It is generally accepted that a hero is a person who is admired and acknowledged for their courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities. By extension, a National Hero is someone who, beyond that, has made significant positive contributions to the growth and development of society, and someone who represents the vast majority of all of us. In the circumstances, it is my view that Robert Nesta Marley fully satisfies those requirements to be accorded the status of the island’s eighth National Hero. That notwithstanding, there are some highly placed Jamaicans with significant influence who are opposed to the elevation of Marley to this status, holding on to the arguments that Marley’s ganja smoking vice as well as the fact of his having numerous children producing extra-marital liaisons disqualifies him from this consideration. In the circumstances, let us look at Marley and his contribution to Jamaica, relative to any of the seven individuals now bearing the title of National Hero.
Marley came into the music business as early as 1962 after journeying from Nine Miles in St. Ann, Jamaica to Trench Town in Kingston, and produced a couple of sides, One Cup of Coffee and Judge Not. His initial break came at Studio One with Simmer Down during the Ska era, but beyond that, it took Marley another 10 years, before his efforts paid him any dividends as it gained significant traction in overseas markets before being accepted in Jamaica.
REGGAE GAINS UNESCO PROTECTED STATUS
Reggae music originated in the bowels of Kingston’s inner-city communities in the second half of the 1960s and was largely scorned and rejected by mainstream Jamaica. At the time, Jamaican music contributed less than 5 percent of the play-list on the island’s local radio station. A decade later, Marley had three albums in rotation and several entries from each had slipped into both the RJR and JBC record charts. Over the next five years, Robert Nesta Marley would be principally responsible for Reggae’s acceptance as a major music-form not only in Jamaica but across the entire world. This fact was underscored by the 2019 declaration by the United Nations that Reggae, the Jamaican music that spread across the world with its calls for social justice, peace, and love, be declared a global treasure that must be safeguarded. According to the citation published by the Paris based UNESCO, “Its contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual.”
By dint of tireless effort and unwavering application, Marley took Jamaica’s music from the inner-city communities of Kingston, Jamaica to audiences across the world. To the worldwide audience, Marley is accepted to have charted his own course in the music industry with passion and creativity as a song writer, singer, and performer, and had successfully transcended three Jamaican musical genres from the 1960’s through to the early 1980’s – Ska, Rock Steady and of course Reggae which was his most influential musical form. It is no accident that forty years after his death, his music is still relevant to millions of people across the globe, so much so that no matter where you travel in the world, people will undoubtedly know of Bob Marley. His legacy is loved and respected by many, and his music is practically a religion on its own. In the course of time Robert Nesta Marley, OM, would be proclaimed and accepted as the “King of Reggae.” Author Timothy White in his book “Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley” hailed him as the “most charismatic emissary of modern Pan-Africanism and regards Marley as one of the greatest musical legends of our time. At merely 33 years of age, the philosophy that guided his existence was omnipresent in his music; a philosophy which primarily emphasized peace, love, equality, and his spirituality. His commitment to his Rastafarian faith and his views on social issues were the cornerstone of his music. It was this passion which to this day, has served to influence the acceptance of Reggae music by people worldwide, particularly in Europe, North America, Africa, and the Caribbean.
LEADING THE EXPORT OF JAMAICA'S CULTURE
Jamaica is one of an absolutely very short list of countries that has successfully exported its culture around the world and an integral component of that exportation is Reggae music and Rastafarianism. Together, both combine to pull hundreds of thousands of tourists the world over into the island, and the unmistakable and most recognizable face of that export is Robert Nesta Marley. In this regard, Marley’s contribution to music and to Reggae has been internationally and locally recognized with his song, ‘One Love’, voted the best song of the 20th century, while the album ‘Exodus’ which was released in 1977 and which stayed on the UK’s music chart for 56 consecutive weeks, was voted the greatest album of the Century by the US based, Time Magazine. Both accomplishments must rank among the most the most outstanding achievement any artiste could possibly desire.
INTERNATIONALIZING HIS SOCIAL JUSTICE MESSAGE
One could say that Marley’s own life experiences led him to championing the fight against oppression and inequality and to support the cause of the underprivileged. He was born a mulatto having a white father and a black mother and suffered considerable derision from his peers about his appearance. The experiences shaped his development and influenced the message in his music. He became the voice of the oppressed in Jamaica and later the voice of the oppressed worldwide. It was no surprise that he was invited to play on the April 17, 1980, Zimbabwe Independence festivities, a concert for which he personally paid all the costs of attending. Marley, in playing the Zimbabwe concert gave Jamaica its loudest voice and a permanent and prominent face in the culminating struggle against oppression and racial discrimination in this Southern African State.
MARLEY ECLIPSES ALL COMERS ON OUR CURRENT HEROES LIST
In 1981, Marley was awarded Jamaica’s third highest honor, the Order of Merit, for his outstanding contribution to Jamaican culture. Forty years later, his contribution to the country has multiplied exponentially. Across the world, Marley is celebrated as a Prophet, while Jamaicans revere his work but criticize his Rastafarian lifestyle, replete with his ganja smoking and the multiple women with whom he had sired children. Ironically, ganja today has been legalized (as it should always have been), and in respect of his womanizing, none of his children (his seeds) have been allowed to sit on a sidewalk and beg bread. I say this to say that none of us as Jamaicans are without sin and in that regard, Robert Nesta Marley is one of us, warts, and all. No other Jamaican comes remotely close in terms of their local or global reach and impact. Of the seven current National Heroes, none (including Marcus Mosiah Garvey) has the current and lasting social and economic impact. Robert Nesta Marley provides the ethos of the Jamaican “can-do” spirit. He exemplifies the realizable potential of every single Jamaican who is willing to put in the necessary work. It is my opinion that there is no Jamaican more deserving to be called “National Hero” than the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley., OM. Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we appreciate your feedback. We also invite you to check Sunday Scoops our Jamaican music streaming and commentary program every Sunday from 2-4pm on yaawdmedia.com feel free to share with your friends. Check out our Reggaewear merchandise at: Reggae Clothing | Yardabraawd Gallery and Collectibles