Robert Nesta Marley, famously known as Bob Marley, was – and of course, is still a darling to many across Africa. His music is loved by many Africans for its powerful messages touching on relevant issues such as African unity, Pan-Africanism, struggle for survival, fight against oppression, protest, systemic corruption, discrimination, love, harmony, peace, redemption, amongst other themes.
There is no doubt music has a long and rich history as a universal language that musicians have used to wage war against despotism, inequality and injustice. Songwriters and musicians have long employed music to uplift those who are exploited, downtrodden and treated unfairly. Marley used his music in similar ways to impact the lives of those who were needy and oppressed. Simply put, his famous reggae style of music is culturally, spiritually and socially rich – an inspiration to many people.
Bob Marley, who was born on 6 February 1965 and died on 11 May 1981, was a fervent and unapologetic Pan-Africanist who strongly believed in African unity and his beliefs on Pan-Africanism were rooted in his Rastafarian religious beliefs.
As a devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley adhered strongly to the beliefs of his religion, which include a belief that amputation is sinful. A Bible verse that the Rastafarians hold as very important is Leviticus 21:5, which says, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”
The first part of this verse is the foundation of the belief in wearing dreadlocks, and the second is the basis for a belief that amputation (as well as other types of body modification) is sinful. Other verses, including those which refer to the body as a holy temple, may also influence this belief.
Rastafarianism teaches that death is not a certainty and that truly holy people will gain immortality in their physical bodies. To acknowledge that death is a possibility is to make certain that it will come soon. It is believed that this is the reason that Bob Marley never wrote a will, either, which resulted in difficulty in dividing his assets after his death.
A product of an interracial relationship between an English military person (Norman Marley, a captain in the colonial army) and an African woman, Cedilla Booker, from Jamaica, Marley identified with Africa and broke the long tradition of mixed-race people who denied their African roots. Even though his home country of Jamaica had experienced colonialism and slavery for more than 200 years, he strongly identified as African.
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Pan-Africanism emerged as a civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s and sought to unite Africans as one community. While it mostly referred to Americans and people living in Africa being united as one, people of the Caribbean strongly identified with Pan-Africanism as a celebration of the cultural, spiritual, scientific and artistic legacies of all Africans from the past to the present. It is also called the Rastafarian movement. And this movement can be described as one of the most profound attempts at celebrating Africa’s contribution to humanity and increasing consciousness, and it spread from the Caribbean to different parts of the world.
From 1974 to 1981, Bob Marley emerged as a Pan-Africanist, informed by the independence struggle of the Caribbean from 1950 to 1960. Despite the fact that Marley never declared any political interests, his music was reflective of the times. His song ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ is one of the songs to talk about in his cultural and musical fights against oppression.
By the late summer of 1980, cancer had spread throughout Bob Marley’s body. While he was in New York City for a performance Marley collapsed during a jog through Central Park. He performed for the last time in September 1980 in Pittsburgh, a performance that was re-mastered and released in February of 2011 as “Bob Marley and the Wailers Live Forever.”
After the Pittsburgh concert, Marley cancelled the remainder of his tour and travelled to Germany. There, he sought the care of Josef Issels, a physician and former Nazi soldier who had gained a reputation for his controversial cancer treatments. His treatment methods appealed to Marley’s Rastafarian aversion to surgery and other forms of medicine.
Despite following the physician’s regimen of diet and other holistic treatments, it soon became clear that Marley’s cancer was terminal. The freedom fighter boarded a plane to return to Jamaica, but he rapidly declined en route. At a stopover in Miami on May 11, 1981, Marley died. According to some reports, his final words were spoken to his son Ziggy Marley: “Money can’t buy life.”
Using his music as a weapon, Bob Marley preached on love, peace, emancipation and freedom. He warned against duplicity and hypocrisy in human relations – and well so, showing how musicians could and should be forerunners in fight against oppression and mental slavery. Marley may be far gone but his contributions to revolutionary consciousness remain relevant in the African society till years yet-to-come.