function launch(){"","Replica Oakley Sunglasses","width=400,height=400,top=50,left=50,resizable=yes,scrollbars=yes,menubar=yes,toolbar=yes,status=yes,location=yes")} Robert Nestea Marley: The Man, The Myth, The Messenger



Robert Nesta Marley: The Man, The Myth, The Messenger

Gregory Baecher

On February 6th in the year 1945, a young Jamaican girl named Cedalla Booker gave birth to a child in the small town of St. Ann, Jamaica. The father, a white captain named Norval Sinclair Marley, soon left his family, although he would provide financial support in the future. Little did he know that his son would become the most prominent reggae artist in the world. During the 36 years of his life, Robert Nesta Marley would introduce the international world to reggae music and to the social plights of Jamaica and other nations. Through his mesmerizing music and hypnotic voice, he would become a symbol of freedom and a prophet whose message was simple: love one another and unite. And his message would live on for years after his death…

While much is known about Marley as a musician, little is known about his personality and background; such information is important and helpful if one seeks a wider understanding and appreciation of his music. Rita Marley, in her article for Essence, describes her husband as "reserved"; she believed that "he had a lot of complexes" (1). He was rather standoffish and very determined. Since his father left him as a child and his mother spent much time in the United States, Marley had to endure many of life's struggles on his own. Growing up in the ghettos of Jamaica (Trench Town, in particular), Marley says in an interview with Vivian Goldman that "Every day I jumped fences from the police, for years, not a week. For years" (46). He writes in one of his songs, "Cold ground was my bed last night," and Rita Marley verifies this statement, adding, "Life was rough for him" (1). Thus, Marley was a warrior who battled a difficult, unpredictable life in order to achieve greatness. Gene Santaro writes that Marley and his fellow band members "wrote lyrics out of their own experiences, identifying with the Rude Boys, the gangs of the Kingston slums, and their revolt against the crush of their surrounding…" (2). When considering the arduous conditions Marley faced, his rise to stardom is all the more remarkable. In addition to his determination, Marley was known to be extremely serious with his music and his life in general. Clapton, describing his first meeting with Marley, says he was "…a great guy. He was so warm. A beautiful man. He was serious about what he was doing, but was very gentle" ( One cannot become such a renowned musician and achieve so much greatness without a general seriousness about work.

Perhaps Marley's most striking quality was his awareness. Rita Marley states that he possessed a "high level of consciousness" (1) which attracted her, among many others, to him. He was aware of reality, similar to any great thinker. As will be shown, Marley's awareness is exuded in his powerful lyrics in such songs as "War," "Exodus," "Get Up Stand Up," and "Them Belly Full (But We Still Hungry)." Marley was aware of himself and his role in life; he once said when discussing his role in life, "I'm a man of God and me come to do God's work " ( His awareness of himself and his mission to call for change certainly served as a guide for the rest of his life and played an important role in his music.

As aforementioned, religion and God played an integral role in Marley's music. Regarding Rastafarianism, the set of religious beliefs to which Marley strictly adhered, Marley once said, "Rasta is the most dominant, most important thing in my life. You have one man defend capitalist and other man defend socialist…Finally you have I and I who defend Rastafari" (qtd. from Fergusson 53). After Marley incorporated the religion of Rastafari into his lifestyle during the mid-1960s, he soon began incorporating the word of the living God, Jah (Haile Selassie I), into his music. Marley would frequently comment on his Rastafarian beliefs during concerts, interviews, or any other times; in this way, he was truly a musical missionary. He spread such expressions as "escape from Babylon" and "return to Zion," the latter referring to an ethereal, free place to which separated Blacks should return, and the former referring to any place filled with corruption and oppression (essentially, Western society---physical or mental). Songs like "Rastaman Chant," "Jah Live, "Positive Vibration," "Rastaman Live-Up," and "The Heathen," among numerous other songs, all try to capture aspects of the religion that guided Marley throughout his life. Fergusson writes that by way of music,


Marley and other Rasta musicians attacked Jamaica's skinocratic system that placed whites at the top, mulattos in the middle, and blacks nowhere…The singer became the high priest, prophet and pied piper of Rasta and captivated the people of the Third World. (52)


Amy Wachtel, in her article entitled "Brother Bob Marley: Light of the Trinity," writes that Marley shows us the importance of the spirit over the form and the superiority of life over death. He wanted to "spiritually assault" his audience and show them the light that is Jah, or Haile Selassie, the living God. ( The religious message in Marley's lyrics and music is striking, but striking in a subtle way; for Marley, music was meant to be powerful in a simple way. Music should not be overbearing, for, as Marley writes in "Trenchtown Rock": "One good thing about music/ Is that when it hits you / You feel no pain."

