Bob Marley: king of reggae, champion of the oppressed; Marley continues to unite from the grave; Marley's fans gather in Ethiopia
- Excerpt from article:
"Marley served as a de facto missionary for the Rastas, preaching
brotherhood and peace for all of mankind. Later he was baptised into the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie. "
Bob Marley: king of reggae, champion of the oppressed
Tue Feb 1,10:49 AM ET
PARIS (AFP) - Rastafarian reggae legend Bob Marley rose to superstar status
in a career cut cruelly short by cancer, championing through his music the
rights of the oppressed and his vision of "One World, One Love."
Marley, who would have celebrated his 60th birthday on Sunday, died in 1981
aged just 36 leaving a staggering legacy of music which continues to
influence the world's leading artists even today.
Some 400,000 people, most of them foreigners, are expected to crowd Addis
Ababa for a month of festivities that kicked off Tuesday to mark what would
have been the king of reggae's 60th birthday.
Marley was Jamaica's proudest son, and the first true superstar to come from
the developing world, but he had the humblest of beginnings.
Born on February 6, 1945, as Robert Nesta Marley, his mother was an
18-year-old black girl called Cedella Booker while his father was Captain
Norval Marley, a 50-year-old white quartermaster attached to the British
West Indian Regiment.
After starting in ska music and recording a few songs in 1962, Marley went
on to form with five others the group The Wailers in 1963.
Bob Marley and The Wailers, which included Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh,
were over the next two decades to become largely responsible for the
mainstream acceptance of reggae.
They first signed with Studio One, but in 1966 Marley, who had married his
girlfriend Rita, left Jamaica for what was to be a short-lived trip to the
United States where his mother was then living.
It was on his return in October of that year, that he first embraced the
Rastafari religion which regarded former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie
(Ras Tafari) as its spiritual leader.
Marley served as a de facto missionary for the Rastas, preaching brotherhood
and peace for all of mankind. Later he was baptised into the Ethiopian
Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie.
Although Rastafari was a blending of Christian and Jewish religions, it was
controversial for advocating the smoking of marijuana as a religious rite.
Followers were also banned from cutting their hair, or from drinking
In 1972 Marley signed with Chris Blackwell's Island Records label, a highly
influential and innovative label, which boasted a range of successful
artists including Genesis and John Martyn.
By then Marley's reputation had spread through Jamaica, but he remained
unknown on the international scene.
That was to change with the launch of "Catch a Fire", the first Wailers
album to be released outside of Jamaica. It won international acclaim, and
was followed the next year by "Burnin'" which contained the smash hit "I
Shot the Sheriff."
Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh left the group, but his wife Rita joined and the
1974 album release "Natty Dread" containing "No Woman, No Cry" brought them
As he delved deeper into Rastafari, Marley's songs took up themes of social
justice such as "Get up, Stand up" as he increasingly adopted the mantle as
a champion of the world's oppressed.
In 1976 he was shot in what was believed to be a politically motivated
attack amid unrest in Jamaica at the time, but that was never proved.
The following year, Marley found a wound on his right big toe, thought to
have come from an injury playing football. But an eventual diagnosis
revealed he had a form of skin cancer growing under his toenail.
Initially due to his beliefs, he refused treatment. In 1980 he performed for
the first time in Africa, and took part in the independence ceremonies for
But later that year during a series of concerts in New York, he collapsed.
He sought help, but by then it was too late the cancer had spread to his
brain, lungs and liver.
He recorded one last album "Uprising", with the soulful "Redemption Song" on
which he sings alone with his guitar. Then the disease took its toll.
Emaciated, shorn of his famous dreadlocks, Marley died on May 11, 1981.
But his early death earned him a lasting place among the legendary popular
figures of the 20th century alongside such greats as Elvis Presley Jim
Morrison. And through his music and his image printed on millions of
T-shirts and posters every year, Marley lives on.
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Marley continues to unite from the grave
February 2, 2005
Throughout his life, Bob Marley looked to Ethiopia as the spiritual home of
his Rastafarian faith.
But as Ethiopia welcomes hundreds of thousands of revellers for a month of
festivities starting today in honour of the Jamaican reggae legend, many
view Rastafarians - some of whom settled in Ethiopia because they could
worship the nation's last emperor - with deep suspicion.
At best, the tiny Rastafarian community is tolerated as an oddity in the
deeply traditional and overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country on the Horn
At worst, they are accused of spreading drugs and crime, claims they dismiss
as springing from prejudice.
Organisers of this month's celebrations hope music will melt away tensions.
Marley's widow, Rita, together with the African Union and the UN Children's
Fund, is organising the $US1 million ($1.3 million) extravaganza dubbed
Africa Unite in honour of one of his most famous songs.
The highlight is Ethiopia's largest-ever concert on Marley's birthday,
February 6, in the capital, Addis Ababa.
"I have dreamed about doing this for years," said Marcia Griffiths, a singer
in Marley's former backing group, as she arrived in Ethiopia for the first
"All my life I wanted to come here with Bob in the flesh. Now I'm here and I
know he is here in the spirit."
