Bob Marley: More than a Pop Culture Phenomenon

No matter where you go in this world, people will undoubtedly know of Bob Marley. A mention of his name will put dreadlocks, weed, and unabashed voice of reggae to mind. His legacy is respected by many and he’s one of the most recognizable figures in music history.

While many people know him as the man who made reggae music popular, he’s also a beacon of hope, peace, and unity in this world divided by conflict and strife. His music influenced people to find a common path to a greater conscience. He’s a singer who managed to unite Jamaicans and people all over the world through his music. And he’s the person who put Jamaican and the Caribbean culture on the map.

Here are the reasons why Bob Marley was more than a pop culture phenomenon:

He’s the most iconic reggae artist.

If there’s anything that is to be associated with reggae music, the first name that comes to mind is Bob Marley. He’s considered as one of the pioneers of reggae. His musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, rocksteady, and ska, as well as his distinct vocal and songwriting style. His work singlehandedly increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide, making him a global music figure in pop culture for more than a decade.

Over the course of his career, Marley was known for spreading the Rastafari movement, whose culture was a key element in the development of reggae. He took its music out of Jamaica and into the international music scene.

When Marley began his professional music career in 1963, he formed Bob Marley and the Wailers. Their debut studio album The Wailing Wailers contained the single “One Love/People Get Ready,” which became popular worldwide, and established the group as a rising figure in reggae music. Subsequently, the Wailers released eleven further studio albums, and engaged in rhythmic-based song construction in the late ‘60s to early ‘70s, which coincided with Marley’s conversion to Rastafari.

Their greatest hits album Legend, released in 1984, became the best-selling reggae album of all time. Marley also ranks as one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

He fought for peace at a time of serious political unrest in Jamaica.

Although he was opposed to many established governmental policies, Bob Marley wasn’t an anti-establishment advocate. He believed that governments and everyday people needed to look out for their fellow humans and treat people with equality regardless of social status and ethnicity.

As Bob continued to grow as a musician, Jamaica gained its independence, which sparked a civil war. In the midst of animosity, Bob created some of what a lot of people believe was the world’s most inspiring music. His music served as symbols for millions of the power of music and how it can impact the society by sparking practical and political change.

Under the leadership of former prime minister Michael Manley, there was unprecedented violence on the streets of Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica where Bob Marley lived. On one side were the supporters of Manley’s People’s National Party, and on the other side were the supporters of the rival party, Jamaica Labour Party led by Edward Seaga.

Just two days before Marley was set to play in Smile Jamaica, a concert organized by Manley to reduce tensions between political factions at war, Marley was shot by an unknown gunman. Thankfully, the singer only suffered from minor wounds, and despite being injured and his safety at risk, he still went on to play the concert. He played through his injuries and spread his message to the crowd of 80,000 people.

In 1978, Marley also played in the One Love Peace Concert at the National Stadium in Kingston. The violence was so out of control in the city at the time that even oranges were banned for sale at the festival as authorities feared it would also be used as weapons.

During the concert, Marley improvised while performing his song Jammin’ and summoned the prime minister Manley and the opposing leader, Seaga, to join him onstage.

“Well, I’m trying to say, could we have, could we have, up here onstage here the presence of Mr. Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga. I just want to shake hands and show the people that we’re gonna make it right, we’re gonna unite, we’re gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite,” said Marley. He stood on stage between the two leaders and with his hand on their shoulders, he pulled them together. People saw them shaking hands for the first time.

The crowd went wild. It was Bob Marley who brought the two fierce rivals together. And as iconic as that moment was, it sent a clear message that peace is possible to achieve. Though it did not end the violence and bloodshed that has gone too far in his city, it brought hope to his home country.

Gang leaders hired by Jamaican politicians found themselves locked up in the same jail cell and decided that enough was enough. They pleaded for Marley’s help in bringing an end to the civil war, but eventually, both were killed within a couple years after the concert.

Bob Marley received a United Nations’ Peace Medal of the Third World for helping to fight for peace and justice in third world countries.

He helped spread the message of Rastafari.

Marley’s influence on society wasn’t limited to simply making music for the sake of entertainment. He was noted for using his music as an instrument to spread the message or Rastafari. Rastafari is a phenomenon that started in the 1930s in response to a message given by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican nationalist, who proclaimed that African people in the diaspora must look to Africa, where a black king would be crowned. It was in this movement that they would find their redemption.

What Marley brought to the world stage was something unique for its time. His dedication and hard work to ensure that the world came to hear and learn Rastafari is a major contributor to what made it a global phenomenon.

Through Marley’s reggae music, people in all corners of the world came to embrace Rastafari, helping shape the Rasta philosophy to the extent that it can no longer be solely attuned to the believers in Jamaica. It’s found everywhere that it has been adapted to suit the concerns and needs of the society in which it has been embraced.

Marley’s efforts have further led Rasta scholars like Richard Salter to argue that there’s no one thing as Rastafari but only Rastafaris. What he means by this is that as a phenomenon, Rastafari is understood in the societies where it’s found, further demonstrating how far it has spread.

His music was elemental to surf and skate culture.

Bob Marley’s influence has been elemental to the surfing and skating community in Jamaica. This topic has been explored in an episode of the Legacy web documentary series entitled “Ride Natty Ride,” where it featured a number of Jamaicans discussing how they started surfing and skateboarding, as well as Bob Marley’s musical ties to the pastimes. The episode was a stunning visual celebration of Marley and his uplifting music and how it influenced the skateboarding and surfing community.

Today, most of the surfers’ and skateboarders’ goal is to find the biggest wave to ride. But when the wave fever took hold in Jamaica in the early ‘70s, the sport was all about finding joy and connecting with nature.

The community that promotes self-expression and creation of the feeling of freedom emphasizes parallels to Marley’s reggae music and its ability to bring happiness, spirituality, and freedom to people’s lives. Reggae music is one of the first music styles to be associated specifically with skateboarding, and reggae music is already ingrained to the surfing and skateboard culture.

Some skateboarders even helped shape the reggae-skateboarding culture by recording and playing reggae-style songs. The music, the messages, and the feelings it evokes are all influenced by Marley’s music.

He is a proponent for the legalization of marijuana.

Bob Marley is one of the most iconic musicians who was tied to weed. And there’s no denying that his music had a tremendous influence on weed culture. He was always pictured smoking a joint, not because of any other reason but because he was a practicing Rastafarian. In this movement, ganja or pot is a holy sacrament and an aid to meditation.

Marley did not use marijuana recreationally but as a way to open a spiritual door. Rastafarians believe that marijuana was a sacramental herb that brings its users to a deeper knowledge of themselves.  According to him, “When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate.”  Marley considered marijuana usage as a vital factor in his religious growth and connection with Jah.