How was Bob Marley personally
Writing about Bob Marley and the Wailers is a bulky endeavor. Not only because the still ubiquitous iconography of what is probably the biggest pop star of the so-called “Third World” and the related personal and collective bias stand in the way. Also because the access to the person Marley remains strangely closed despite the multitude of biographical material. And not least because it is by no means easy to follow the Wailers' discographic traces over the years. After all, it is a confusing, large, carelessly documented work that extends over a large number of labels including many now rare singles and an enormous number of carelessly glued together compilations.
Would Bob Marley himself be satisfied with what he has achieved in his all-too-short life? The Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie I (birth name Ras Tafari), venerated savior of the Rastafarians, did not appear again 37 years after the rumor spread by Western Babylonians that he had died. Most of his fans consider Marley's most pressing religious concern to be ethnic folklore. Jamaica is basically not doing much better today than it was 45 years ago, when the Wailers and many like-minded groups castigated the arbitrariness, oppression and corruption of the system and took on the poverty, despair and brutalization of the ghetto inhabitants. With Marley's death, reggae lost its international traction and ethos. Marley's family, business partners and friends fought decades of legal battles over the legacy.
Authenticity from Bob Marley
So what's left? The respect for his immense artistic work and the fascination for a courageous, intense life that is always struggling for righteousness and justice and which has not lost its radiance to this day. Which is hard to grasp, because the more diligently the occupation with his vita, the more meticulously reading and studying his recordings, the more solidified an impression that would probably have pleased him. All his striving and absence, his stubbornness and militancy, his sensuality and promiscuity, the absolutely religious, the contradictions and conflicts are reflected in his songs. You can call that authentic, even if in today's pop discourse it doesn't seem more old-fashioned, more sentimental and naive than a 1: 1 definition of life and work.
What his songs do not say about him, but about others, seems to be a conjecture or projection that exposes the interests of his companions, such as his long-time manager Don Taylor, with whom he parted in a tangible dispute, more than the artist. Interviews with him, even if he devoted himself to them with great seriousness, rarely led to clear statements. He was certainly not an eloquent, jovial chat. Apart from the fact that the journalists often struggled with the deciphering of his mumbled Jamaican patois, which is not easy to decipher even in written transcription, Marley was hardly slowed by mundane questions in his spiritual, always THC-fueled zeal. Nowhere did he express himself more clearly, precisely and powerfully than in his songs.
Bob Marley as a mouthpiece
Since Marley was able to land his first hit with the Wailing Wailers (which also included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) in Jamaica in 1965 - "Simmer Down" - he has increasingly denounced the misery in the ghettos of his homeland, he brought inhumanity of slavery from the subconscious of the Jamaican people, he exposed the African roots of the colored Caribbean peoples. All of this made him popular in the island world between the Bahamas and Trinidad and made him interesting as an advocate for those people in the West.
However, it does not explain the charismatic figure Bob Marley, whose charisma goes far beyond that of an outstanding musician and socially and historically critical mouthpiece. What is associated with the name Marley today in Jamaica and in many countries of western industrial civilizations, rather arose against the background of the Rastafarian religion, to which Marley found his way back in the late 1960s and which was soon afterwards the most important source of his music and his Message was.
A dream becomes true
Marley's mission across the ocean began in 1972 when he signed a recording deal with Island Records and became the first Jamaican musician to produce an album with the Wailers under the financial and technical conditions that were standard in the West at the time. With “Catch A Fire”, an album was created on which rock and reggae merged into a synthesis that was to remain formative for Marley's reception.
