On this day 36 years ago the world lost one of its most influential music icons, Bob Marley

Posted on May 11 2017 , at 07:15 am
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  • Thirty six years later his legacy reaches far beyond his tomb in Jamaica.

Rarely does one individual impact the world so much that nearly four decades after his death, he continues to influence several generations after him. Thirty six years after his death at the age of thirty six, Bob Marley still casts a powerful shadow across music, pop culture and social justice; perhaps like no other musician has done before or after him.

On May 11 1981, Robert Nesta Marley breathed his last in a Miami hospital having spent the previous four years first ignoring, then fighting the cancer and brain tumour that cut short his life.

Born on his grandfather’s farm in the Jamaican country side in 1945 to an eighteen year old girl and a sixty year old British plantation overseer, Bob Marley was a child prodigy who would go on to be the most powerful and most important person in his country’s history.

His twenty year career that started when he was an adolescent took him from the shanties of Trenchtown to the world, using his wildly popular music to spread the gospel of peace, love, Rastafarianism- and of course, weed.

The Wailers in 1964.

In 1964 he formed a group with his childhood friend Peter Tosh and five others, and later comprised just Marley, Bunny Wailer and Tosh. The Wailing Wailers as they were known in those days spoofed American pop songs, infused it with the local Ska music and created a sound that was emerging in the poverty stricken townships of Jamaica. Their debut album Catch A Fire brought immediate success and afforded the group the opportunity to tour Britain but marked the end of the group. His friends felt that Bob Marley role in the group was too dominant and left to start their solo careers. They would never escape that dominance for the rest of their lives.

By the end of that decade, Bob Marley had acquired a cult following globally, catapulting him into a stardom neither he nor his friends could have imagined. He moved from being a Jamaican act to an international musician that simply came from Jamaica. He became a leader of thought in his home country and converted millions of people into his Rastafari way of life. His pan-African political views also made him widely accepted among African countries that were only getting out of colonialism into self rule. From Nigeria to Zimbabwe, Bob Marley was practically worshipped.

Bob Marley helped the Rastafari movement spread across the world.

He released fifteen albums, two of them live recordings and created iconic songs like Corner Stone, Small Axe, No Woman No Cry, Redemption Song, One Love, Get Up Stand Up, Buffalo Soldier, Soul Rebel and countless others that have grossed over seventy million records till date. His estate is said to be worth in excess of a billion dollars.

When he was diagnosed of a malignant melanoma under a toe in 1977, he dismissed it as mere football injury (he was an avid footballer) and continued carrying on like nothing was wrong. It would prove to be fatal. It was indeed a cancer that was rapidly spreading all over his body.

He was forced to cancel his Uprising tour in 1980 as his health continued to deteriorate. A tumour had began to grow in his brain. For eight months, he was in a German hospice, treating it but being unsuccessful at it. He precious dreads- one of the reasons he refused treatment in the beginning was cut off and in one of the last photos seen of him, he looked nothing like the energy performer the world had come to know.

Bob Marley’s last known photo before his death in 1981. His mother Cedella Booker is pictured with him.

Together with his family, it was decided that be be flown from Germany back home to Jamaica where he could live out the rest of his days close to his roots. He never made it there. On the flight, his conditions further worsened and his vital organs shut down. He was taken to the University of Miami Hospital where he eventually died.

His death caused a shockwave that the world had not seen before then. Fans openly cried in the streets for the ‘Messiah’ they had come to adore. Ten days later he was buried in Nine Mile, the village where he was born at a state funeral attended by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Edward Seaga. He was buried with three times that he cherished the most: a small guitar, a bible opened to Pslams 23 and a stalk of marijuana.

Thirty six years later his legacy reaches far beyond his tomb in Jamaica. His children too have carried on the torch for the Marley name and for reggae music.

But Bob Marley’s legacy transcends all that: his was a strong political voice that reached all corners of the world where inspiration was needed. He inspired a movement. He inspired a music genre. He was a social revolutionary. Most importantly his impact becomes more striking when one considers that he did all of this while he was young- he was only 36 when he died.

Today you could play any Bob Marley song: either a love ballad like I Don’t Want To Wait In Vain or a defiant anthem like Small Axe and the feeling would still be the same. That is his legacy: impactful music that is present and conscious in the hearts of millions of people around the world, many many years after his death.

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