By Sunday Apah
Robert Nesta Marley was born on the 6th of February 1945 in the Saint Ann Parish of Jamaica . His father Norval Sinclair Marley was a white man in his 50s and his mother Cedella Booker was a black woman who was 18 years old. Due to this, he suffered a lot of racial prejudice in his childhood. Although his father provided the family with financial support, he was away most of the time on his work related trips. Bob Marley was ten years old when his father died.
His family moved to the Trenchtown slum in Kingston after his father died. Since he was of a short stature and due to his mixed origins, Bob Marley had to endure a lot of bullying. So he learnt self defense and eventually gained a lot of physical strength. This earned him the nickname of ‘Tuff Gong’.
This is also the time he met Neville Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer) and they began playing music together. At 14 he apprenticed at a local welder’s shop and began to make music in his free time with Livingston and Joe Higgs, who was a local musician and a devout Rastafarian. It was at one such jam session, that Bob Marley also met Peter McIntosh (later known as Peter Tosh).
In 1962, Bob recorded his first two singles called ‘Judge Not’ and ‘One Cup of Coffee’ with Leslie Kong under the pseudonym Bobby Martell. Later on he and Leslie split up due to money issues.
In 1963 Bob Marley, Bunny Livingstone and Peter Tosh and others joined together to form a band. They initially called themselves ‘The Teenagers’ but later on changed the names several times, finally settling themselves on the name ‘The Wailers’. Bob Marley began to sing along with composing the music and lyrics for the band. They recorded two songs called ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and ‘It Hurts to be Alone’ with record producer Clement Dodd. Dodd also gave Bob a place to stay in the back room of the recording studio and in return Bob would do assignments for Dodd.
In one such assignment, where Bob was coaching a group of vocal singers called ‘The Soulettes’, Bob met Rita Anderson. He later married her in 1966.
While with Dodd, The Wailers recorded several songs. However, one of them called ‘One Love’ became extremely popular. Comprised of elements from the Rastafarian faith, the song called for unity, peace and love. This song was completely different from the radical and sometimes anti-authority songs that The Wailers used to sing.
Bob Marley also recorded the song ‘Simmer Down’ in 1964 with Dodd which became extremely popular and made The Wailers one of the top bands in Jamaica . They then followed it up with ‘Soul Rebel’ and ‘400 Years’.
In 1966 after marrying Rita Anderson, he moved with his mother in Wilmington , Delaware . However, less money and record producers wanting him to compromise on his Rastafarian messages in his songs meant a lot of conflict in his life. Therefore, he came back to Jamaica and began working in a factory to earn his living. Marley also began wearing his trademark dreadlocks in keeping with his Rastafarian faith.
Between 1968 and 1972, The Wailers along with Rita Marley tried to re-cut a few of their old songs with JAD Records in London . However, this did not prove to be a very good idea.
Then, in 1973 The Wailers released their first album worldwide. It was called ‘Catch a Fire’ which did quite well. Then a year later, they released another album titled ‘Burnin’. This album included their hit songs like ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ and ‘I Shot the Sheriff’. This introduced Marley on the international stage.
In 1974, The Wailers broke up with each of the three band members wanting to pursue solo careers. But Bob Marley continued calling his band ‘Bob Marley and The Wailers’ and teamed up with new members to form another band. These included Carlton and Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett (drums and bass), Junior Marvin and Al Anderson (lead guitar), Tyrone Downie and Earl ‘Wya’ Lindo (keyboards), Alvin ‘Seeco’ Patterson (percussion), and the ‘I Threes’ (backing vocals) which included his wife Rita.
In 1975 Bob Marley had his first international hit ‘No Woman, No Cry’. After this he released his album ‘Rastaman Vibration’ in 1976 which became a Billboard chart topper for four weeks.
In December 1976, Bob Marley, his wife and his manager Don Taylor were wounded in an assassination attempt made before the ‘Smile Jamaica ’ concert. Marley’s wife and manager were seriously wounded, and Bob Marley had just some minor wounds. They all recovered, and Bob went on to play at the concert.
Bob Marley then went to London and recorded his next two albums ‘Exodus’ and ‘Kaya’ which included the hit songs ‘Exodus’, ‘Waiting in Vain’, ‘Jamming’ and ‘One Love’. ‘Exodus’ stayed on the British music charts for 56 consecutive weeks. He was also arrested for possession of a small amount of cannabis.
In 1977, Bob Marley was diagnosed with cancer. He had sustained an injury on right toe which had never healed. But Bob Marley refused to go ahead with any amputation surgery as it was against the Rastafarian faith. His strong faith in his religion meant that he had to keep his body ‘whole’ and also that he should not register a will as it would symbolize the acceptance of death as inevitable, thus giving a total disregard for the concept of everlasting life. Rastafarian faith also believed that smoking marijuana was an uplifting experience which would connect the human body to the divine.
Eventually the cancer spread to his lungs, liver, stomach and brain. However, he continued to play on in concerts and recording albums such as ‘Survival’ in 1979 and ‘Uprising’ in 1980.
Bob Marley died on the 11th of May, 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami , Florida . He was 36. His final words to his son Ziggy were ‘Money can’t buy life’. As per his wishes, he was buried with his guitar, a soccer ball, a marijuana bud, a ring given to him by the Prince Asfa Wossen of Ethiopia and a Bible.
After his death, too, Bob Marley’s reputation as a great singer and Rastafarian continued to add to his popularity and fame.
Bob Marley received many posthumous awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This Bob Marley biography is an account of this great musician and his contribution to the Rastafarian faith. He popularized the tenets of the faith through his music and his life. He was revered by many as a ‘prophet’ or a ‘messiah’ for his religion. He propagated many thoughts including radical non-violent action. To put it in his words:
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds…’