Bob Marley was one of the most influential artists that I learned about this semester so far. Along with his influence, he was extremely talented. Bob Marley spread his message of positivity and love throughout his music. He was anti-war and anti-violence. Many, if not all, of his songs express those ideas. Bob Marley’s success came from the unlikeliest of situations. He pushed past his hardships and circumstances and formed a career that would change the world.
Robert Nesta Marley was born in 1945 in Jamaica to his mother, Cedella Booker, and his father Norval Marley, a wealthy British man. His father left his mother before Bob Marley was born due to disapproval from his family since she was a black woman. Marley’s father never contributed to his welfare and Marley only saw his father a handful of times. When Marley’s mother remarried, they moved from Nine Miles to Kingston. His new step-brother, Bunny, would later become his co-founder of the Wailers.
Bob Marley recorded his first tracks at the young age of sixteen. In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and Junior Braithwaite started their band, the Wailers. Their first single, “Simmer Down”, was an immediate #1 hit in Jamaica. The group broke up in 1966; however, they reunited just a year later. The band released Catch a Fire in 1972. It was that album that allowed reggae to be heard internationally. In 1974, Bunny and Peter decided to seek solo careers at which point Marley renamed the group Bob Marley and the Wailers.
At the end of 1976 people, who are believed to be a part of the Jamaica Labor Party, broke into Marley’s Hope Road home and shot Marley, his wife, and many others who were there rehearsing for an upcoming concert called “Smile Jamaica”. Later, Marley’s song “Ambush in the Night” explained that this attempt was a result of corrupt politics. The gunman were never caught or identified but there is a lot of evidence that pointed to the Jamaica Labor Party. This concert was believed to favor the opposing political party, People’s National Party, which was not true. Bob Marley never claimed that he supported one side or the other. Despite the assassination attempt, two days later Marley still played the concert.
After the “Smile Jamaica” concert, Marley left Jamaica for 14 months. In 1978, Bob Marley returned to Jamaica to headline the “One Love Peace Concert” which was held to officially mark a truce between the two opposing political parties. Marley brought Prime Minister Manley of PNP and Edward Seaga of JLP onstage and joined their hands together. This was not only a sign of peace in Jamaica but it also gave people all across the world the hope that any injustice they were experiencing could be overcome. While on what would become his final tour, Bob Marley became sick and had to postpone the remainder of his tour. Later, it was discovered that Marley developed cancer and it had spread throughout his entire body. In May of 1981 Robert Nesta Marley passed away to complications from cancer. His wife and children carried on his name in reggae. His son Ziggy Marley established his own career with his siblings as the Melody Makers. Bob Marley lived a short, yet fulfilling life. He went on to influence the world even after his death.
“Simultaneously a militant freedom fighter and a unifier who saw beyond the dividing lines of race and class, Marley remains one of the most enduring figures in the struggle for human equality and justice” (Ray). No quote could describe Bob Marley better. Bob Marley could relate to his audience because he grew up among them in the same conditions. He did not grow up wealthy, despite his father being a white British man. He dealt with the struggles of Jamaican political violence and racism along with his fans. Marley tried to stay politically neutral; however, his songs made him a politically charged figure because he spoke out about the issues and violence that Jamaicans were experiencing daily. His main influence on the world were through his lyrics. His music spoke to people struggling with hardships and injustice everywhere, not only in Jamaica. Marley is a symbol of hope, peace, love, and positivity across the world. Many of his songs were upbeat and positive. A lot of his songs are easy to dance to and the lyrics gave his fans a positive outlook on life and hope of a better future. Bob Marley was awarded with several peace medals before and even after his death. Aside from his positive messages in his lyrics, Bob Marley was able to make an impact on music itself. His album Catch a Fire brought reggae to international fame. His music style was easy to play on radio stations because of the rhythm and the new sound he was bringing to the world. Also, his lyrics are timeless which is a main reason his popularity has stood the test of time.
“Redemption Song” is a widely known empowering song by Bob Marley. It is recognized by several people as the most influential song of all time. The song placed 66th on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (KOJO). The lyrics in this song not only apply to the political violence that Jamaicans were experiencing; they can be applied to any aspect of people’s lives. “Redemption: action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil” (Google). This definition encompasses the song as a whole. It is a call to expand your mind and free it from the slavery of others thoughts. The song is a battle anthem to gain one’s freedom back. Part of the lyrics are taken directly from a speech titled “The Work That Has Been Done” by pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (KOJO). Garvey’s speech was calling for emancipation of “mental slavery” which are direct lyrics in Marley’s song. The speech by Garvey is a call to action to take back your thoughts and opinions. Marley’s song allowed Garvey’s message to reach many people years after the speech had been made. Fans and even other artists use “Redemption Song” to empower themselves before they have to conquer things. The song brings listeners confidence and strength to do things they are fearful of. During the time it was released, Jamaica was holding their 1980 general election. The entire country was politically charged and violence was very common. Marley’s song brought people confidence to stand up and make their own decisions instead of doing what others around them chose to do. Part of the song says, “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”. I believe this is Marley’s way of trying to unite his fans and Jamaica to exist together even with their differing opinions. You can be free to think what you want and still respect others. In this way, Bob Marley shows his approach of nonviolence, peace, and love regardless of where you come from or what you believe. “Redemption Song” is an important message of thinking for yourself and freeing yourself from the slavery of what others think you should be. The song has impacted millions of people and continues to do so.
Marley was able to make music that was more than just a song to listen to, he created battle anthems for the oppressed. Bob Marley’s continued success comes from his lyrical talent, musical talent, and loving personality. Bob Marley is the poster child for reggae, peace, and freedom. He lived among the violence and poverty that Jamaica experienced during his time; however, Marley turned his experiences into positive songs that spread across the world. He had a successful career that carried on even after his death. Robert Nesta Marley impacted Jamaica and the rest of the world through his hopeful, upbeat, and powerful music.