Bob Marley - The Redemption Song

Prasad Yuvanesan is a Malaysian Tamil youngster. He has long black matted hair falling in locks. He wears at all times green - yellow - red bands as wristlets and ringlets. His T shirts proclaim, ‘In Bob I trust’, ‘Rastaman’, ‘Could You be Loved?’ etc or just display lush marijuana leaves and big portraits of Bob Marley with his flying dreadlocks like the mane of a lion. A Bob Marley smoking pot with dreadlocks falling all over his face…. A Bob Marley with fingers on guitar in meditation….

It will be a gross understatement to call Prasad a Bob Marley fan. He is a devotee of a god called Bob Marley! His eyes brighten up as he says emotionally “Bob Marley is there for me, he is the savior and he will take care of everything. Hear his songs everyday; pray to him…he will never abandon us”. Bright and early, every morning, Prasad prays to Bob Marley’s portrait and listens to Bob Marley’s songs with the intensity of listening to devotional songs. He is an active member of Bob Marley devotees’ group in Kuala Lumpur. He is one among Malaysia’s Lakhs of Bob Marley devotees. Green- yellow- red is the colors of Bob Marley followers and ganja smoking is their daily ritual!

Bob Marley is at once a culture and a religion. Listen to the emotional outbursts of some his devotees. Gonzo, a youngster from Mexico City declares: “I worship Bob. I smoke pot as I listen to his songs. It is an out of this world experience. Bob’s clarion call was freedom for the entire world. Like Bob, the whole world must smoke marijuana everyday. That is good for our soul”. Fabian Muller of New Zealand announces, “Bob Marley lives in the hearts of people even today. Nobody can contribute anything to rival him in music and its sound. He will live forever in aching hearts. His blessings will be there at all times for his fans and their families”. For Bob Marley fans the world over, music means reggae! Wailers are the only music band! And Bob Marley is the god of music.

Bob Marley is the first international super star of music to emerge from the third world. Reggae is the music style sculpted by him and today like rock and pop it is an important music genre that has spread all over the world. Bob Marley did it all by himself! He was the lyricist, he did the scores and he was the singer and his reggae became the liberation song of all the oppressed people the world over. It became the heart beat of their sorrows, their loneliness and dreams as well. His reggae is not meant to be a soul music beyond this world. It is a call that demands justice and equality here and now and this earthiness is the hallmark of Bob Marley’s reggae.

Basically reggae is a Jamaican native music. It is a musical style that combines the finer points of Jamaican tribal and folk music like Ska, Rocksteady, Dub, Dancehall and Ragga. It has also absorbed some of the aspects of American Calypso and Rhythm and Blues styles. Importantly, reggae has a clear and well defined beat structure. It has a constant back beat named ‘skank’ played on rhythm guitar. The typical bass guitar patterns lend reggae a special structure and depth. These make reggae arousing and rocking dance music. It is said that while other music styles make us realize our singular identity, reggae moves us to be one with the masses. Its beat attunes us to dance in blissful selflessness. Bob Marley has opined that reggae is a Spanish word meaning ‘the king’s music’. Bob Marley’s lyrics and songs embrace the ethos of all the movements and struggles that mankind has fought for justice and peace. It calls for all people to live on this earth in a universal brotherhood.

Born in poverty and degradation, Bob Marley rose to be one of the most influential personalities of the twentieth century. Bob Marley had firm religious beliefs and a clear political view. He was a firm believer in the religion of Rastafari and its god Jah. World wide, millions embraced the Rastafari religion, moved by Bob’s strong lyric lines and his magnetic music.

Bob Marley was born in the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, in a scenic hill village called Nine Miles but he was brought up in the dirty slums of Trenchtown in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica. Bob was born on 6th February, 1945 to Norwell Sinclair Marley and Cedella Booker. He was christened as Robert Nesta Marley. His father was a white British military officer, fifty plus years old who had come to the hills for rest and recreation. His mother was a black native Jamaican teenager. Norwell Sinclair Marley abandoned his wife as soon as Bob was born. When Bob was five years old Cedella Booker migrated to Trenchtown in search of livelihood.

