The Marley family has just released pictures of Bob Marley’s wife, Rita and his son, Ziggy’s visit to the White House. I wonder how Bob would feel to know that a Black man with the same bi-racial heritage as him is president of the United States, the heart of Babylon. I wonder how Marley would react to his song, “One Love,” being used to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Thirty years after Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley united the world under the banner of peace, unity, and human rights, Barack Obama inspired the world with a similar message. Bob Marley chastised corrupt politicians and war while exhorting oppressed people to “get up, stand up.” Both Marley and Obama would not only win the love of the Black people, but also the admiration of young, idealistic whites who would further Marley’s cause. Bob Marley was born in Jamaica in 1946. His father, Captain Norval Marley, was an officer in the English Navy as well as a plantation overseer. His mother was an 18-year-old black woman by the name of Cedella Booker. Marley’s parents didn’t stay together. His father died when Marley was 10.
As a young man, Marley moved to Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, where a burgeoning music scene was developing. Marley joined up with local musicians such as Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The trio formed the Wailers and recorded with some of Jamaica’s top producers. Marley composed several songs that represented the angst of the Jamaican underclass, and the tensions between the haves and have-nots in his native land.
It wasn’t until Bob Marley signed with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records that Marley would take his sound around the world. Bob Marley positioned himself the rebel, singing songs that people all over the world could relate to, songs like “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Concrete Jungle.” Marley was able to do what King and Ghandi did, and what Obama accomplished in 2008 — rally educated people of European backgrounds around the cause of multiculturalism and racial harmony. The same populist underdog voice Marley’s songs echoes in Obama’s speeches.
While Marley painted a dark picture, there was always an undying optimism in his voice, a sense that things would get better, that people could unite to end racism and classism.
Both Marley and Obama have the ability to be militant without being threatening. Obama’s anti-war stance and criticism of America’s social system reflected the angst of the working and middle class in America. Still, he was able to sweeten up his strong desire for change with calls of unity, hope, and progress in an all-inclusive America. Similarly, Marley managed to remain pro-Black and a voice of the downtrodden while sweetening up his message with calls for love, peace and unity. The millions of white Americans who grew up on Marley’s music — from the frat boys, to the hippies, to the millions of Americans who’ve heard his songs on the radio and own his “Legend” CD — became the a crucial part of Obama’s “post-racial” America.
Obama and Marley made the same bi-partisan efforts to unite people. After Marley was shot, he united the heads of the warring Jamaican political parties at the historic “One Love” peace concert in Jamaica. Bob Marley was the voice of the Third World, but was still able to attract the attention of the European upper-class, royalty and celebrities. Time Magazine named “Exodus” the “Album of the Century,” and the BBC named “One Love” the song of the century.
Marley said: “I don’t have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”