It’s been almost 27 years since the death of Bob Marley, yet despite previous appeals by the Marley Family and a host of posthumous awards Jamaica still refuses to accord the Hon. Robert Nesta Marley national hero status, the country’s highest honour. Even when Bob was a young musician from Trenchtown, his music wasn’t recognized by his own people in Jamaica until his first album “Catch A Fire” became an international hit, thanks to Chris Blackwell, but also the fact that Rastafarians were regarded as outcasts, or “Black Heart” men in the 60s and 70s.
I’m just getting warmed up!
Bob Marley deserves to be among the fraternity of Jamaica ‘s honored national heroes. He has done more for Jamaica through his music than most politicians have done to temper violence and TV commercials to promote tourism, in life and in death. Marley’s music served, and continues to be, the unofficial spokesperson for Jamaica . Even his song “One Love” was adopted as a theme song for the Jamaican Tourist Board and voted as Anthem of the Millennium by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).
The United Nations awarded him the Medal of Peace and he was voted Artiste of the Century by Billboard magazine. Bob was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and his album Exodus was chosen Album of the Century by TIME magazine. His Legend album received the Diamond Award and he is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by National Academy of Recording Artistes. Last but not least, Bob has a star encrusted on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an award in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
From Bob’s perspective, reggae gave a voice to the poor and disfranchised citizens of Jamaica and to the world. In so doing, he also instilled pride and dignity in their heritage, however depressing the realities of their daily existence was. Moreover, Marley’s reggae anthems provided uplifting rhythm and melody that induced what Marley called “positive vibrations” in all who heard it and ‘hit you without feeling pain.’ Regardless of how you heard it – political music suitable for dancing, or dance music with a potent political subtext – Marley’s music was a powerful remedy for troubled times. Amnesty International uses Bob’s song “Get Up, Stand Up,” as their anthem. To many, Marley was a true musical ambassador and a messenger of peace. Though he never aligned himself with any political party, he found an urgent calling to bring together a divided nation ripped apart by political violence and hostility in the late 70s. At the Smile Jamaica Concert held on December 5, 1976 at the National Heroes Park in Kingston , Bob Marley & The Wailers performed in front of 80,000 people and in an unprecedented move, warranted on stage Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader, Edward Seaga to put their hands together in unity. So, why not add Bob Marley to the roster of National Heroes?
Is it because Bob Marley was a Rastaman who smoked Cannabis and promoted its use as a religious sacrament? Fact: Jesus Christ and his apostles used a cannabis-based anointing oil to help cure people with crippling diseases. The truth is, the opposition to name Marley Jamaica’s 8th national hero is coming mainly from members of Jamaica’s influential Christian church community and the upper classes, all of whom Marley took pot-shots at during his lifetime, as he referred to as “The Establishment.” In the Jamaica Observer daily newspaper, columnist Lloyd B. Smith noted that Marley was “unlikely to be given the country’s highest honour, considering Rastafari is still not fashionable among most Jamaicans.” Indeed, because of this backward attitude, Rastafarians find it difficult to get (not find) a decent job, therefore they learn a trade and become carpenters, craftsmen, musicians, or entrepreneurs. Moreover, the issue of Bob’s personal and religious beliefs have been a foremost argument against his inclusion in the select club of Jamaica ‘s national heroes. “How long before we can be seen as just human beings?” said Bob in his song “Burnin’ and Lootin.’ Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like religious prejudice and discrimination on the part of the government? I think this qualifies as a human rights issue! What happened to “Out of Many, One People.” Or is it, “Out of Many, One Religion.” In Judge Not, a joyous gallop of ska, Bob chides, “While you talk about me / Someone else is judging you.”
Next, is it because he wasn’t thrown in prison for civil disobedience or ignite a rebellion? Fact: Bob Marley was a revolutionary and champion of equal rights and justice. He spread the message of love and Rastafari to the “Cold War” world. Since Marley’s death, Rastafarianism has been embraced by many people on an international scale from Japan to Johannesburg .
Next, is it because he was a notorious womanizer? Fact: So was King Soloman, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. According to a TIME magazines cover story,”The Secret Agony of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” “womanizing was the source of such agonizing moral conflict that MLK was compelled to confess his most enduring extramarital affair to his wife at “her most vulnerable moment — days after she recovered from a hysterectomy.”
Is it because he didn’t hold political office? Fact: Neither did Marcus Garvey or Martin Luther King, Jr., and they are both national heroes.
Finally, is it because the national heroes advisory committee is out of touch? Fact: Yes, and absent minded.
The fact remains for most casual listeners, reggae music can be reduced to one artist Bob Marley. For most tourists and travelers, Jamaica is synonymous with Bob Marley. Bob’s music is a like a flag or a text book to those who have never been to Jamaica or can only read about the country in global studies.
Most importantly, Bob Marley is largely responsible for the worldwide popularity of reggae music and with it subjects, including faith, love, relationships, poverty injustice and other broad social issues that we can all relate to and experienced first hand, or through the eyes of others. Bob Marley has paved the way for many aspiring and celebrated artists to compete on the world stage of music. Because of Bob, reggae music is now coveted category at the annual Grammy Music Awards.
Bob’s music bridges the cross-cultural divide, soothes the heart and mind from what Bob called “mental slavery,” and can be heard by people of every gender, race, religion, color, ethnic background and political affiliation.
Without the legendary Bob Marley, there would not have been a Reggae Academy Awards Ceremony that took place on February 24th that recognized the musical talents and achievements of celebrity reggae artists from Jamaica and around the world, or the Smile Jamaica concert that pumped sun bathers, tourists and the almighty dollar, as well as the strong Euro into Jamaica’s inflated economy. Bob Marley is still serving the people through his music and its message that advocates for social change – for freedom for all mankind, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status. He is a legendary icon that cannot and should not be forgotten. Award Bob Marley the Order of National Hero and continue to make Jamaica proud.
Falana Fray is a writer, media relations consultant and activist. She is actively petitioning for Bob Marley to become Jamaica’s 8th National Hero and has written an online petition available at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bobmarley. She also created an official Myspace site, http://www.myspace.com/bobmarleypetition to promote the Bob Marley For National Hero petition and celebrate the achievements of the Hon. Robert Nesta Marley. In 2007, she worked as a promotions coordinator for VP Records, where she was responsible for identifying and brokering online and radio promotional opportunities, as well as publicity for their new vintage catalog imprint 17 North Parade. Before joining VP Records, she was an intern in the Office of Corporate Communications at The New York Times Company where she supported the department on all aspects of media relations, investor relations, and public relations. Prior to that, Falana interned for Foreign Affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. In addition to assisting with publicity and media relations, she has an intellectual interest in public policy, social and economic development in the Caribbean and global communication. While in college, she was awarded a fellowship at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, where she wrote an article on the influence of public policy research institutes on presidential policy making entitled “Partisan Politics: The Rise of Advocacy Think Tanks and Their Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy” (Washington: 2004). Falana has been a volunteer for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF where she was involved in fund raising and is currently an active member of Jamaica Africa Development Association, a non-profit charity organization dedicated to improving the educational, social and economic conditions in Jamaica. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hofstra University in 2005 and lives in New York. She is currently pursuing a law degree.