In the summer of 1975 the band came to Europe for the first time and gave two memorable concerts in the London Lyceum, which also provided the material for the Wailers' “live” album. Some German journalists were there in London at the time and then wrote a series of groundbreaking articles: Teja Schwaner's series in “Sounds” and a “Spiegel” report by Siegfried Schmidt-Joos were the cornerstones for the later popularity of reggae in Germany. Marley himself came to Germany for the first time in 1976. This was followed by tours in 1977 and 1980. While his popularity knew hardly any boundaries and was felt especially in West African countries such as Nigeria, Marley performed in liberated Zimbabwe and saw one of his dreams come true: "Natty dread it ina Zimbabwe ... Africans a liberate Zimbabwe. "
Bob Marley as a musical source of inspiration
Together with the ideal impulses, Marley and Reggae also gave decisive impulses in the musical field. Jamaican music was the inspiration behind the birth of the new wave. There it played a role similar to that of the blues for the beat music of the early 1960s. Bob Geldof and John Lydon commented on this in detail again and again in interviews. Reggae brought a breath of fresh air to the stagnant rock music in the mid-1970s. Since Eric Clapton's version of "I Shot The Sheriff" in 1974, a long series of hits has been recorded by rock musicians in reggae style: "The Tide Is High" by Blondie, "Banana Republic" by the Boomtown Rats, "Master Blaster ”by Stevie Wonder,“ Mother And Child Reunion ”by Paul Simon, the entire musical DNA of The Police, of course.
But back to the beginning. Robert Nesta Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles in the rural St. Ann district of Jamaica to a white soldier in the British Army, who was then already over fifty, and a black girl of barely legal age. In 1957 he followed his mother to Trenchtown, a slum in Kingston. Here he was confronted for the first time with the suffering of the impoverished black population, the "sufferahs", who had actually hoped for good paid work by moving to the city. There he met Bunny "Wailer" Livingston and later also Peter "Tosh" McIntosh. With them he formed the original formation of the (wailing) wailers, with the line-ups still changing at the time.
At the age of 16, in 1962, Marley was mediated by the even younger Jimmy Cliff, who was then a talent scout, in Leslie Kong's studio for the first time. There he recorded three songs for his “Beverley’s” label. The self-written "Judge Not" ("I know that I'm not perfect / and that I don't claim to be / So before you point your fingers / be sure your hands are clean"), "One Cup of Coffee" ( the last cup before he leaves his loved one with a heavy, broken heart) and the unpublished “Terror”. Love, individual and social justice - if he had sung a gospel at the session, all of his guiding and life themes would have been tangible at this early hour.
In 1963, Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, legendary DJ and founder of Studio One, took the young Wailers under his wing. Before the Wailers signed Chris Blackwell's Island label in 1972, countless recordings for labels like JAD, Wailers-owned Wail’N’Soul’M and Tuff Gong as well as for producer enfant terrible Lee Perry were to follow. The LPs "Soul Rebels" and "Soul Revolution", produced by Perry in 1970 in an unprecedentedly straightforward, dense and idiosyncratic manner, are considered by many critics to be the musically most outstanding takes in Marley's entire oeuvre.
How did Bob Marley influence the development of reggae?
Looking at the early years of the Wailers before their international breakthrough, the question arises as to how significant their contribution to the sound of the island actually was. While biographies sometimes give the impression that all of Jamaica's music has taken its starting point from Marley, in Lloyd Bradley's fundamental reggae cultural history "Bass Culture" the chapter about him only begins in the last third.
Much of the development of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae can actually be neatly told using producers and sound system DJs like Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), Coxsone Dodd (Studio One), Prince Buster and Leslie Kong, who describe the fortunes of formative musicians like the studio aces Skatalites, singers like Alton Ellis and Jackie Opel and groups like the Maytals, Paragons, Heptones or the Wailers. At Rocksteady weddings, around 1966-68, the Wailers had little presence due to Marley's stay in the US and their departure from Studio One; They are not featured on the soundtrack to “The Harder They Come” (1972), the most important early / roots reggae compilation (and the world's best-selling reggae LP until the release of “Legend” in 1984).
The big stage
The success of "Catch A Fire" clouded the view of Marley in the years and decades that followed. However, this should by no means diminish his work. At the latest when the female I-Threes replaced Tosh and Livingston from the "Natty Dread" LP as background singers, Bob Marley developed a - at least for Jamaican standards - relatively homogeneous and static trademark sound, which continues above all from his excellent songwriting skills.
The tirelessly creative perfectionist legitimately sought the greatest possible international attention for his music and his messages and toured the USA and Europe for months. He lived temporarily in exile and gradually lost touch with the fast-paced dance hall sounds of the island. From this time at the latest, Marley became the sole, independent ruler of a musical intermediate realm that cannot be grasped by the standards of western rock, soul or reggae. Besides that, not everything he's ever recorded is essential. From the mid-1970s onwards, there are thematically and tonally redundant items. The feeling for concrete scenes, people, details, such as those evident in “Trench Town Rock”, “Concrete Jungle”, “No Woman No Cry” or “Is This Love”, gave way to slogans at times. The lack of intra-group competition with Tosh and Livingstone may now have had an impact.
