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Bob Marley 1945– 1981

(Born Robert Nesta Marley) Jamaican songwriter and musician.

Bob Marley was the leading exponent of a fairly new musical form during his time called reggae. Rooted in the ghettos and the oppression of blacks in Jamaica, reggae is Jamaican soul music, an adaptation of New Orleans rhythm and blues. Marley's political and religious beliefs were the major themes of the music he wrote. As a Rastafarian, Marley believed that the late Emperor Haile Selassie I is Jah (God) and that all Rastafarians will one day be led back to Africa by Jah. Marley's religion affected every aspect of his life, from being a vegetarian and smoking marijuana to politics. Marley used his music to carry Jah's message to the blacks of the world. He infused his lyrics with images of black oppression and with a call, not to arms, but to righteousness. Rastafarians oppose authority, believing it to be the source of all the world's problems. Their dread-locks, long, matted braids, are worn in defiance of values forced upon them through British rule.

With Catch a Fire in 1973 Marley broke into the international market. It was not until 1976 and Rastaman Vibration that he became well-known in the United States. As with all of Marley's music, Rastaman Vibration received criticism from both ends of the spectrum. Some critics viewed it as a weighty comment on the need for unity among races. Marley, the son of a black Jamaican and a white British Army captain, did not consider himself racially prejudiced. Other critics felt that Rastaman Vibration lacked the power with which he dealt with the problems expressed in earlier works and that the lyrics were cliché-ridden and boring.

In late 1976, Marley and some of his friends were fired upon by gunmen who were alleged hired political assassins. Many critics feel that on his 1977 album, Exodus, which was in some respects a celebration of life, Marley was backing down from asserting his political views because of fear for his life.

In Jamaica reggae is considered slum music, not easily lending itself to dancing. Many American and British musicians, however, have sought to capture the reggae rhythm in their own works, such as Paul Simon in his "Mother and Child Reunion" and Eric Clapton in his successful cover version of Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff." Marley, however, does not consider these efforts to be true reggae. For Marley, to play true reggae one must be born Jamaican, with reggae in the soul.

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Stephen Davis