Bob Marley would have been 70 today had he lived beyond 1981 until now. Just goes to show that despite the great man’s long absence his contribution to music continues to be appreciated and celebrated.
In Jamaica numerous events are on this month to commemorate Marley’s life as the island celebrates both black history month and reggae month.
My first memory of Bob Marley was a 4 year old in Kilburn, north west London playing with the “Catch A Fire” album jacket curious at its cigarette lighter design. As an inquisitive youngster I browsed my late brother’s collection of “Black Music” magazines and learnt more on Marley’s music. The first track that attracted me then was “Burning and Lootin.
Later on in Jamaica as a teen the “Survival “album became a regular on my brother’s turntable and I gravitated to “Ambush in the Night” and “Zimbabwe“. But “Babylon System” was the main song as it captured the rebellious mindset that many young Jamaicans were feeling at that time.
The 1980 elections in Jamaica made Marley’s “Bad Card” a popular song by those angered by the violence that accompanied the political campaigns. Even then I did realise, despite Marley’s popularity, his songs were not regularly played on the 4 local radio stations or were in the charts. Apart from “Ambush” I cannot remember a number 1 single from Bob in the late 1970s.
The average Jamaican’s musical taste is quite electic and you were likely to hear the music of Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart more than that of Marley on a regular basis. Rod’s “Do You Think I am Sexy” outsold most records in Jamaica in the late 1970s. A real headscratcher even now.
I have to pay dues to local radio disc jockeys such as Errol “E.T.” Thompson & Michael Campbell for their consistent playing of Marley’s music during his lifetime. Plus the local sound systems who did their part in popularising Marley’s records.
When news of Marley’s death come on the radio- in the bus I was travelling to school in Clarendon – there was silence for the remainder of the 5 mile journey. Even I did not realise the significance of Marley’s passing.
Only when I returned to the UK in the mid 1980s did I fully understand Marley’s global appeal. The mainstream radio stations in the UK would consistently play “Jammin” “One Love” and “Could You Be Loved”. David Rodigan was a key exponent of Marley’s music. But it was the numerous black run pirate stations in London that kept Marley’s full catalogue of music alive across the airwaves and allowed me to learn more.
Sometimes whenever I read any of Marley’s many biographies on public transport in England at least 1 person would start a conversation about his music. No xmas office party at London was complete without “Jammin” being played and rivalled Abba’s “Dancing Queen” as the song to get all patrons on the dance floor.
One day while working at the Home Office (not Immigration!) my then colleagues next door were drafting some policy work for Theresa May. This working area would normally rival the local morgue in the complete silence stakes. My ears shot up at the sound of Marley’s “Natty Dread” album being played by those same colleagues with no objection. “Natty Dread” turned out to be an icebreaker between 2 sections who had hardly spoken in a casual capacity. As we exchanged Bob Marley pleasantries that December afternoon.
Bob Marley is Jamaica’s Beethoven, Jamaica’s Miles Davis and Jamaica’s Fela Kuti. Jamaica’s Socrates.
Just like those great men Marley’s words and songs will continue to transcend generations, cultures and classes.