On Feb. 6, 1945 Cedella Booker gave birth to a handsome little brown boy, in St. Ann. The child’s father was a plantation overseer in Nine Mile. They were of humble means, and although they were taken care of, they weren’t well off. The most important thing was that they had each other. Booker nurtured and cared for her son, and at age twelve they left St. Ann and moved to the ghettos of Kingston to be exact. From then on, music would become central to her son’s life. Of course, unbeknownst to Booker, her son would grow big, tour the world and become a legend. Mind you, he was famous for many things: his music, his charisma, his charm and womanizing. Let me tell you —No one is perfect.
With that, I want to begin my tribute to Robert Nesta Marley. The man was a visionary singer and songwriter, and in every sense a political activist. For him, his music was his livelihood and his contribution to the political landscape. Many of the songs he penned during his twenty year musical career are recognizable around the world. His talent reached across language, race, nationality, and religion to build bridges amongst people. One Love, Exodus, Buffalo Soldier, Jamming, Turn Your Lights Down Low, No Woman No Cry are staples of Marley’s extensive repertoire and testaments to his endearing legacy. A legacy that ties the man to Jamaica, and Jamaica to the world.
He was a prolific cultural ambassador for our nation, and drew many from all over the world. His heart, and hopes igniting nationalism, pride and self-respect amongst Jamaicans across the globe. To this day, there are numerous associations to Jamaica, Rastafarianism, and the place of marijuana in our culture because of the rich and complex images he presented to the world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I will acknowledge his cultural and national significance, because one should give credit where it is due, but even as I praise him, there is reservation alongside my accolades. There may even be a number of you that in reading this, are completely shocked by my endorsement of the reggae icon. As I mentioned before, no one is perfect. For years, I actually opposed singing or playing a number of his songs, and have vocalized my dislike specifically of the song, “Turn Your Lights Down Low” due to its suggestive and emotive refrain. Yet, it is not merely the content, but the suggestion that the song was written for a woman with whom Bob Marley had an affair. Namely, the breathtaking Cindy Breakspeare, mother of Damian Marley. Not to mention other unaddressed claims of marital discord.
Nonetheless Robert Nesta Marley was a force to be reckoned with. In just thirty-six years he was able to accomplish so much. He neither wasted his life, nor his status. Even in his ascension as a wealthy, successful, mixed race man Bob Marley never forgot where he came from. Although, his career was marred by loss, scandal, strife and even failure, it is renowned for resilience, purpose and growth. His journey from Trench Town Jamaica, to concert arenas in Europe and America speaks to good fortune, hard work and unwavering commitment.
At no point did Bob let other people’s opinions or assumptions dictate what he knew to be true of himself. He chose and marked a path of his own design. Which leads me to my closing point. As someone who has not always been willing to praise Bob Marley for his indelible contributions to Jamaican music, the thing I respect most about Bob Marley is that, despite everything, he engaged with the social and political themes of his times. Many of us would benefit from doing the same.