Brought up in this poverty stricken slums, Bob left school at the age of fourteen and got trained as a welder. After doing odd jobs for two years, he started concentrating in music. In 1962, at the age of sixteen he recorded and released two songs. It was not a success. But continuing his journey in music he formed his music troupe ‘Wailers’ in 1965. Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh were part of this troupe. Their songs ‘Simmer down’, ‘Rule them rudie’ and ‘It hurts to be alone’ became famous in Jamaica.

In 1966 Bob Marley married Rita Anderson, his girl friend of many years. The day after his marriage he sailed for America. His intention was to stay with his mother who then lived in America, and make some money to release his music records. After doing odd jobs including that of a sweeper he returned to Jamaica. He again joined with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston to release music discs through a local label, Beverley. Soon Bob Marley started a music label ‘wail n soul’. But this was a financial failure in spite of successful singles like ‘Mellow mood’.

When Bob Marley had gone to U S A, Rita Marley had left Christianity to embrace Rastafari inspired by the visit of Ethiopian king, Haile Selassie. Bob too started showing his devotion to Rastafari religion. It showed in his lyrics and music. In 1969, Bob Marley with his Wailers troupe members embraced Rastafari religion.

In 1969 Bob Marley started own music publishing named Tuff Gong with a front ranking Jamaican music publisher, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Perry brought Aston Barrett and Carlton Barrett to Wailers music troupe. They remained inalienable part of Wailers rhythm section till the last. In 1970, Wailer’s first music album, Soul Rebel, was released.

The most creative and yet crisis-ridden period in the history of Wailers came to an end in 1971. Opportunity knocked on their doors with a new opening. The British music label Island Records, offered them 8000 British pounds for a new music album. Doors of England’s best recording studios were opened to Wailers. Island records recorded and widely publicized ‘Catch a fire’ of the Wailers in 1973. A grand tour of England, important shows in London’s Speakeasy forum, all attracted the critical attention of rock critics. They performed and gave interviews on BBC radio and television.

Wailers conducted many successful musical events in America. A grand music event of Wailers was organized at Max Kansas City Club of New York with a rousing introduction by rock star Bruce Springsteen. In the same year Island Records released their next record named as ‘Burnin’. The success became a series. It was in their next album ‘Natty dread’ that one of their most successful song ‘No woman no cry’ featured. The troupe was renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers. But this also brought heartburns. Tosh and Livingston left Wailers, grousing that Bob alone cornered all credit and glory.

Bob Marley brought in other singers like his wife and his rhythm trainer, Alvin Patterson. In July 1975 the new Wailers conducted two grand music shows in London’s Lyceum. The recorded version of this event was later released and immortalized as ‘Live’. The live version of the song ‘No woman no cry’ that we hear today was recorded on this stage at lyceum with all its emotional underpinnings of the performers and the audience. A great show they later conducted in Los Angeles was ranked by rolling stones magazine as one among the twenty music events that reconstructed Rocks ‘n’ Roll. In 1976 Bob Marley took America like a tidal wave. Rolling stones publication named Wailers as the ‘Band of the year’.

Their new album ‘Rastaman Vibrations’ achieved new heights in sales. Bob Marley became the moral voice of anti-war movements and anger against social inequities in America. Many international music stars and bands adopted Bob Marley’s songs and lyrics for rendition in their own styles. In this Eric Clapton’s ‘I shot the sheriff’ ranked first in America’s top ten lists. Stevie Wonder’s rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’ and ‘Redemption song’ became popular all over the world. Boney M’s disco version of ‘No woman no cry’ created waves even here in India.

