Bob Marley Music

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Bob Marley & the Wailers


Bob Marley has been called a prophet, a psalmist for the Rastafarian religion, an advocate for an African homeland for the descendants of slavery still struggling to develop a sense of identity in what he called “Babylon,” a peace- maker, a troublemaker, a musical genius, and the first Third World superstar. Marley was a complex man housed within an apparently simple guise. His speech sounded, to the uninitiated, like the ramblings of a “pothead” (ganja, or marijuana, was a part of both his religion and his philosophy), yet contained revelatory and revolutionary truth for those who had ears to hear. The brief quotation from his 1977 hit song, “Exodus” is a case in point: it calls the hearer to self-examination and self development while also pointing metaphorically toward a vision of an African exodus from their exile in the “Babylon” of western slavery and oppression back to the “fatherland” of Africa. A close examination of the “public” Bob Marley suggests a person who was intuitively aware of the power of symbol. He seemed to intentionally employ symbols of resistance in a variety of ways to communicate his belief that Jah had called him to bring about change on behalf of the suffering people of his native Jamaica; this original commitment eventually became extended to a commitment to liberation for all of the world's oppressed citizens. Bob Marley's unfinished mission was to change the mindset of the poor and downtrodden, and lead his people to a better place. In this section of the paper, attention will be given to Marley's religion, music, and lyrics/language, all of which make use of the creation of a “hybrid third space” that transcends the limitations of traditional communicative devices. From around the age of eighteen years until the end of his thirty-seven years of life, Bob Marley was committed to Rastafarian religion. He was introduced to this distinctively Jamaican religion through two different sources of influence: a young, local singer named Rita Anderson, who became his wife in 1965, and Joe Higgs, who taught Marley and the other members of the original “Wailing Wailers” (“Bunny” Livingston and Peter Tosh) both the basics of musical harmony and Rastafarian principles.

Cultural Context

One of the several distinctive syncretistic religions to develop in Jamaica and the religion adopted by Bob Marley was called Rastafarianism. The religion, which can be dated with an origin in the 1930s, combined themes from traditional African cultic practices, Christianity, veneration of Africa and more specifically Ethiopia and a rejection of the oppressive culture they called “Babylon. Rastafarianism drew upon a long history of Afrocentric belief systems that flourished in Jamaica and the rest of the diaspora for more than three hundred years before the advent of the religion. The song of the exile looking back to the homeland with nostalgia and desire was always part of the culture of slave societies throughout the New World. Bob Marley gave the world brilliant and evocative music; his work stretched across nearly two decades and yet still remains timeless and universal.

Bob Marley & the Wailers worked their way into the very fabric of our lives. His music was pure rock, in the sense that it was a public expression of a private truth." It is important to consider the roots of this legend: the first superstar from the third world, Bob Marley was one of the most charismatic and challenging performers of our time and his music could have been created from only one source, the street culture of Jamaica.

How was it marketed /communicated to its community?

The Wailing Wailers released their first single, "Simmer Down", on the Coxsone label during the last weeks of 1963. By the following January it was number one in the Jamaican charts, a position it held for the next two months. The group - Bob, Bunny and Peter together with Junior Braithwaite and two back-up singers, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith - were big news. "Simmer Down" caused a sensation in Jamaica and The Wailing Wailers began recording regularly for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One Company. The groups' music also found new themes, identifying with the Rude Boy street rebels in the Kingston slums. Jamaican music had found a tough, urban stance. Despite their popularity, the economics of keeping the group together proved too much and the three other members - Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith - quit. Bob's mother, Cedella, had remarried and moved to Delaware in the United States where she had saved sufficient money to send her son an air ticket. The intention was for Bob to start a new life. But before he moved to America, Bob met a young girl called Rita Anderson and, on February 10, 1966, they were married.

What are the values that drive it?

Marley became the most prominent international spokesperson for Rastafarianism through his musical fame. Rastafarian claims about Jah, Selassie, Ethiopia as Zion, and Black repatriation to Africa are pervasive in his lyrics. One of his best known songs, war is essentially an extended quotation from a famous speech condemning racism Haile Selassie made before the United Nations in 1968. Marley's song “Crazy Baldhead” (a “baldhead” is a person who cuts his hair short or wears her hair styled, rather than natural thus not a Rasta) had the double meaning of calling Rastas to resist the ways of Babylon in hair style while, at the same time, the depths of his passion for Rastafari echoes in every word, and the political importance of the sentiments expressed are underscored dramatically by Al Anderson on lead guitar. Reggae music, which Marley made known internationally, is itself a hybrid musical form. It arose from ska, a fast-paced; horn- laced Jamaican form of popular music that tended to reflect local, Jamaican lyrical and topical themes and rock-steady, which emerged from a dialogue between ska and American R&B. African music reverses those emphases to place rhythm in the primary position of emphasis, with melody taking secondary importance. In African cultures, as well as Afro-Jamaican cultures, the drum provided the heartbeat of society as well as the ground of music.


The number of Marley songs with an explicitly religious subject matter is substantial. His Rastafarian faith is pervasive from the time of his conversion at the age of eighteen, but is clearly more pronounced following his surviving of an assassination attempt in 1976. The Rastafarian themes in his music can be subdivided into songs about Jah / Selassie, songs about a return to Africa or Zion, songs about the evils of Babylon, and songs about cosmic or supernatural evil.


BM. (2008). His History: The Life and Legacy of Bob Marley. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from Bob Marley Website:

Farley, CJ. (2005). Remembering Bob Marley. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from TIME Website:,8599,1024886,00.html

Stelly, T. (2005). A History of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from Useless-Knowledge Website: