Bob Marley died four decades ago, a time longer than the reggae icon’s short yet powerful life, which ended when he was 36 due to skin cancer.
Yet, as a voice of the oppressed, Marley’s songs, such as “One Love,” “Redemption Song,” and “I Shot The Sheriff,” have a tangible vibrancy, sense of rebellion, and spiritual zeal that few bodies of popular culture have ever seen.
His rich anthems of peace and struggle, optimism and frustration continue to reverberate around the world, especially in his native Jamaica, a small country whose rich culture was popularized on an international level by its most famous son.
“It is said that the brightest stars don’t always burn as brightly, and Bob Marley was our brightest star in many ways; he achieved a lot in a brief amount of time,” said Judy Mowatt, a founding member of the influential I-Threes trio whose vocals backed Marley.
“Looking back now, I think he was ahead of his time in several respects,” Mowatt told AFP.
“His words were prophetic, and he was a man who believed everything he sang, not just the lyrics and songs.”
‘Money can’t buy you happiness’ –
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma, which was found under a toenail after he sustained a foot injury while playing football.
He refused to have his toe amputated as doctors recommended, an operation that would have gone against his Rastafarian beliefs.
Marley died after a Central Park jog in 1980 while in New York for two performances at Madison Square Garden. Doctors discovered the disease had spread to his brain, lungs, and liver as he was rushed to the hospital.
On September 23, 1980, Marley gave his last performance in Pittsburgh. Soon after, he cut short his tour and went to Germany for months of largely inadequate alternative cancer therapy.
Marley’s health deteriorated as he traveled back to Jamaica to collect one of the country’s highest honors, the Order of Merit. He flew to Miami in need of medical help.
“Money can’t buy life,” he allegedly told his son Ziggy from his hospital bed on May 11, 1981, exactly forty years ago on Tuesday.
The Wailers are back together –
The news of Marley’s death has left an indelible mark on Mowatt’s mind.
“It was a Monday morning, and I was sitting on the veranda as I am now, when I got the message that Bob had passed away,” she recalled. “It was excruciatingly uncomfortable.” Many of our years of collaboration have come to an end, and it has just struck me.
“Bob had vanished for good.”
On May 21, 1981, Marley was given a state funeral in Jamaica that blended Ethiopian Orthodox and Rastafari traditions. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga eulogized him, and he was buried with his guitar in a chapel near his birthplace.
The 40th anniversary of Marley’s death is particularly poignant this year, as Bunny, the only living member of the original Wailers, died in 2021.
“This is the first year that we’re commemorating Bob’s 1981 transition anniversary in the light of all three Wailers departing, with Peter (Tosh) departing in 1987 and Bunny enduring them all for 40 years and 33 years, respectively, transitioning here in 2021,” said Maxine Stowe, Bunny Wailer’s long-time boss.
The Wailers have “reunited on another plane of life,” according to Stowe.
With its strong bass lines and rhythms, the group helped turn reggae into a worldwide genre with untold influence in the 1960s.
The genre has influenced many artists and spawned many new music genres, including reggaeton, dub, and dancehall. It arose from Jamaica’s ska and rocksteady trends, as well as American jazz and blues.
With songs highlighting sociopolitical problems, incarceration, and injustice, the style is often promoted as marginalized music.
“His voice was an omnipresent scream in our electronic world,” Seaga said during his eulogy, “his angular eyes, majestic locks, and prancing style a beautiful etching on the landscape of our minds.”
“Most individuals are incapable of eliciting recollections. Bob Marley vanished without a trace. He was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that left an indelible, magical impression on each of us.
A figure like this cannot be forgotten. He is a part of the nation’s common consciousness.