The day 11 of May marks the 30th anniversary of the death of a true musical pioneer, a man whose impact transcended class, race and culture all over the world. The reggae legend inspired an almost spiritual following among adiverse set of believers, who expressed their devotion in iconography as varied as indigenous Australian shrines and posters on college.
But the question must be asked: Why do so many people connect with Marley? The answer is fairly simple: Marley was an everyman, a gentle soul and a revolutionary. Many have identified with his humble upbringing in the tiny island of Jamaica, the Pan-Africanbeliefs stemming from his Rastafarian faith, and his advocacy of social justice. When he penned politically charged songs like "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Get Up Stand Up," they resonated as far more than mere recordings. They were calls to action.
Many of Marley's greatest and most recognizable hits came with the Wailers (including Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), who grew up beside him in Trench Town,a Kingston ghetto that spawned many musical greats. Influenced by American music from the era, the band imbued their traditional Jamaican rhythms with the soul of Motown, creating a different take on black music.
Carried by the Caribbean migration to England, the sounds of the islands were reaching new continents. A chance meeting with Island Records head Chris Blackwell in 1972 allowed Marleyand the Wailers access to the same high-tech recording equipment that rock bands were using at the time. Their Third World sound crossed over into the developed world.
Throughout the 1970s the musicians produced a slew of worldwide hits. Tracks such as "Exodus" and "One Love" made the charts in the U.S. as well as in the U.K. and other European countries.
Ultimately, it was Marley's penchant forsocial justice that made him an identifiable superstar. Although he was half white (born to a father of English descent), Marley always identified himself as Pan-African, and during the mid-1970s he dedicated a string of songs to the Diaspora: "Buffalo Soldier" to African Americans, "Africa Unite" to those in Zimbabwe and "War" to his brothers suffering through South Africa's apartheid.
He was notjust outspoken politically; Marley was also not afraid to mix spirituality and song. For this strong believer in the Rastafarian movement and the divinity of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, religion was an integral part of his music and work ethic. The movement most recognizable to outsiders by its adherents' long dreadlocks, spiritual use of marijuana and belief in Africa (Zion) as thebirthplace of mankind has been adopted in the African continent, the United States and even Japan. The influence of Marley's faith can be seen on tracks such as 1974's "Natty Dread" and "So Jah S'eh."
Marley's involvement in Jamaica's politics almost got him killed. In 1976 violent clashes between supporters of Jamaica's two major political parties left hundreds dead, inspiring Marley to play theSmile Jamaica festival at the government's invitation in order to help quell the ongoing bloodshed. Unfortunately, some saw the festival as a support rally for the People's National Party leader, Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, and his endorsement of political violence against dissent.
As tensions in the country grew high, gunmen entered the Marley home, shooting Marley; his wife, Rita; andhis manager, Don Taylor, in the middle of the night. They all survived, and despite his injuries, Marley performed at the festival two days later, saying, "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?" After the concert, Marley and his band left Jamaica for more than a year, recording the international hit album Exodus while in the U.K. However, his...