On a recent, very brief trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, I was not surprised to experience the high quality of respect given to the memory of Bob Marley. Anything less would have been disappointing. However, as a lifetime follower of Marley, this trip highlighted a pattern much of the world is guilty of—pigeonholing Bob Marley as nothing more than a reggae artist and—thus losing sight of his revolutionary spirit.
When we think about successful activists and revolutionaries of the past, Marley’s name is not commonly mentioned. Throughout his career, Marley made a conscious effort to address social issues in a very public way. But because his revolutionary characteristics did not develop from traditional avenues of legitimacy (e.g., politician, religious leader, teacher, or even an academic degree), he was not regarded as a revolutionary. Through music, Bob Marley spoke of many important issues such as imperialism, pan-Africanism, and religion (as a tool of mental slavery, especially for Africans and the African diaspora).
It is clear that Marley’s lifestyle, often skewed by the media, is what society enjoyed dwelling on. He was perceived as primarily an entertainer. The focus was often on his marijuana use, his love life, and his carefree “everything is going to be alright” attitude. But, Bob Marley was not merely a “feel good” musical artist. He used the platform of reggae music to protest and to bring to the surface a failed system—a system that failed the underprivileged, Jamaicans, Africans, African Americans, and the entire African diaspora.
With Bob Marley’s recent 67th birthday behind us, the African diaspora and the world is still dealing with many of the social problems and system failures that Marley spoke about. Luckily, the legacy of Bob Marley lives on through organizations like The Bob Marley Foundation, 1Love, Ghetto Youths and The Rita Marley Foundation, which work to eliminate poverty, create social awareness and bring peace to people in the African diaspora. We must not neglect the social problems we continue to face, like we neglected Bob Marley his right to revolutionary status.
-by Rebecca Alvy