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Monday, May 11, 2009

Bob Marley: An Afro-centric, Rastafari superstar

Africa unite;
'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon,
And we're going to our Father's land.
How good and how pleasant it would be before God and man,
To see the unification of all Africans.
-- Bob Marley

Compiled By Cultural Crospondent / May 11, 2009

Consider the brilliant and evocative music Robert Bob Nesta Marley (1945-1981) gave the world; music that stretches back over nearly two decades and still remains relevant and universal. Marley has been hailed as "the first 'Third World' superstar," "Rasta Prophet," "visionary," "revolutionary artiste" and "Afrocentric." These accolades were not mere hyperbole.

During his over twenty years career, Marley's growing style encompassed every aspect in the rise of Jamaican music, from 'ska' to contemporary 'reggae.' The Wailers' signing to Island Records in 1972 was a revolutionary move for a reggae band. Their first album, "Catch a Fire" that year was the start of a long climb to international fame and recognition of Marley, which continued till "Uprising" (1980).

In between "Catch a Fire" and "Uprising," Marley and the Wailers released seven more studio albums -- "Burnin'," "Rasta Revolution," "Natty Dread," "Rastaman Vibration," "Exodus," "Kaya" and "Survival." Most of his songs from these albums encompass mainly three aspects-- Rastafari philosophy, songs for the oppressed and love songs. It's difficult to understand Marley's music appropriately without considering Rastafari -- a monotheistic religious movement that accepts the former emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) as the incarnation of God. It must be stated, however, that Rastafari is at the very core of Marley's music.

"Rastaman Vibration" (1976) was, for many, the clearest exposition of Marley's music and beliefs, including such tracks as "Crazy baldhead," "Johnny was," "Who the Cap Fit" and, perhaps most significantly of all, "War," the lyrics of which are derived from a speech made by emperor Haile Selassie before the United Nations General Assembly in 1963.

The lyric follows -- "Until the philosophy, which holds one race superior/And another inferior/Is finally and permanently/Discredited and abandoned/Everywhere is war -- Me say war." Marley referred Haile Selassie as “The Lion” in many of his songs. 

"Exodus" (1977) established Marley as an international superstar. The album includes songs like "Exodus," "Waiting in vain," "Jamming," "Natural mystic" and one of his best love songs "Turn your lights down low."

"Exodus" has been recognised by music critics and scholars as one of the greatest albums of all time. In 1998, TIME magazine named "Exodus" the best music album of the 20th century. Two events in 1978 were significant to Marley. In April that year he returned to Jamaica after two-year exile in UK to play the One Love Peace Concert. And at the end of the year he visited Africa for the first time, going to Ethiopia, spiritual home of the Rastafari.

Following year Survival was released. The album depicted Marley's Afro-centrism through songs like "Africa Unite," "Zimbabwe" and "Survival." In the song Africa Unite, Marley proclaims Pan-African solidarity. The album's cover-jacket significantly depicts 47 flags of 47 African nations. 

Marley again toured Africa in 1980 at the official initiation of the Government of Zimbabwe to play at that country's Independence Ceremony. It was one of the significant honours afforded the band, and one, which underlined Marley's importance in the Third World.

"Uprising" (1980) was Marley's final studio album, and is one of his most religious productions, including "Redemption song" and "Forever loving Jah." It was in "Redemption song" that Marley sang the famous lyric,

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds."

At the end of the European tour in 1980, the band went to America. Marley played two shows at Madison Square Garden but, immediately afterwards he became seriously ill. Cancer was diagnosed. Marley fought the disease for eight months. The battle, however, proved to be too much. He died in a Miami Hospital on May 11,1981. 

"Confrontation," the last studio album, was released posthumously in 1983.


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