How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfill de book…
Redemption Song, Bob Marley
Most national and religious holidays commemorate the death (or the birth) of a martyr or martyrs executed for their beliefs.
And then there are the victory holidays, of battles and wars, which essentially celebrate the deaths of somebody else’s martyrs.
And then there are Poets. History teaches us that unlike political and religious leaders, artists need not die for their cause to have a holiday named after them, provided they die young.
Hard to believe he’d be in his sixties if he were alive today. He died at 36 of melanoma cancer. He left behind, not a traditional bible, but a legacy of spirit in song.
in the heart of America
Stolen from Africa,
brought to America
Fighting on arrival,
fighting for survival…
If you know your history
Then you would know where you coming from
Then you wouldn’t have to ask
Who the eck do I think I am…
–from Buffalo Solider
In an industry where the vast majority of popular music revolved around repetitive and vapid love songs, Marley’s lyrics articulated complex social issues: race, power, politics, and God. He filtered these themes through his own unique view of the world, one which saw beyond the arbitrary borders and distinctions of the society in which he lived. He once said:
“I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white…”
His first single, aptly titled “Judge Not,” was released in 1962, the year of Jamaica’s independence.
Marley spread the Rastafari philosophy around the world. His most famous concert may have been the 1978 One Love Peace Concert, during which he called the leaders of the ruling and opposing parties on stage to hold hands.
The title alludes to the spiritual birth of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions. Marley’s lyrics consistently draw upon Biblical themes, Jamaican folk-lore, and his own experience to speak to the continuing struggle of the African Diaspora, particularly in the New World.
Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?
We know where we’re going
We know where we’re from
We’re leaving Babylon
We’re going to our father land.
–Bob Marley, Exodus, 1977
Because of the timelessness of Marley’s lyrics and recordings, his legacy will continue to grow over the coming decades. The further we get from his death, the more people tend to recall the legend over the person.
In Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley Christopher Farley touches on the very human side of Nesta…
“…near the end of his life, when his dreadlocks had begun to fall out because of the cancer treatments, he would still summon the strength to play with his kids. He would put on a Frankenstein mask from off the kitchen counter and chase his sons and daughters around their house in Miami. “A lot of people know Dad the musician,” [Marley’s eldest daughter] Cedella says. “We’ve always known him as Dad–who could be corny, funny, serious at times, but would never spank. If he saw a tear in your eye, he would look the other way. That’s the person that we know.”
He was called the “first Third World superstar,” but as he said of himself…
“…I don’t think Third World. To me, I am of the First World. I can’t put people in classes.”
Think Bob Marley’s legacy is overrated? It’s okay to say it, we’re all friends here. But think of this: It is culture and tradition that sustain a people separated from their homeland. Unlike previous diasporas, the Africa Diaspora was so brutal and so widespread that descendants were cut off from an evolution of culture and tradition that had been passed down for a hundred generations.
Marley’s success at embodying, expressing and popularizing a unique cultural movement in the 1960s and 70s, specifically of, by, and for the African Diaspora, was the culmination of hundreds of years of adaptation and indomitable faith. The movement redefined core values of peace, unity, God, redemption, and the enjoyment of life.
Nesta Robert Marley died in 1981. At his request he was buried with a bible, his guitar, a soccer ball, his ring, and a bong.
Nesta Robert Marley : February 6, 1945-May 11, 1981