No Jamaican historical figure is better known than Bob Marley. He put Jamaica on the map – at least Jamaica as the world sees it today.
The Jamaica he created throbs with the rhythms of reggae and is clouded by the smoke from a thousand spliffs. It is not the Jamaica I knew, but it is Jamaica as the world sees it.
The Jamaica of my youth was a sleepy Caribbean island about to shake off its colonial restraints and find a personality of its own. Then, with Bob Marley’s rise, came reggae and the demand for “respect,” replacing the pseudo-European culture we had inherited from England.
I was still a young man when Prime Minister Edward Seaga launched the massive promotion that helped to bring ska and then reggae to the world’s attention. Emerging from that notoriety was the compelling image of Bob Marley, ganja smoke swirling around his dreadlocks, his incredible music hypnotizing listeners around the world.
Marley quickly became a global phenomenon. According to a recent tribute in Radio Facts:
Throughout history, no artist has so dominated the world of music as Bob Marley. A musical, political and even spiritual icon, a figure of almost mythical proportions, both poet and prophet, Marley was the first Jamaican artist to give voice to the struggles of his people and the Rastafarian culture, and the first to gain worldwide fame.
Marley sold more than 20 million records throughout his career. He is credited with being the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World.
Marley’s rebellious lifestyle made it seem inevitable that he would die young. But it was cancer that ended his life in 1981 at the age of 34. If he had lived, he would be 70 years old on Friday.
If you’re a Marley fan, you might still be able to book a flight to Kingston for Friday’s events at the Bob Marley Museum and Tuff Gong Studio. And if you can’t make it on Friday, Jamaica is celebrating Marley’s birthday throughout the month.
Celebrations include not only concerts and festivals but also seminars on the impact reggae has had on Jamaica’s social, cultural and economic development.
As for those Jamaicans who won’t be going to Jamaica, we might want to honor his memory by listening to some of our favorite Marley anthems. How about “One Love,” or “Stir It Up” to start?