By Fernando Davis
I don’t know if it’s sad or maybe there is another way to look at it but…even though it’s been almost four decades since Bob Marley has passed, he is still the voice and face of reggae thanks to his impressive music catalogue and global popularity.
This also begs the question — what have all the other reggae artistes been doing during this time? Who has followed in his footsteps and built on his legacy? Who has taken reggae music to the next level?
Well, let us take a page from the book of the original Gong and father to Ziggy, Stephen, Damion (Junior Gong) et al.
Marley is ranked eighth on Forbes Magazine’s annual list of highest-paid dead celebrities, with an impressive US$14 million in earnings for the 2020 review period…COVID-19 and all!
The magazine notes that Marley, who passed away from cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, saw his music streams soar, accumulating more than one billion spins globally.
Forbes continued: “House of Marley, his line of speakers, turntables and headphones, and sales of T-shirts and lighters adorned with his likeness also added more than US$3 million to his coffers.”
My take: Marley was the ultimate professional who allowed his music to do the talking while building a legacy that others will forever try to emulate. He did it minus the hype…minus the feuds…minus putting out inane music…minus all the rancour.
And the result? There is no Jamaican alive or dead that is more popular or is more globally recognised.
Marley’s themes are universal and seem pertinent to these times. His music is the counterfoil to what much of Jamaican reggae and dancehall passes for these days—with its emphasis on sexual salaciousness and lasciviousness, rampant consumerism, death by the gun and unbridled individualism.
Bob Marley was a fantastic songwriter whose lyrics have stood the test of time. He was a man of deep musings and this fed his craft.
“Live for yourself and you will live in vain; live for others, and you will live again,” he once said.
He acutely understood the plight of humans wherever they are found.
“If you’re white and you are wrong, then you are wrong; if you’re black and you are wrong, you’re wrong. People are people, black, blue, pink, green – God makes no rules about colour; only society makes rules where my people suffer and that’s why we must have redemption and redemption now.”
This one’s for those artistes trying to make it today particularly the ghetto youths whom as they say want to ‘buss big’ both home and abroad.
“You entertain people who are satisfied. Hungry people can’t be entertained – or people who are afraid. You can’t entertain a man who has no food.”
He was dedicated to his art. To Bob Marley, reggae was not just an art form but a culture and that showed throughout his work. He was a political icon through his songwriting and performances, a voice for the oppressed.
In his earlier years, he was ripped off by unscrupulous producers and music executives and learnt to take care of business and ensure he was fairly rewarded for his efforts. His children, particularly Cedella, have done a good job overseeing control of his productions and making sure his legacy is not abused.
Imagine his sales if he had today’s marketing, digital and promotional avenues.
Bob Marley sold over 20 million records and one can only imagine his sales if he had today’s marketing, digital and promotional avenues – probably triple that.
Why does his music endure? Why hasn’t another Jamaican reggae or dancehall act come close to his accomplishments and acclaim? Why does his talent still lead the way in a genre which is truly a Jamaican art form?
Mikal Gilmore, writing in, Rolling Stone offers an explanation: “It isn’t simply that his records still sell substantial numbers, it’s that his mission might still have a chance. It isn’t a simple mission. Marley wasn’t about how peace could come easily to the world but rather how hell on earth comes too easily to too many. He knew the conditions he was singing about.
“His songs weren’t about theory or conjecture, or an easy distant compassion. His songs were his memories. He had lived with the wretched, he had seen the downpressors and those whom they pressed down; he had been shot at. It was his ability to describe all this in palpable and authentic ways that sustains his body of music unlike any other we’ve ever known.”