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Peace & Unity: The Message of Bob Marley

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images

If you’re a film buff, you may have heard about the upcoming Bob Marley film coming to cinemas this Valentine’s day. Even if you’re not a fan of Bob or reggae music, this epic retelling of his inspirational story is worth a watch and here’s why.

Political unrest is nothing strange or uncommon, especially throughout history. In Bob Marley’s day, there were similar ordeals and hardships taking place in a post-war world. It’s easy to succumb to the darkness of the endless stream of bad news, such as the tragedy of the Ukrainians, the conflict in the Middle East, skyrocketing poverty levels, the mental health crisis and so much more. As the world is entering a period of great tension and conflict worldwide, we need a Bob Marley more than ever. His message is one that all should be reminded of in times like these.

Bob Marley was a man whose spirit was unbreakable and whose presence truly rose above the hatred in the world – when you listened to his music, you just felt good. You didn’t want to hate. You wanted to love life and lose yourself in the swinging beat. 

“When the music hits you, you don’t feel no pain.” Bob famously said.

Bob had that effect on so many in his lifetime and he spread the joy to millions of people worldwide. Through song, he encouraged people to “get together and be alright!” Even as some rejected his pure message and even tried to take his life, Bob never gave up on us – he instead went up on stage to play one of the most memorable concerts in the world during what was a chaotic and violent era in Jamaican history. 

“The people trying to make the world worse are never taking a day off, why should I?” 

Why do people hate? What breeds hate and conflict and violence? Well, typically, hatred is brewed from hardships and ordeals suffered by frustrated people. And you can believe that Bob Marley endured his share of hardships. 

At a time when racism was still rampant in Jamaica, where he was born in 1945, Bob received it from both sides. Being mixed race with a white father who was over three times his mother’s age, Bob was taunted by members of his community for being half white. 

Nonetheless this didn’t break his spirit s. “I’m not on the white man’s side, or the Black man’s side. I’m on God’s side.” 

Bob Marley: One Love is playing now at Showcase Cinemas. PHOTO: Paramount Pictures
Bob Marley: One Love is playing now at Showcase Cinemas. PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

But this was also a time of severe inequality for black people on a worldwide scale, who endured poverty at much higher rates than their white neighbours and were given far fewer opportunities in life. Bob was also a victim of this institutionalised racism, growing up in the seriously deprived Trenchtown, which would influence Bob’s band to call themselves the “Wailers” as a reference to their difficult upbringing as “ghetto sufferers, born wailing.”

As a boy, he found music and thank God that he did! Though he didn’t know it yet, he had exceptional talent in his day and age, and the young Bob, who played music with friends on a guitar made from a bamboo staff, a sardine can and electric wires, had no idea he would become one of the world’s greatest musical legends.

His father died when he was just ten years old, though the two were not close. Bob would find a best friend in Neville Livingston, better known as “Bunny Wailer”. The two boys would share their musical journey together and Bunny would become a member of Bob’s band, the Wailers. They also met Peter Tosh, an aspiring guitar player, at a music club in Trenchtown, and the three of them together formed the original line-up of the Wailers, who are still today regarded as one of the greatest reggae bands of all time.

Bob would go through hardship all his life. Suffering through homelessness in his early years, being lured to the strange and intimidating city of London with the Wailers by money-minded record producers, who were quick to capitalize on the band’s success, and eventually abandoned by them; none of this would taint his positive outlook on life and on society. Even when he fell out with his band members, who had become annoyed with all the attention being placed on Bob as the band’s frontman, he would continue making music with his wife, Rita, and her music group. Bob and Rita married in 1966 and were truly soulmates – they stayed together and very much in love until the end. 

In a black-and-white world that embraced prejudice, sanctioned violence, became plagued by economic strife and saw many people’s rights violated, Bob chose to sing about the light in the world. His songs were very much themed about love, “One Love, One Heart” “Three Little Birds,” “Sun is Shining,” and more. But fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, at least not for the arts of this era. It was a time of great exploration and pioneering in the world of music, art, literature and expression. Reggae was only just emerging in Jamaica as artists were now searching for new styles to excite fans and revive the music industry. It was a good time for Bob to make his stamp. It would seem that different cultures of the world would first combine their music before they would combine in friendship – for at this time, many American artists actually travelled to Jamaica as talent scouts to learn the new reggae style. This was actually how Bob was discovered, by an American singer, Johnny Nash. 

His entire life is an inspirational rags-to-riches story but a few key moments towards the end really stand out in modern history and make him so much more than just a reggae singer- Actions that would leave the entire world in deep thought and reconsideration. As the most beloved reggae artist of his time, Bob was summoned by the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, at a time of great political unrest in the country. Even he saw Bob as a source of salvation, for none could so enthral an audience and inspire peace and happiness as much as the world-famous Rastafarian legend.

“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.” 

Of course, ever the optimist and lover of humanity, Bob took this chance to spread peace and love, the message he always believed in. But it would seem that Bob’s fighting wasn’t over yet and now he even fought for his life – in the days leading up to the concert and as Bob and his Wailers were rehearsing, the band was targeted by gunmen sent by the political opposition to stop the concert from taking place. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured, though most of them, including Bob himself, did take some minor bullet wounds. They would go on to perform nonetheless and the concert, known as Smile Jamaica, would electrify the crowd of 80,000, consisting of opposing political followers. 

“The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I?”

In 1978, at the similar One Love Peace Concert, Bob delighted his crowd and stunned the world once again when he invited the political leaders of the opposing parties onto the stage and had them all hold up their hands together, the ultimate symbol of peace, unity and love. If even enemies can come together (to the beat of the music), then anyone can. It will remain one of the greatest inspirational moments in history. 

Sadly, Bob wouldn’t live much longer after this but what a memory to leave the world with! 

After a football injury to his foot, Bob would begin a downward trajectory in his health but not in his wellbeing. In spite of the injury and in direct violation of the command of his doctors, Bob continued to perform on stage to the point that his boot would fill with blood by the end of shows. Eventually, this injury was diagnosed as cancer that would spread throughout his body. 

His final concert was held at Pittsburgh in the US. The frailer he became, the more apparent the unspeakable doom would become and as he asked to be flown back to Jamaica. He found fame worldwide but in the end, his homeland was where he chose to be. Bob finally succumbed to the cancer and died at age 36 in 1981. 

The Legend of Bob Marley will never die. On the day of his funeral, 40,000 people visited his coffin in the National Arena in Jamaica, just a handful of the lives he touched. More than 75 million of Bob’s albums have been sold in the last two decades alone. 

It is apparent that there is a harrowing, echoing repeat in history. The dreary times of today feel as bleak as they did in Bob Marley’s time. So let’s remember him and his message that is still more than relevant today. 

“Overcome the devils with a thing called love. ” – Bob Marley

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with some love, joy and great music!


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