It is the first time the annual commemoration has been held outside Jamaica.
Ethiopian officials estimate 500,000 people will attend the festivities.
After the concert in Addis, celebrations will move to Shashemene, where the
Rastafarians have built their community.
Marley's music has always been popular, and Ethiopians welcome the many
visitors, and money, the event could bring their impoverished country.
The capital's cassette and CD stalls, which normally blare Ethiopian pop,
have changed tunes to Marley classics Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The
"I think the Bob Marley concert will be very good for the country," said
Yared Kebede, a teacher. "With thousands of people coming here and spending
money, that can't be a bad thing."
Rastafarians worshipped Ethiopia's last emperor - Haile Selassie, who died
in 1975 - as their living god, a belief based on a 1920 prophecy by Jamaican
civil rights leader Marcus Garvey that a black man would be crowned king in
Selassie in turn granted Rastafarians land in 1963 at Shashemene, 250
kilometres south of Addis Ababa, where several hundred continue to live. But
successive governments have refused to give Rastafarians citizenship in
their adopted country.
"In any other country in the world, if you stay in the country a number of
years and have children, those children would have citizenship, but not
here," lamented Ambrose King, deputy head of the Rastafarians' Ethiopian
On Friday, Rita Marley said she was determined to honour her husband's wish
for burial in Ethiopia, but did not say when the body might be moved from
She first announced the reburial plans earlier this month, to the chagrin of
many in Jamaica who feared losing their cultural heritage.
Historian Richard Pankhurst said Selassie never held a particular affinity
The late emperor, who ruled from 1930 until he was overthrown in a 1974
military coup that abolished the monarchy, also granted land to Armenian
refugees, Pankhurst said.
Some Ethiopians are irked by the deification of Selassie, a man many saw as
an autocrat, albeit a benevolent one.
The Orthodox Church never granted Selassie, who claimed to be a direct
descendant of King David, the status of saint, which it bestowed on other
Regular drug busts in Shashemene - a dusty, wind-swept town of sleazy bars
and prostitutes - have also fuelled local prejudices against Rastafarians.
"The problem with the Jamaicans is that they smoke drugs," said Kebede, the
teacher, using the local expression for Rastafarians, regardless of their
For Rastafarians, who preach a oneness with nature, smoking marijuana is a
Commemoration organisers hope to highlight issues like HIV/AIDS, war and
poverty, while raising funds for tsunami relief in Somalia, the Shashemene
Medical Centre and a Bob Marley Youth Development Centre in downtown Addis
Rita Marley will sing with Griffiths and Judy Mowatt as the I-Threes, Bob
Marley's former backing group, on February 6.
Joining them on stage will be Senegal's Baaba Maal and Youssou N'Dour,
Benin's Kidjo, reggae rapper Shaggy, soul singer India.arie and Marley's
Marley's fans gather in Ethiopia
The celebrations will pay tribute to Marley's advocacy of African liberation
Thousands of Rastafarians and music fans are gathering in Ethiopia to begin
a month of events to mark what have would been Bob Marley's 60th birthday.
It is the first time the annual celebrations are being held outside the
reggae legend's native Jamaica.
Ethiopia was chosen because Rastafarians, such as the late singer, regard
the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as their spiritual leader.
Marley's widow Rita Marley has said one day she wants him reburied in
She has distanced herself from initial comments she made last month that
Marley would be reburied as part of this year's celebrations.
"It was a dream of Bob Marley and it is a dream of the family to bury him in
Ethiopia. As we believe in what is to be, must be, it will happen in due
course," she told AFP news agency.
Netsanet Asfaw, Ethiopia's minister of state for information, said Ethiopia
was pleased to be hosting the events.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is
like a tree without roots
Jamaican black nationalist leader
"Bob Marley put Ethiopia on a pedestal and it is in his honour that this
festival is going to take place here," she said.
Under the banner Africa Unite, the month-long events will include concerts,
a film festival, seminars and a gala fundraiser using the themes of Marley's
songs including War, Exodus and Get Up Stand Up.
They will kick off on Tuesday evening with a concert by the late singer's
80-year-old mother, Cedella Marley Booker.
A highlight will be a concert in the capital, Addis Ababa, on 6 February -
Marley's birthday - featuring three of Marley's children as well as Quincy
Jones, Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo.
After that the celebrations will move to Shashemene, some 250km (155 miles)
south of the capital, where a Rastafarian community has settled on land left
to them by Haile Selassie.
Marley became an icon of the 1970s with his music catching the imagination
Rita's remarks about the reburial did not go down well in Jamaica
Africa Unite is from his most political album, Survival.
On the cover is a quotation from black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey: "A
people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is
like a tree without roots".
Marley was a dedicated Rastafarian and a strong believer in one of its
central beliefs, the importance of return to Mother Africa.
He received a United Nations Peace Award , in recognition of his attempts to
calm the warring factions of Jamaican politics and played at Zimbabwe's
independence celebrations in 1980, where he discovered more Zimbabweans knew
the lyrics of his song than knew the words of the national anthem.
Aged 36, he died of cancer in 1981 and was buried with his Gibson guitar and
Bible beside him.