Born on February 6, 1945, Robert Nesta Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and guitarist who rose to international fame and acclaim. If still alive, he would have turned 70 on February 6 2015.
Using his birthday as a time to reflect on what the man stood for, it’s clear that he was above most of the commercial noise surrounding the music industry. Ultimately, his message was that there should be peace, love and harmony between all of members of mankind. He sought to be a voice for the freedom of the repressed masses, using his music to call for the uplifting and the unification of people worldwide.
Marley grew up Catholic but converted to Rastafarianism and remained that way for many years. Shortly before his death he was baptized into Christianity again, however his involvement in Rastafarianism molded most of his life commitments. He declared that the leader of Ethiopia was divine, and believed that smoking ganja led a person to a more meditative state. Many songs that he wrote represented the ideas espoused in Rasta culture.
Bob Marley's early life greatly influenced his music and political tendencies. First, he was born of a black woman and a white man. It seems that this caused in him a sort of transcendence above racial identification. He considered himself not to be black or white, but rather a child of God. This likely influenced his 'One Love' personal philosophy.
Despite this attitude of transcendence, Marley was always a rebel and an instigator of sorts. It could seem that the message of “universal love” does not mix well with revolution, but Marley pulled it off. His youthful experiences with poverty and a lack of political rights in Trench Town, Jamaica, firmly planted ideals that he would retain all his life. Marley preached his beliefs in a not-so-subtle way in his music and interviews. Songs such as Get Up Stand Up explicitly call for revolution. What is the case, though, is that Marley did not advocate violence or militant behavior. The broader message was one of peace and harmony.
With respect to the countercultural movements of the sixties and seventies, Marley's music helped encourage change and experimentation in a similar way to other world acts such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Eric Clapton, a British bluesman, covered the melodic I Shot the Sheriff, and his transferability is not unique to that song. Even Sting and Paul Simon say that they were influenced by Marley's music. Marley’s blend of rock and reggae would end up influencing other styles of music as well, impacting rap, hip hop and ska artists as well as members of his own family. Ziggy Marley, his son, tours in his own right, recently appearing as a musical guest on Direct TV’s popular Guitar Center Sessions, for example. Ziggy’s own success helps sustain the popularity of father’s unique reggae sound.
Unfortunately, while Marley’s music was undoubtedly created out of pure intentions and passion, it was also transformed and commercialized for the purpose of appealing to a Western audience. Once Marley and the Wailers began recording with Island Records, the titles of his songs, as well as entire albums, were culturally and commercially modified. Western rock audiences bought the most records - it made sense not only financially, but for the purpose of cross cultural outreach as well. Today, Marley’s image has been exploited on an even greater level. His popularity has made it possible for the holders of his estate to market his image not only on t-shirts, flags and posters, but on Marley-blend marijuana, cannabis-infused lip balm, and a hoard of other products. While there were definitely benefits to reggae becoming internationalized, it also exploited the true intentions of the music and the Rasta culture.
However, regardless of commercialization, the music associated with Bob Marley will continue to be powerfully moving. Throughout his short career, Marley managed to become both a political and musical figure of international authority. His messages still resonate with today's youth. Marley's music does not seem dated in the way that many folk singers' music from the early 1960’s does, both the style of the instrumentation and the lyrics are fresh and inviting. There is a reason that his song One Love is used by the Jamaican tourist bureau. Influencing both countercultural movements and mainstream culture with his music and personal ideologies, his messages allowed for the creative empowerment of many musical artists the world over.
Have you listened to Bob Marley's music? Any thoughts on the article? As always, comments are welcome
About the author:
Beth Kelly is a freelance blogger with a horror film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, analog photography and vintage film posters. You can find her on her Twitter: @bkelly_88
Thanks to Beth for contributing. Have an idea for a guest post? Feel free to contact me, and we'll sort something out. My e-mail can be found in the About Me section above.