During the 1960’s, reggae music was created by combining the characteristics of the North American rock and African Jamaican music. This new style known as reggae had very much in common with rhythm and blues, though the textbook America’s Musical Landscape the author Jean Ferris states that, “the polyrythms are more complex, the bass lines are stronger, and the tempos more relaxed” (Ferris p. 207). The music of reggae gives a very soulful and religious feel to its listeners. Reggae music is closely related to the religious movement Rastafarianism, and so much of this genre of music has religious connotations explaining the singers beliefs and views on situations from a Rastafarian perspective (Bradbury p.2).
Though the reggae music had been popular in other parts of the world in 1960, especially England, it didn’t become popular music in the United States until a legendary performer named Bob Marley came onto the reggae musical scene. Bob Marley is without a doubt the king of reggae music and when you think of reggae Marley is probably associated. His words of wisdom reached to many people who were in a difficult situation; no matter what the problem maybe there is a Bob Marley song that can in some way or another relate. Marley grew up in the ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica known as Trenchtown. It was here that he went through his struggles with poverty, hunger, and the everyday struggles of being a poor black child in a poor third world country. Marley dropped out of school at the age of 15 to make money as a welder, and he spent all of his free time with his best friend Bunny perfecting his vocal skill (Miller p.1). In 1962 musical friends Bob Marley, the Bunny, Peter McIntosh, and Junior Braithwaite started a reggae band the Wailing Wailers. Within their first year their first single “Simmer Down” was a number one hit in Jamaica and was putting the young men on a path to stardom. Though the band did not remain together after Bob Marley got married in 1966. The other members of the band all went on to have successful careers as solo artists of reggae music, but none of them turned out to be as great as Bop Marley. Bob Marley changed his style of reggae, after his marriage and involvement in the Rastafarian movement, to send a more spiritual and social message to its listeners. Bob Marley formed his new band Bob Marley and the Wailers featuring a female trio of vocal harmony including his wife Rita, Marcia Griffith, and Judy Mowatt. The new group was set on spreading the message of “One love, one world” (Miller p.1).
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The Rastifarian religious movement was based on the blending of the purest forms of both Judaism and Christianity. Though they differed very much from Christians, for they worshipped and prayed to Jehovah, their god. This religious form rejects the Babylonian hypocrisy of the modern church (Bradbury p.1). Their religion reflects the social and geographical environment in which they live. The use of marijuana is used as a sacrament and aid to achieve logical meditation in their religion. The Rasta leaders regarded marijuana as “wisdomweed” and urged that it be smoked as a religious right. They allege that marijuana was found growing on the grave of King Solomon and they cite biblical passages, Psalms 104:14, to attest its sacramental propeties, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth” (Bradbury p.3). This is very important because Bob Marley was obviously under the influence of marijuana during most of his writing and performances. Thus, this drug had an impact on the way that Bob Marley performed, wrote, and lived his life. Though the drug marijuana was very important to the Rastafarian religion they looked down on other things such as alcohol, tobacco, all meat, and seafood (Bradbury p.3). They truly did not see anything wrong with the use of a drug that is illegal not only in their country, but in ours. Much of Bob Marley’s work has to do with his opinion of the drug.
I am going to compare and contrast three of Bob Marley’s most famous and listened to works. The songs “No woman no cry”, “Get up, Stand up”, and “Jammin” all are on a collection of Bob Marley’s greatest hits album Legend. The album which came out after his death has sold more than ten million copies and the United States and around twenty million throughout the rest of the world (BobMarley.com/ lyrics p.1). The greatest hits album combines the best songs from the twelve albums he made as a musician in his short, but successful life. The three songs that I am comparing all have very different meanings and are suppose to make you feel the situation as well as hear about it. They all involve the members of Bob Marley and the Wailers which was Marley’s second band. They all also involve different rhythms and beats to which the vocals are played.
The first song “No Woman no cry” was originally recorded for the 1974 release “Natty Dread”. The song is a deep reminiscence of Bob Marley’s impoverished life in Trenchtown (Miller p.3). The song was dedicated to his brethren and friend known as Tarter. Had it not been for Tarter’s household kitchen, Bob Marley would have gone without food on occasion; starved. Tarter is referred to in the song as one of the “good friends we have had, oh one of the good friends we’ve lost along the way” and in the next verse he says, “in this bright future you can’t forget your past”. Bob Marley is acknowledging the things that his friend Tarter did for him in the past and how even though he is now a star he will not forget what got him here. The man Georgie who he talks about in the song, “and then Georgie would make the fire light”, is also a real person to whom Marley is giving his respects. The man Georgie would make a fire so that Bob and his friends could play into the night and he to would feed the children. Marley goes on to the chorus “ev’rything’s gonna be alright” which they say is talking to the people of Trenchtown and how problems in life will work themselves out just as it did for him, with the help of everyone around them (Miller p.3). The song has a polyphonic texture and is very relaxed, and it is also very sad and uplifting at the same time.
The second song “Get up, Stand up” is also one of Marley’s greatest songs and in terms of his Rastafarian beliefs it is probably his most important and influnetial songs. The song was performed with former band member Peter McIntosh, known in the reggae world as Peter Tosh. The song first appeared on their album “Burnin” and is known as the Rasta anthem throughout much of the world. The chorus repeats the verse “get up, stand up, stand up for your right, get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight” His first line says “preacher man don’t tell me heaven is under the earth, I know you don’t even know what life is worth”. Bob Marley is stating here that heaven is not in the earth, but that heaven is being on earth and the time we get to spend on earth is what heaven is all about. Bob Marley says that “die and go to heaven in Jesus name, Lord we know when we understand almighty God is a living man”. I believe that this means that he feels that God is in every person who walks the earth and that everyone is god on a planet that is heaven. The entire song is about Bob Marley’s feelings of religion and how they can apply they apply to “one love, one world”. This song was writen in a polyphonic texture as well but it does not have the same relaxed rhythm that “no woman no cry” has, instead it is more in a chant form with a strong beat.
The third and final song “Jammin” was called “an anthem for Bob’s righteous journey of uniting sufferahs through the power of music” (Miller p.4). This song is the signature song of Bob Marley, it shows the feel good, happy sounds of reggae music. He talks about getting over an obsticle or problem by “jammin” and having fun, dancing with someone that he has fallen in love with. His lyrics want you to show you that he feels invisible when he is with the woman, “ain’t no rules, ain’t no vow” and “no bullet can stop us now”. This piece as well as the others is in a polyphonic texture that is very upbeat and a feel good song to listen to. Bob Marley wrote this song after meeting his wife Rita Anderson for the very first time and he wrote the song about her before they were married, but he says that he knew someday she would be his wife (Miller p.4).
The reggae music of today and tomorrow has its inspiration in the legendary music and life of Bob Marley. He helped to develop reggae music to the mainstream United States and throughout the world, he helped to further develop the Rastafarian religious movement and he spoke his words of peace and wisdom to all. Bob Marley was a man who had a very important message to make the world through his music and unfortunately he died at the early age of 36 and we did not fully get to appreciate all that he did for the music industry and the listeners of his music. Remember Bob Marley by he felt about humanity “One love, One World”.
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