“I and I vibration is positive (got to have a good vibe),” sang Bob Marley. Nesta Marley was born on February 6, 1946 in the Nine Mile village of St. Ann’s Parish, to a black mother and a white father. Shuttling between two worlds, two homes, Marley translated a fractured urban/rural experience into a music with an alarmingly positive vibration that also sent a message. Born from an expression of outrage at injustice and frustration at western societal values, Marley’s sound was as unique as it was soulful and universal; today, his image serves as an international symbol of peace and liberation. There were of course detractors—people who found fault with Marley’s brand of “Rastaman vibration”, his strength and his convictions. “Government sometimes maybe don’t like what we have to say,” he once said. “Because what we have to say too plain”, while non-believers had little patience for what they heard as platitudinous refrains, along the lines of “Every little thing gonna be alright ” from the song, “Three Little Birds.”
Doom-saying, despair, negativity and futility were not in Marley’s repertoire: “Why not help one another on the way? Make things much easier,” he sang. He also backed up the message in the music with action, as in 1978, when he was called out of exile by Jamaican authorities and asked to return home to Kingston, to join the effort to help quell escalating violence there. At the One Love Peace concert, Marley called opposing party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to the stage and raised their hands in a show of unity.
Taking his cues from the messaging in the records of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, the teachings of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey (a Rastafari prophet), and with devotion to Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie whom he believed to be the incarnation of Jah or God, Marley, alongside Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh, brought reggae music to the world as the Wailers. Their songs provided not only temporary relief from fear, loneliness, isolation and other human conditions, they were also stepping stones toward solutions to world war, poverty, famine, and all forms of human rights violations. A short life with maximum impact, Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36; his eulogy was delivered by Prime Minster Seaga.
In this upcoming clip, comedian/activist Dick Gregory pays tribute to Marley’s work as he introduces him to the stage at the Amandla–Festival of Unity for Southern Africa, held at Harvard Stadium in 1979 (the event also attempted to shed light on race relations in Boston). Marley is accompanied by his band and the I Threes, featuring Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and his wife, Rita Marley.
More on Bob Marley and music activism in Keep on Pushing