Friday, August 24, 2007

Powerspot Bob Marley special

He’s been described as the most important musical figure of the 20th century. His influence just keeps growing ever since his passing. He is a hero to many native peoples around the world, Maoris, Hopi Indians, the Aboriginal people, a figure who transcended music, and became a symbol of freedom.

The BBC has voted One Love as the song of the century, whilst Time Magazine voted Exodus as the album of the century. Through his music, Marley taught you not to judge people by the colour of their skin more by what they do. The music sang about the reality of life, of the plight of suffering; one of the strengths of marley’s music is that as long as suffering exists his music will continue and give strength to those listening. Marley’s music is as such one of the more enduring music of our time in my opinion.

The aim tonight is not to cover the entire history and spectrum of Bob Marley’s life. That would take more than a 90 minute show. I will assume people listening tonight will be across Bob’s work in some shape way or form, however I’ll loosely cover off the period up to his getting together with Island Records. For a more comprehensive look at Bob Marley's life, I recommend you go to

Marley would have been 62 years old this year. Even though Marley’s work only really covers a period of 20 years, his music has very much become a part of our everyday lives. It has been used in countless commercials, still gets regular airplay on commercial and alternative radio, and due to the fact his work was so insightful and spiritually aware, made it difficult for other reggae stars to be equally noticed. Marley was in a league of his own.

Considered to be the first true superstar of the so called third world, Marley’s music was shaped by the street culture of Jamaica of the 1950’s and 1960’s . Slavery had only been abolished 100 years earlier, and, the people were coming to terms with recent independence and emerging national identity.

A sense of African heritage and cultural awareness were further raised by people such as Marcus Garvey who advocated a new black African state. Freed from the domination of white rulers, Garvey as part of the dream to reunite the black population started the Black Star Line, a shipping company which in theory was going to ship all the black population from America and the Caribbean back to Africa.

In 1930 Ras Tafari Makonnen became the new Emperor of Ethiopia, He took on a new name- Haile Selassie. The followers of Marcus Garvey took Selassie to be the man who would deliver the Negro people, as had been prophesised by Marcus Garvey earlier. This was to be the start of the Rastafarian religion. Rastafarians speak out against; poverty, oppression and inequality.....not just religious ideas but global problems. The prime basic belief of the Rastafarians is that Haile Sellassie is the living God for the black race. The Lion of Judah represents Haile Sellassie, the Conqueror. It represents the King of Kings as a lion is the king of all beasts. The dreadlocks on a Rasta's head are symbolic of the Lion of Judah.

Into this period of time and social consciousness came Robert Nestor Marley born in 1945, fifteen years after Haile Selassie took power. In the 50’s and 60’s Kingston Jamaica, despite all it’s poverty and hardship, was the place to be for many people. People would squat in shanty towns such as Trench town which was built over a ditch running the sewage out of the town. Trench town would of course be made famous through the music and songs of Bob Marley. He moved there with his mother in the late 50’s growing up listening to amongst other things American radio, hearing artists such as Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, Brook Benton as well as The Drifters. From a young age, Marley grew increasingly interested in music, forming a friendship with Bunny Livingstone aka Bunny Wailer, as well as the famous singer Joe Higgs who would be a mentor and teacher to his band. It was around this time that he befriended another musical icon- Peter Macintosh aka Peter Tosh. This was to be version 1 of the Wailing Wailers.

An introduction to Clement Dodd of Studio 1 fame in 1963 led to a record deal. Bob’s firsts single was Simmer Down, it’s reference to violence being a diatribe against competing producers of dances in dance halls and social events due to the competitive nature of the industry. With marley, you often needed to read the music between the lines. Reggae was very much what was called the poor man’s newspaper, in that if something was happening the word or the message would be spread through the music. If people couldn’t read, they could always listen to the music which would keep them informed of what was happening.

Marley went on to record music identifying other topical themes appealing to the Rude Boys, the street rebels of Kingston Jamaica, Over the next few years Marley cut some thirty singles for Clement Dodd before breaking up the band citing financial hardships. Earlier releases for Marley were more aimed at the dance halls and the tempo in general was more upbeat.

By the mid 60’s Bob Marley was identifying closer and closer to the ideals and beliefs of the Rastafarians, his songs starting to reflect a new spiritual outlook and social awareness, something that would remain in his music for the rest of his life. In Marley’s case, he would be strongly influenced by the Rasta beliefs such as:

*the use of ganja or ‘erbs to be closer to God…thus the references to I and I. Herbs made Marley think, made him more sensitive to what was around him. It was done for as Marley would say headucation.

*Africa being paradise,
*Selassie being the living god.

At a time when Jamaica was still relatively new to independence, this was a real slap in the face for the government of the day. He was seen as a threat. He in turn mistrusted the politicians. He called them Crime Ministers who sit in the house of thieves

Marley would reform The Wailers and teamed up with Lee Perry, producing some of the biggest hits such as Soul Rebel, 400 Years and Small Axe, songs which were to define the future of reggae.

Marley’s big break really came when he partnered up with Chris Blackwell from Island Records in the early 70’s. Blackwell had been promoting reggae music since the 50’s, as well as promoting rock bands such as Traffic and King Crimson. By aligning himself with Blackwell he was very much guaranteeing himself success, as Blackwell had the means to promote Marley to a greater audience.