The breeding ground for violence
In the mid-1970s, Jamaica experienced a wave of violence, which mainly fed from the charged political climate of the island. Jamaica's capital Kingston had two important ghettos at the time. One was the Sheraton and Intercontinental Hotels, where white-skinned guests from Europe or the USA ate Swiss muesli or American steaks. The other was and is still called Trenchtown. Trenchtown is an extensive shack town in the middle of downtown Kingston and is inhabited by people who have nothing more to lose. No, the local taxi drivers don't even want to chauffeur guests from Europe non-stop through Trenchtown. With the windows closed, of course.
Trenchtown was the nucleus of reggae. But Trenchtown was also the place where the social tensions that formed Jamaica's major problem in the 1970s erupted. Because Prime Minister Michael Manley, who had been victorious in two ordinary elections, steered a moderate left-wing course, international corporations got what they could get out of the island. The Jamaican upper class made their fortunes abroad, while the Caribbean sun island lacked the money for investments everywhere.
The masterminds of these disputes came from high circles - they came from the bodyguard troops of the two leading politicians in Jamaica. For the then Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga, of course, terror was not a desired continuation of their policy by other means. But at some point the traditional hostility between their parties (Manley's “Peoples National Party” and Seaga's “Jamaican Labor Party”) got out of hand. From then on, the social misery in the shacks ensured that knife and pistol heroes kept growing up who believed that only the dirtiest of all businesses could improve their situation.
In December 1976, Bob Marley temporarily left his home - after an assassination attempt, the circumstances of which were never fully clarified. At that time, however, the fact that shortly before the elections the false rumor was circulating that Marley wanted to stand up for Prime Minister Michael Manley played a role. So a group of killers went to Marley's house on Hope Road in Uptown-Kingston. Miraculously, Bob was only slightly injured by grazing gunfire. His wife Rita, on the other hand, received one more, and manager Don Taylor was in mortal danger for a while in the hospital.
One Love Peace Concert
In 1978 things had still not settled, so Marley decided to return to Jamaica to headline the One Love Peace Concert. The concert was brought into being so that the warring political camps could shake hands with each other as effectively as possible. Literally. On stage, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga vowed in front of the crowds that they wanted to end the conflict from now on. In fact, the political climate improved in the years that followed.
After Bob Marley found peace in his homeland, he focused on his career. He toured the United States with The Commodores and Lionel Richie in the fall of 1980 to make his final breakthrough there. Shortly after the tour began, Bob Marley collapsed while jogging in Central Park. The doctors attested a serious tumor infestation of the liver, the lungs and the brain. Bob Marley's last concert was in Pittsburgh on September 23, 1980.
Bob Marley's cancer
Three years earlier, Marley injured one of his big toes while playing soccer, but he did not have the wound treated. Metastatic melanoma, also known as black skin cancer, was later found in the same location. Rastafarian belief prevented Bob Marley from undergoing the necessary measures. In all likelihood this would have meant amputation of the toe. This option was ruled out for religious reasons. In New York, Marley's body surrendered to the advanced disease. The doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.
He broke off the tour and went to Germany into the hands of Josef Issels. At the Bavarian Tegernsee he used alternative healing methods on cancer patients. The former Wehrmacht officer was sentenced to one year probation in prison in 1961 because he had advised against an operation to three cancer patients in very critical conditions. A court ruled that he favored her death as a result. In 1964 he was acquitted of the charges at the time in an appeal process, so that he resumed his work in 1965. Scientific evidence for Issel's methods could never be provided.
Finally, on May 8, 1981, Bob Marley decided to return to Jamaica to die. The plane had to make a stopover in Miami, as Marley's condition had again worsened massively on the flight. A few hours later, the reggae icon died in a Miami hospital. A national memorial service was held for him in his home village of Nine Miles. His red Gibson Les Paul and a sprig of marijuana came with him to the grave.
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