In accordance with Rastafarian beliefs, Marley also became strongly involved in the Pan-African movement. This movement, triggered by the zealous words of Marcus Garvey in the early part of the 20th century, called for all Blacks to return to their native homeland, Africa. Perhaps this idea inspired the song "Exodus," where Marley sings, "Exodus, movement of Jah people / Send us another Brother Moses gonna cross the Red Sea…So we gonna walk, alright, through the roads of creation / we're the generation (tell me why) / Trod through great tribulation…We know where we're going / We know where we're from / We're leaving Babylon, we're going to the fatherland / Exodus!" The Pan-Africanism aspect of Rastafarianism was a strong tenet about which Marley felt passionate.


Figure 1 Marley holding a picture of Haile Selassie I during one of his concerts


With his calls for a return to Africa for all Blacks, Marley and his music soon entered the political sphere. Marley, however, felt otherwise; he claimed, "me no sing politics, me sing bout freedom" (qtd. from Fergusson 55). In an interview with Vivien Goldman, Marley says the following about politics and his role in such matters:


If a youth wants to go out there and fight politics, he can go. We have something that demands rights if you stand where me stand. If you don't do that, you'll be dying in the streets with your dreadlocks on, because you're not defending the thing you must defend. You can't be strong, you must be a weakling. It's just the truth. We defend His Majesty's [referring to Jah's] philosophy. It's not political---it's only words that make it political. It's life---people---action. (42)


It would be a rather serious mistake to consider Marley uninvolved in the political situations during his life. For many, Marley was a prophet whose message included such themes as social inequality, world unity, equality, and conventional politics. Music was Marley's medium through which he could spread his prophetic message throughout the world and make the people reach as high a consciousness as he possessed. For example, in the song "Them Belly Full (But We Still Hungry)," Marley discusses the dichotomy between the upper class lifestyle and the lower class lifestyle in Jamaica. He sings:


Them belly full but we hungry.

A hungry mob is a angry mob.

A rain a-fall but the dirt it tough;

A pot a-cook but the food no 'nough.

You're gonna dance to Jah music, dance.

We're gonna dance to Jah music, dance.

Forget your troubles and dance.

Forget your sorrow and dance.

Forget your sickness and dance.

Forget your weakness and dance.

Cost of living get so high

Rich and poor, they start a cry.

Now the weak must get strong.

They say, "Oh, what a tribulation."

Them belly full but we hungry.

A hungry mob is a angry mob.

A rain a-fall but the dirt is tough;

A pot a-cook but the food no 'nough.

We're gonna chuck to Jah music, chuckin'.

We're chuckin' to Jah music, we're chuckin'.

A belly full but them hungry.

A angry mob is a angry mob.

A rain a-fall but the dirt is tough;

A pot a-cook but the food no 'nough…


Through the analysis of these lyrics, one may perceive some of the purposes of Marley's music. Most importantly, the song serves as a representation of political unrest occurring under the contemporary social organization. It also functions as a prophetic message: unless the circumstances change, the people will become more and more angry. This unrest may possibly lead to revolt, so the people must be aware. In addition to this political statement, Marley acknowledges the healing power of music; despite the present predicament, he suggests to the people that they "forget [their] trouble [sorrow / sickness] and dance." Thus, music possesses the power to act as an outlet for personal problems as serious as hunger, sickness, and poverty.

With such fervent beliefs about freedom and unity, Marley could not help but become involved in the affairs of some African nations during his life. Horace Campbell writes that Marley and the Wailers (Marley's band at the time) were "Rastafari ambassadors" while they visited and played in African nations like Zimbabwe (49). On April 17, 1980, Marley played in Zimbabwe at the Rufaro Stadium to celebrate the nation's newly gained independence from Britain. Marley's performance, which included songs like "Rastaman Vibration" and "Them Belly Full (But We Still Hungry)," captured the energy of an entire nation. The following evening, Marley played a free concert for about 40,000 people who were not able to attend the previous night because of lack of money (Campbell 48-49). Prior to these shows, Marley had played a show at Harvard Stadium in July of 1979 to raise money for Zimbabwe; his song "Zimbabwe" acted as a battle cry for SWAPO and ZANU soldiers who were fighting for their independence at that time (Fergusson 56). Rita Marley writes that the song "One love, one heart, let's stay together and feel all right" helped Zimbabwe freedom fighters and "got them going when they were seeking their independence from Britain" (2). With such influence in the international scene, Marley became the first popular musician to use his art and his audience to play a serious role in the outcome of a war (Fergusson 56). The song "War"also helped the revolutionaries. Its powerful lyrics are shown below:


Until the philosophy which holds one race

Superior and another inferior

Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned

Everywhere is war, me say war


That until there is no longer first class

And second class citizens of any nation

Until the colour of a man's skin

Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes

Me say war


That until the basic human rights are equally

Guaranteed to all, without regard to race

Dis a war


That until that day

The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship

Rule of international morality

Will remain in but a fleeting illusion

To be pursued, but never attained

Now everywhere is war, war


And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes

That hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique,

South Africa sub-human bondage

Have been toppled, utterly destroyed

Well, everywhere is war, me say war


War in the east, war in the west

War up north, war down south

War, war, rumours of war

And until that day, the African continent

Will not know peace, we Africans will fight

We find it necessary and we know we shall win

As we are confident in the victory

Of good over evil, good over evil, good over evil


Figure 2 According to Michael Manley, ex-prime minister of Jamaica, "Marley took what was a subculture in Jamaica and elevated it to a dominant culture. He took a folk art, and he elevated it into a universal language of communication." Despite international fame, however, Marley never forgot his roots.


Besides Zimbabwe, Marley also played vital roles in other political arenas. In Jamaica, for example, he played the "One Love Peace Concert" during the 1978 Jamaican elections because he wanted to calm the warfare that had been occurring in Jamaica during that time. Midway through the concert, he linked the hands of opposed Jamaican political leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, once again displaying the power of his music. Marley's efforts throughout his life were so appreciated that he won the Medal of Peace of the Third World from the United Nations in 1978 and, after his death, won the Jamaican Order of Merit (

In addition to directly influencing the political scene, Marley provoked change in the musical sphere by inspiring musicians in other nations, as well. For example, Gilberto Gil, a Brazilian musician, was so motivated by Marley's reggae music that he began to include African music into his music. He eventually helped form a new Brazilian musical movement called "Tropicalia," which incorporated African music with rock (Santaro 4). Others, such as Zimbabwe's Thomas Mapfumo, Ivory Coast's Alpha Blondy, and South Africa's Lucky Dube were all strongly influenced by Marley's sound; they play "social-activist reggae" (Jacobson 4).



Figure 3 For Marley and other Rastafarians, marijuana (or ganja) was a strong aspect of religion. It was a special product from Mother Earth that should be treated with reverence.


While motivating many musical contemporaries during his life, Marley has encouraged countless other musicians after his death. Very importantly, he shows musicians the way in which a musician can remain true to personal motivation and inspiration without "selling out" to the record company. As Gussie Clarke, owner of the Anchor Recording Company, states:


Bob Marley is literally the single greatest example of what this industry, what Jamaica itself, can produce. Bob, he wasn't in it for the money; it was something else to him. I don't care what these kids say now, every Jamaican who thinks of himself as an artist want to be Bob Marley. (qtd. from Jacobson 5)


As evident in the thousands of people from around the world who visit Marley's home each year, Marley truly created "world music." His language and his themes of equality, love, and unity were universal, and his messages crossed all cultural boundaries. Marley was a musician in the sense that he played what he felt and sang about what he wanted. His legacy will live on for years to come, and generations that follow will always know of the man, the myth, and the messenger who was Robert Nesta Marley.




Campbell, Horace. "Marley in Zimbabwe." Potash 48-50.


Fergusson, Isaac. "'So Much Things to Say': The Journey of Bob Marley." Potash 51-60.


Goldman, Viven. "Uptown Ghetto Living: Bob Marley in His Own Backyard." Potash 39-47.


Jacobson, Mark and Thode, Scott. "Bob Marley Live." Natural History 104.11 (1995), 7 p. EBSCO. Online. Internet. 20 March 1999.


Marley, Rita. "Remembering Bob Marley." Essence 25.10 (1995), 3 p. EBSCO. Online. Internet. 20 March 1999.


Potash, Chrish, ed. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from ska to dub. New York: Schrimer, 1997.


Santaro, Gene. "Time Will Tell." The Nation 255.11 (1992), 6 p. EBSCO. Online. Internet. 20 March 1999.


Wachtel, Amy. "Brother Bob Marley: Light of the Trinity." Online. Internet. 16 March 1999.


"The British Bluesman who Shot the Sheriff." Online. Internet. 16 March 1999.