Bob Marley and Jamaican Roots Music
For many people, reggae music and Bob Marley are essentially one. That’s not to say there aren’t other great reggae artists. Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, Jimmy Cliff, and the list goes on and on. But Bob Marley is reggae’s prophet. Bob Marley is the man and the myth who is universally associated with the music. One can’t think of reggae without thinking of Bob Marley and vice-versa. Perhaps no other genre of music has one figure that so much embodies the spirit of the music the way that Bob Marley does for reggae.
For some, Bob Marley is a folk hero. A mythological figure even. His is the spirit of rebellion. Of revolution. Of breaking down barriers and fighting injustice. This is something he did, of course, through his music. Through the power of his incisive lyrics and spirited music. It’s the music I want to focus on here, because Bob Marley is also a musical hero, not just to the people of Jamaica, but to the entire world.
The First Listen
You never forget your first time, right?
I’ll never forget the first time that I tore open the packaging to Bob Marley’s Legend and started spinning the gleaming compact disc (I wish it had been vinyl, but alas). It was essentially a religious experience for me. I’ve had similar experiences with other albums, and I am sure you have too. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are a couple that also stand out for me in that way. It’s that moment when you know you’re listening to something truly special. Something that can stir up so much emotion and completely fill up your soul. A music that you know will be a part of you for the rest of your life.
Bob Marley’s reggae was that for me and for so many other people. It manages to conjure up so many distinct feelings. The warm island breeze on the smooth sandy beaches of Jamaica, maybe with a splash of strawberry daiquiri as you indulge your taste buds with a cool island drink. But also the burning heat of romance, the fiery passion in your eyes as they look deep into the eyes of another. Also the unflappable spirit of a fighter. Of the man who will stop at nothing to uncover injustice and root it out wherever it lives. Bob Marley’s all this and more. But above all, Bob Marley’s reggae is a music of joy and passion.
A Music of Joy & Love
The first time I heard the opening track of Legend, “Is This Love”, I knew immediately that, for me, like for so many people, it was.
I wanna love you and treat you right;
I wanna love you every day and every night:
We’ll be together with a roof right over our heads;
We’ll share the shelter of my single bed.
There’s so much joy in this music with its tender spirit. This is an expression of love in its purest form. It embodies not just the spirit of romantic love, but also the pure joy in being alive, in existing. The music is filled with the spirit of life, a positive spirit that takes delight in just the mere fact of being here on this Earth. It’s the kind of music that transforms every moment into a celebration of life. This spirit of pure love and joy radiates out from deep within the heart of Bob Marley’s reggae. There is darkness in the music, but that foreboding edge never conquers. No matter what Bob Marley found himself up against, he also lived his life that way.
Overcoming Darkness, Embracing Light
The challenges Bob Marley faced growing up were significant and for many people would be inescapable. He had an absent father and an overwhelmed single mother. He was immersed in the poverty and crime-addled ghetto of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica. One could easily succumb to those pressures, to face poverty forever, to succumb to a life of crime yourself.
But Bob Marley didn’t. And there’s no trace of bitterness about his circumstances in his music. Even when Marley gets political and his inner social critic rises to the top of his lyric writing, it is never in the spirit of negativity, depression, or despair. Bob Marley’s music lifts everything out of the darkness and into the light. It is a music of peace and hope. It is a music of optimism and cheerfulness. And it infuses every note Bob Marley ever sang or played. And perhaps most of all in the simple lyric:
Everything’s gonna be all right
Everything’s gonna be all right.
I believe this spirit of Bob Marley, this light, was present in his soul his whole life. But to understand fully Bob Marley’s point of view, I think it’s necessary that we also understand a little something about Rastafari culture.
Bob Marley’s music is famously guided by his adherence to the Rastafarian religion of Jamaica. Rastafari is a deeply spiritual movement. It’s a rejection of what it sees as materialism, oppression, and sensuality. It refers to these three sins as Babylon. The rejection of oppression is especially important for the spirit of Bob Marley’s reggae music.
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
The Beauty of One Love
In Allmusic’s review of Legend, the beauty and simplicity of Bob Marley’s music is commented on. The simplicity of Bob Marley’s reggae is what helped it to catch a fire, to spread around the world and delight people from every corner of the globe. The soul of the sound hits you instantly, and when it hits you, as the man says himself, you feel no pain. Only joy. And this joy is the music’s true beauty, not just of its sound, but of its spirit. It is as if every single note whispers in your ear with the most gentle caress:
One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right.
– J&R Adventures / Tribut Apparel