When he returned to Jamaica, Bob Marley had become a national hero. But some of the politicians there feared his popularity. An attempt was made to assassinate him on 3rd December 1976. The assassins entered his home in Kingston at the time of Jamaican general elections and shot Bob, Rita and a few friends but everyone survived. Bob Marley had planned a musical event in December. It was speculated that the opposition leader, Edward Seaga, fearing that it will work to their disadvantage may have sent the hired assassins. Some thought that this was an American imperialist plot in favour of their favourite Edward Seaga. However, Bob Marley with his two bullet wounds still conducted the event ‘Smile Jamaica’, just as planned. But wounds kept him from playing the guitar, Rita Marley sang with her head bandaged. Immediately after the event, Bob left for London.

In the spring of 1977, he was arrested and fined by the British police in London for being found with marijuana. He was at this time working on his next album ‘Exodus’. He had never really bothered about the law against marijuana. He always termed marijuana as spiritual. Exodus took Bob Marley and his troupe to the height of world fame. Amidst all this unceasing music journeys, in September of 1977, Bob Marley was diagnosed for cancer on his toe. It was described in the press as an injury suffered while playing football. Football was Bob Marley’s next obsession after music. Doctors recommended amputation of his toe. But Rastafari religion disallowed this and Bob Marley refused doctors’ advice.

In 1978 Bob released ‘Kaya (ganja) among their more famous albums. Instead of Bob Marley’s usual medley of anger, protest, call for equality of all humans etc., this album praises love and marijuana. Among the songs of the album, “Is this love?” figures as a great number even today. In April 1978 Bob Marley performed in Kingston’s National Arena a show lovingly named ‘One Love -Peace Concert’. This was meant to be an event of reconciliation between two constantly warring Jamaican political groups. Bob Marley appeared on stage, hand in hand with the two political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga. He later won The Third World Peace Prize of the United Nations Organization. In his songs, Bob Marley again and again stressed on peace and unity. He set his face against division and hatred.

During this period he under took pilgrimage to Ethiopia, the holy land of Rastafari. Albums like ‘Babylon by Bus’ and ‘Uprising’ were released during this period. Bob Marley again went to Africa in 1980. This time he was invited by Zimbabwe to participate in its Independence Day celebrations. The Ethiopian flag in the background, portraits of Haile Selassie, Marcus Grevey and other heroes of black freedom movements became the backdrop hallmark of his stage shows. This was a period when Bob Marley became the conscience keeper and torch bearer of black freedom moments.

In 1980 Bob Marley’s health deteriorated. While jogging in New York, during the days fixed for his Madison Square Garden music events, he fainted. Cancer had spread from his toes to all over his body. By September doctors diagnosed that cancer had affected his brain and gave him a month to live, at the most. But Bob continued his journey of music. On September 22nd he conducted in Pittsburg a grandly successful show, but he was in great pain. The dates fixed for later events had to be cancelled because of his poor health.

During this period he was awarded the order of merit, Jamaica’s highest civilian honour. As a last resort to save his life, Bob went with his wife to a controversial cancer research center in Germany. He fought for his life for eight painful months but nothing came of it. The end came on 11th may, 1981 in his 36th year in a Miami nursing home. Millions paid a tearful farewell to their guide and hero when his funeral function was held in Kingston on 23rd of may 1981. Eventually he was buried in his native village Nine Miles in Jamaica. A mausoleum built there has become a major tourist attraction now, visited every year by millions.

Bob Marley became an international super star, but he was never alienated from his roots. Bob used to roam the crime-infested streets of Kingston in his Mercedes Benz and BMW cars with windows wound down. He was never harmed. He was always generous to his poor fellow-countrymen. When he passed away, over four thousand Jamaican families were dependent on him.

Today, quarter of a century has passed since Bob Marley’s death but his lyrics and music still inspires and for music lovers his songs sound like a gentle breeze of consolation to the abandoned. His compassionate voice rises to reach out even today to the millions and millions of women in tears all over the world...No women, no cry…..