Bob Marley would have been 61 years old today. Sixty-one! Man alive, time is speeding past… As is our family custom, the house this Feb. 6 is filled with the positive vibrations, rolling riddims and wise words that make up sonic legacy of the legendary musical revolutionary, whose 1981 death from cancer still leaves us reeling with sadness.
His story alone fills us with wonder: Born in the tiny,impoverished Jamaican village of Nine Mile, Robert Nesta Marley grew up a gifted sufferah. His curse was having his mother’s brown skin rather than his English father’s more socially acceptable complexion, being abandoned by the man who sired him, being poor and considered among the lowest ranks of society. But young Bob was blessed too – with the love of his mother and grandfather; with enough education to make him a literate, thinking person; with musical gifts that gave him an alternative to life as a roughneck rude bwai on Kingston’s mean streets – and the bravado, faith and tenacity to make success happen.
What started as his ticket out of the ghetto in the 1960s, the harmony group the Wailers, became his passport to the world. His band’s driving reggae one-drop combined with his relentless message of love, unity, freedom and equality for all took him to stages around the world. Sufferers from places ranging from his native Jamaica, Europe, the US and even colonial Africa heard his call and stood up for their rights. His momentum pushed ever forward and even his untimely death could not stop his message: Even today, people throughout the planet are inspired and moved to action by a fighter whose only weapon was his guitar.
Time named Bob Marley’s Exodus the album of the 20th century; a host of publications, politicians and plain folks see him as the preeminent activist-artist of all time. For us, Marley’s essential truths are endlessly relevant guidebooks to resisting the still-oppressive and unjust status quo and maintaining positivity in the face of near-total adversity. That it comes in the form of quirky, seductive songs of freedom makes his work all the more compelling and irresistible.
Times are hard, but imagine how little hope those who suffer and those who are oppressed might feel if not for Bob. Who, then, is better qualified to give us a lift and to spread uplifting vibes? Of course, Marley isn’t the only one spreading the word of freedom, but for my money, he is the best.
The following are bits of the songs now satisfying my soul and subverting the mental slavery and railing against the of the mainstreamers, aka Babylon. As you internalize Marley’s messages of turning anger and downpression and freedom fighting into positivity (something I desperately need), redemption and victory, remember the Tuff Gong with gratitude and resolve. And remember… stand up for your rights! War against injustice and inequality can and must be fought without resorting to violence, but we must fight, our heads held high, our principles and integrity intact. Make way for the positive day!
“Bend down low, let me tell you what I know…”
“So much trouble in the world…”
“Long time, we no have no nice time…”
“Life is one big road with lots of signs,
So when you riding through the ruts,
Don’t you complicate your mind.
Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy.
Don’t bury your thoughts; put your vision to reality, yeah!
All together now: Wake up and wake up and live, yeah…
Rise ye mighty people, yeah!
There’s work to be done,
So let’s do it-a little by little:
Rise from your sleepless slumber! Yes, yeah! Yes, yeah!
We’re more than sand on the seashore,
We’re more than numbers.
All together now: Wake up and live now, y’all!”
“Say, you just can’t live that negative way,
If you know what I mean.
Make way for the positive day,
‘Cause it’s a new day, new time
And if it’s a new feelin’.
Said it’s a new sign.
Oh, what a new day!”
“Be not selfish in your doings,
Pass it on. (Pass it on, children)
Help your brothers (help them) in their needs.
Pass it on.”
“Them belly full but we hungry.
A hungry mob is an angry mob.
A rain a-fall, but the dirt, it tough.
A pot, a cook, but the food no ‘nough
You’re gonna dance to jah music, dance,
We’re gonna dance to jah music, dance,
Forget your troubles and dance,
Forget your sorrows and dance,
Forget your sickness and dance,
Forget your weakness and dance.”
“They try to keep me down, yeah!
But Jah put I around.”
“It takes a revolution to make a solution.
Too much confusion, so much frustration, eh!
I don’t wanna live in the park,
Can’t trust no shadows after dark, yeah-ah!
So, my friend, I wish that you could see,
Like a bird in the tree, the prisoners must be free.”
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
“Don’t let them fool ya,
Or even try to school ya. Oh, no!
We’ve got a mind of our own,
So go to hell if what you’re thinking is not right!
Love would never leave us alone,
In the darkness there must come out to light.”
“So now you see the light?
Stand up for your rights!”
“We gonna chase those crazy baldheads outta town…”
“Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
Run come crucify the dread.
Time alone, oh, time will tell.
You think you’re in heaven, but you living in hell…
Oh children weep no more
Oh my sycamore tree, saw the freedom tree
Oh children weep no more
“Man to man is so unjust, children.
You don’t know who to trust.
Your worst enemy could be your best friend,
And your best friend your worse enemy…”
“Me say: de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Suckin’ the blood of the sufferers, yeah!
Building church and university, whoa yeah! –
Deceiving the people continually, yeah!
Me say them graduatin’ thieves and murderers;
Look out now: they suckin’ the blood of the sufferers.”
“They don’t want us to unite.
All they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting.
They don’t want to see us live together;
All they want us to do is keep on killing one another.”
“You have got the wrong interpretation
Mixed up with vain – vain imagination:
Stiff-necked fools, you think you are cool
To deny me for, oh, simplicity.”
“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war…
And we know we shall win,
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil.”
“When the cat’s away,
The mice will play.
Political voilence fill ya city, ye-ah!
Don’t involve Rasta in your say say;
Rasta don’t work for no CIA.”
“If you are the big tree, let me tell you that
We are the small axe, sharp and ready,
Ready to cut you down (well sharp),
To cut you down.”
“Don’t you look at me so smug
And say I goin’ bad.
Who are you to judge me,
And the life I live?
I know that I’m not perfect
And that I don’t claim to be,
So before you point your fingers,
Make sure your hands are clean.”
“Slave driver the table is turned.
Catch a fire so you can get burned.”
“No, woman, no cry…
Everything’s gonna be all right.”
“Don’t care what the world seh
I’n’I couldn’t never go astray
Just like a bright and sunny day
Oh, we’re gonna have things our way…”
“Natty Dread rides again
Thru the mystics of tomorrow.
Natty Dread rides again
Having no fear, having no sorrow.”
“One love, one heart,
Let’s join together and I’ll feel all right.”
“Lively up yourself and don’t be no drag.
You lively up yourself, ’cause this is the other bag.”
“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain…”
“Everything is gonna be all right.”
I hope the pep talk helps you during these increasingly dark times. Lord knows the advice and comfort it provides make Natty Dread better prepared to take on Bush and Falwell’s Babylon.
Happy birthday, Bob Marley. And thanks.