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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.


Haile Selassie, Rastafari & Jamaica

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the visit of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to Jamaica. Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia for 44 years. He was also his country’s regent from 1916 – 1930, the year he was crowned emperor.

Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia
HIM, Haile Selassie I, Mural at Bob Marley Museum

Selassie, who could trace his line back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was born Lij Tafari Makonnen (Lij means child in Amharic) and became Ras Tafari Makonnen. He took the name Haile Selassie following his crowning. Officially, his title was His Imperial Magesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.

During the 1920s, black activist, Marcus Garvey frequently exhorted his followers, who were mostly poor

HIM Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia
Painting of HIM, Haile Selassie I, on the base of Bob Marley’s statue

and downtrodden, to look to Africa for the crowning of a black king who would deliver them out of poverty. Many in Jamaica interpreted Selassie’s crowning as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prediction.

One group, the Rastafaris, from Ras Tafari, emerged during the 1930s and embraced Selassie as the

incarnation of God or Jah. Selassie met with representatives of the Rastas and in 1948, donated 500 acres of his private lands to allow Rastafari Brethren and Ethiopian World Federation members to settle in Ethiopia in an area known as Shashamane.

When His Imperial Majesty arrived in Kingston on April 21, 1966, he was caught off guard by the masses of Rastas, about 100,000, who had gathered to greet him, their Jah. It was reported that Selassie was reluctant to exit the plane until he received assurances that it was safe for him to do so.

The visit came at a critical time for the Rastas who were routinely harassed by police and shunned by the majority of the larger Jamaican society. Selassie’s historic visit gave them legitimacy and since then they celebrate His Imperial Majesty with drumming and chanting on Groundation Day, April 21st.