Today marks 35 years since the death of Bob Marley, a man whose music crossed racial boundaries and made reggae a global phenomenon. Bisha K Ali tells us why his legacy lives on for her.
For the last three decades, not one summer has gone by without a Bob Marley track riding the airwaves and filling you up. His work is globally ubiquitous, and while in some ways that’s diluted what he was really about, in others, it means that more of us get to experience this man’s spirit.
I love Bob Marley because he was more than a musician – he was a revolutionary and a philanthropist who was constantly drawn to singing about the lived experience of his people. From Buffalo Soldier to Exodus, Marley’s music was inextricably interwoven with the culture and politics of Jamaica (and the impoverished of the world) in the 60s and 70s.
No Woman, No Cry was one of Marley’s biggest hits, and is still oft-quoted as an offhand dismissal of romantic love. No matter – Marley ensured a legacy for this song, and for himself, by giving over the writing credit to Vincent Ford, an old friend and community leader who ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, Jamaica. All the royalties received ensured the ongoing survival of the soup kitchen. No Woman, No Cry has fed a lot of hungry people.
Marley was actively involved in trying to keep the peace in his home country. In 1976, he was involved in the organisation of Smile Jamaica, a concert that the organisers hoped would help to calm the political unrest in Jamaica (but which was taken over by the ruling party at the time).
Two days before the concert, Marley, his wife Rita and his manager Don Taylor were all shot at while peeling grapefruit in the Marleys’ Kingston home. Who shoots at people peeling grapefruit? No matter. The Marleys and Taylor all survived and Bob Marley went ahead with the concert as planned.
“I love Bob Marley because he was more than a musician – he was a revolutionary and a philanthropist who was constantly drawn to singing about the lived experience of his people.”
Marley was originally scheduled to perform one or two songs, but instead performed a full 90-minute concert, bringing opposing parties on stage, asking them to shake hands, dance together and sing his songs with him. The concert was a turning point and made Marley into a legendary figure in Jamaica.
Beyond being part of a major movement and always actively helping others to rise up, Marley and his band The Wailers were just incredible musicians. When The Wailers were scheduled to open 17 shows for Sly and the Family Stone in the US, their contract was cut short after just four shows. Why? The audience ended up preferring the opening act to the headliners.
Marley and his band brought reggae as a genre onto the world stage. Their music and their journey from everyday folk to legendary figures in our collective musical history is what’s made their work live on for generations.
Bob Marley’s music resonates with people around the world. I like to think the man said it best himself: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”4970 Views
Bisha K Ali is a writer and comedian. Off stage, she can be found under a duvet with a notebook.