Friday, 6 February 2015

Bob Marley: The prophet and the enduring appeal of his message

“I don’t know that man,” she said. For some reason, it was a hard slap in my face. How can she not know him? Everyone knows him. All the people I had asked, said they knew or had heard about him! She could have as well spat the words out like she had sipped a flat beer. Yes, everyone knows Bob, loves Bob, or has heard about Bob. How come my niece, Mimi, did not know Bob? So, I pressed further. “Uncle David, all know about that man is he was a musician,” she finally capitulated. May be she thought I was talking Uncle Bob, 90, who is now Chairman of the African Union. Everyone knows that Bob also. Many hate him but I love him. By the way, Bob performed at celebrations to mark Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, and Uncle Bob was there.

I am talking of Bob, who is 70 years old today. Note the present tense, you will know why. Robert Nesta Marley, born February 6, 1945, is one of the world’s most recognisable musicians. We know about reggae because of him and his band, The Wailers. Bob Marley and The Wailers almost singlehandedly brought the sweet sounds of reggae from the confines of the Trenchtown ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica, to our living rooms, clubs, parties, on radio and TV and everywhere else music can be played.

But he was more than just a musician, if Lil Wayne, WizKid or Sizzaman are also called musicians. He breathes that rarefied air that only few breathe. It is like being on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, with your feet in the snow and head in the clouds.

Bob Marley is a legend, so we can mention his name in the same sentence with Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley. Mimi knows Michael, everyone knows Michael. Everyone loved Michael. But Michael has been dead a few years, June 2009. Bob died in May 1981, and Elvis in August 1977. But they still make the Forbes list, making more money dead than many of the celebrities that thrust in our faces every day like Kim Kardashian, By the way, what is her claim to fame? OK, apart from being wife to a famous musician. But I digress.

Forbes magazine, an American magazine is that perhaps more known for the lists of who has made what money during the year, puts Bob Marley in the category of top earning dead celebrities. In the period October 2013- October 2014, he was ranked at number five with earnings of $20m (Shs57.3b). Before that, it was at $18m (Shs51.5b). So, he made $2m (57.3m) more.

You may wonder how this is so. Forbes magazine breaks it down like this: “The reggae legend's post-mortem earnings are up $2m in 2014 thanks to a diversified range of ventures: Marley Beverage Company (including Marley Coffee and a “relaxation drink” known as Marley’s Mellow Mood) and House of Marley (producer of eco-friendly audio and lifestyle products). Marley’s estate this year also launched Marley Apparel, a lifestyle clothing line designed by Bob’s eldest daughter, Cedella Marley. Marley has sold more than 75 million albums in the past two decades.”

New Pittsburgh Courier on its website, answers the question: So how is he still making millions? Well, first of all, since its release in 1984, Bob Marley’s Legend album continues to sell more than 250,000 copies every single year. Nowadays, much of his music is sold via iTunes and other digital retailers. And tons of his songs are bought around the time of his birthday every February 6 due to a smart annual campaign launched by his estate called “Bob Marley Week”. Believe it or not, but millions of fans all around the world celebrate this special week dedicated to Bob Marley.
It is down to the music. It has an enduring appeal that transcends time and space. Matthew Mulumba, a diehard fan, describes his idol in glorifying terms. “He is a revolutionary, a freedom fighter,” he says and adds that the music has a message in Africa, particularly for places like Somalia, South Sudan. And I bet everywhere else. Not all the 75 million albums have been selling in Africa only. “The music is still rich, anyone can identify with it, even just the instrumental,” Mulumba concludes as he cites Redemption Song and Zimbabwe as examples.

Moses Serugo, arts journalist, cannot agree more: “I guess it's the catchy sing-along lyrics and that enduring reggae sound that towered over more deserving reggae talent like a Peter Tosh. My firm favourites remain the stripped down Redemption Song driven by just an acoustic guitar and Zimbabwe that has an arresting bass guitar intro and distinct percussion clank after each lyric.” Quoting a line from the former ‘How long shall they kill our prophets?’ he adds, “Very resonant with the demise of pan-Africans like Lumumba and Sankara.”

Redemption Song indeed has a message for the youth like Rachel Wisdom, 21, a university student who thought it is a song that contestants on American Idols and other talent shows have to sing. She had heard it sung so many times on these shows. Until I told her it is Bob Marley’s song, and left her with this line from that song: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” The same goes for Mimi, I am buying her the Legend album today. For the others like Pauline Bangi, who know Bob and songs like I Shot The Sheriff, I say, hit me with the music.

This article was published in Daily Monitor


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