Bob Marley. Jamaica Reggae Music. This "Rastaman Supreme' has left his indelible mark upon the world during the very short time that "he trod down Babylon" and his music continues to inspire generation after generation with a topical freshness that is surprising at the 69th anniversary of his birth on February 6. 1945. Bob Marley was truly the Third World's first Superstar, a Reggae Maestro, and a social and political commentator without rivals.
It is a peculiar historical phenomenon of social development that during periods of national oppression and social strife that the protests and "social rebelliousness" of the oppressed take on various forms that ultimately lead to an arsenal of popular resistance and liberation methodologies. Correspondingly, these forms of protests also spawn their own unique leaders, focused activists and popular agitators who champion the causes of liberation and remind the toiling masses that their struggles are necessary if freedom is to be attained.
These leaders operate within their own narrow sphere of influence; their activities and actions complimenting other areas of simultaneous struggles of the national liberation movement. In the Caribbean this clarion call found its way in the cultural expression of the region in such lasting music as calypso and reggae. In fact while reggae enjoys international popularity thanks to the pioneering efforts of Bob Marley and others its success should not be viewed in isolation from that other important cultural Caribbean art form -- calypso.
Indeed, historical records speak of calypso arriving in the United States in the early 1930s and 40s long before the advent of reggae. The truth of the matter is that the musical culture of the English-speaking Caribbean rests on three sturdy, immovable pillars of Reggae, Calypso and the Steelpan. And as Calypso was considered "ghetto music and the music of the ignorant and uneducated," and the steelpan instrument vilified by the arrogant local landed English gentry and called "an instrument of the devil" so too was reggae equated with hooliganism, the uneducated, and a product of the ghetto to be scorned and ostracized.
Yes, Robert Nesta Marley was a product of the ghetto, or "the tenement yard" as Jamaicans called those areas of Spanish Town, Trench Town and other places where the very poor struggled daily to survive. And it is Bob Marley's mother who was his first inspiration and role model.
A proud Black woman she sang "songs of praise and freedom to him" as a child growing up. And it was from her that he got his deep spiritual and religious side. If any of you ever get to listen to Cedella Marley Booker, who passed away on April 8, 2008 at age 81, you would understand where Bob got that voice from. You can go on the Internet to Ebay and buy a copy of her music featured on an album entitled "Awake Zion" which is a tribute to her famous son.
Cedella raised her son as a single mother because his father died when Bob was only 10 years old. Norval Sinclair Marley, a white Jamaican of English ancestry married Cedella when she was only 18 years old. After her husband's death she moved to the Trench Town slum in Kingston. It was during many hard times that she would sing gospel songs to her children in her unique, amazing and powerful voice. As a testimony to his love and admiration for his mother Bob named his first child after her. Today she is an entertainer in her own right.
It was these conjunct of social, political and economic experiences that conspired to educate Bob Marley in the crucible of daily struggles to survive. It was in Trench Town that he witnessed firsthand the societal ravages of endemic and systemic poverty where the only meal was "cornmeal porridge." It was in Trench Town that he saw crime, unemployment, social marginalization and hopelessness. It was in the ghettos of Jamaica that Bob Marley learned the meaning of poverty, political alienation, and economic deprivation.
Perhaps genius is destined to be born in humble surroundings. So that while the end-results of poverty and neglect were all around him in the forms of run-down houses, a lack of pipe-borne water in many homes, children going to school bare-footed, and families barely able to put two meals on the table, Bob Marley experienced an outpouring of progressive musical culture that was part escapism and part rebellion. Forged from this potent social mix Bob Marley was shaped and molded into the voice of the oppressed and became in the process the uncompromising spokesman of the forgotten.
He was to fuse these forms of "roots music" combing them with other beats, musical nuances and borrowed standards making reggae music truly Bob Marley music in the process. Today, it is impossible to separate reggae from Bob Marley as it is to separate calypso from the Mighty Sparrow.
And perhaps the most respected and skillful proponent of the art of musical and lyrical protest was the late great Robert Nesta Marley. As a product of Jamaica's ghettos Bob Marley, as he is popularly known the world over, drew on this experience to create wonderful and powerful works of protest music that today, on the 69th anniversary of his birth, still inspire whole new generations of the world's oppressed.