“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively” – Robert Nesta Marley (aka Bob Marley)
Robert Nesta Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician. He was considered, in many circles, as one of the pioneers of reggae, whose musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as his distinctive vocal and songwriting style.
Some commentators have also attributed to him the status of “a global symbol of Jamaican music and culture and identity, and was controversial in his outspoken support for the legalization of marijuana, while he also advocated for Pan-Africanism.”
So that is my main focus in this tribute – his love of Africa and the unity of the continent. I would try to keep this post brief considering that any attempt to provide a detailed account of his thoughts, words and deeds, would not do justice to whom he was. Consequently, my focus in this tribute will be based on a 2×2 matrix, excerpting the lyrics from two of his songs – Africa Unite and War; and attempting to profile the man from two interesting articles – “Bob Marley’s relationship with dictator Bongo’s daughter helped him strengthen his African roots“; and a more recent one “Bob Marley’s journey to justice, joy and (ultimately) to Christian faith.”
Africa Unite (excerpted lyrics)
The lyrics from Africa Unite go thus:
- Afri, Africa unite, yeah!
- Unite for the benefit (Africa unite) of your people!
- Unite for it’s later (Africa unite) than you think!
- Unite for the benefit (Africa unite) of my children!
- Unite for it’s later (Africa uniting) than you think!
- Africa awaits (Africa unite) its creators!
- Africa awaiting (Africa uniting) its creator!
- Africa, you’re my (Africa unite) forefather cornerstone!
- Unite for the Africans (Africa uniting) abroad!
- Unite for the Africans (Africa unite) a yard!
Main highlights from the lyrics converge around the need for African unity both at home (yard) and in the diaspora (abroad) for the benefit of the people. In case it wasn’t clear there are a few quotes from the man himself dotted over the internet. The following two would be appropriate at this stage.
My music fights against the system that teaches to live and die.
Me only have one ambition, y’know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together – black, white, Chinese, everyone – that’s all.
While the lyrics in “Africa Unite”, resonate with the move towards stronger African unity has been captured with the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, those in “War”, seem very much a raging situation on the continent. Conflict continues to ravage Africa from Tigray, Cabo Del gado to Somalia, Mali and the Sahel (even Nigeria is not spared), as we would soon find out in the second profiled song, “War”.
Love for Africa
Bob Marley’s relationship with dictator Bongo’s daughter helped him strengthen his African roots
As Olivier Marbot recently documented in The Africa Report:
In “Bob Marley and the Dictator’s Daughter”, French journalist Anne-Sophie Jahn looks back at the passionate love affair between reggae star Bob Marley and Pascaline Bongo, the daughter of Gabon’s former president Omar Bongo. This relationship helped the singer to strengthen his African roots.
Pascaline invited Bob to perform in Libreville (capital of Gabon) in early 1980, which made Bob Marley and the Wailers ecstatic considering that “for years they had been singing about pan-Africanism, declaring their love for their ancestors’ continent, calling for unity – the cover of their album Survival, which was released in October 1979, was a patchwork of the continent’s flags – but paradoxically, none of these Jamaicans from the slums of Kingston had ever set foot in Africa.”
As Marbot further highlights:
This trip to Gabon – which was followed by another to Zimbabwe, to celebrate the new independence of what remained known as Rhodesia until 1980 – is at the heart of Jahn’s book, whose title – Bob Marley and the Dictator’s Daughter – clearly sets the tone of the book.
Two experiences in the 1960s transformed his artistic vision. In 1966, Marley stayed in Wilmington, Delaware (I don’t need to tell you whose hometown that is), to which his mother emigrated in 1962. There he honed [an] intimacy and vulnerability, weaving the edge of the evangelical call into his message. The second experience, when he went back to Nine Mile in 1967 to cultivate the land, allowed him to incorporate a new apocalyptic arc.
Bob Marley embraced the Rastafari movement, which re-narrated the colonial system as “Babylon” and enveloped it in messianic upheaval that would exalt the oppressed. Marley now spoke not just to contemporary issues but to all times and places, making him bigger than history.
“Chant Down Babylon,” both the song from the album Confrontation and the idea itself, promised emancipation from all destructive and oppressive forces, yet remained intensely personal.
It was something that the world had never quite seen before. Marley exploded onto the global scene in the mid-70s, becoming the voice of the seismic changes in the postcolonial world. In the words of Timothy White, Marley was “quoted like a poet, heralded as the Mick Jagger of reggae, the West Indian Bob Dylan, even the Jamaican Jomo Kenyatta.”
As Damian Costello only recently commented from the second article:
Marley died young, at the age of 36, depriving the world of decades of potential spiritual evolution. But he lives on, in some ways more powerful. Through his early death, the Spirit raised Marley up, keeping him forever young, unencumbered by the ambiguity of daily life and what comes from continuing public exposure.
Now the the second song.
War – The Lyrics Excerpted
Talking about wars emanating from social injustice from race:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another inferior… Is finally and permanently
Discredited and abandoned… Everywhere is war …That until there 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
It goes on to human rights and strong institutions (notably legal):
That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all… Without regard to race…
That until that day, dream of lasting peace, world citizenship …Rule of international morality… Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained…
With two interesting articles matched by two equally significant songs, it makes me confident to argue that had Bob been alive today, he would have been a United Nations Ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals considering his unwavering fight for social justice, peace and security, poverty and hunger among many others. So, I end with yet another quote of his – albeit with an addendum.
We don’t have education, we have inspiration; if I was educated I would be a damn fool.
I guess a bit of both or balanced mix of both couldn’t hurt anyone.