. It was dedicated by the Nubian Jack Community Trust and supported by Her Majesty’s Foreign Office.

* In 2008, a statue of Marley was unveiled in Serbia during a rock festival as a token of peace. Musicians from Croatia and Serbia were joined by fans for the midnight ceremony

* In 2010, the classic 1973 album, Catch a Fire, was among 25 inductees into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Other Marley productions previously inducted include Get Up, Stand Up, No Woman No Cry, Exodus and One Love.

What’s your favorite Bob Marley song?