Article 28

Rock On

Reggae King of the World - Bob Marley

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 12th January, 2002)

R ock and Roll, as a genre of music, saw the light of day with us Indians only when it entered the mainstream of American and English life. It was in the fifties, with the advent of Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley in America and Cliff Richard with the Shadows in England, that this vibrant music was introduced to thousands of Indians. From then onwards there was no looking back and Rock & Roll ruled the world unchallenged for the next two decades. It would be years before there could be any other kind of music that could attract the attention of the youth. All this while, on the small island of Jamaica, West Indies, there was a music revolution brewing that would shake the world with its freshness and intensity. Bob Marley and his band, the Wailers, were getting ready to hit the planet with their special brand of music and philosophy. The Reggae movement was about to be launched!!

I first heard the music of this master when Eric Clapton covered his song "I shot the sheriff" for his own comeback album "461 Ocean Boulevard". It is said that the song was almost dropped from the album, as Clapton was unhappy with his own interpretation. He held Bob Marley in high esteem and did not wish to disrespect his music. Thankfully, wiser counsel prevailed and a new star was unveiled to the world through Clapton. The song was a major hit all over the world and I remember my band "Savage Encounter" doing the song at countless shows all over the country. Naturally, all of us were curious to hear more from this genius and he sure did not disappoint us.

Bob Marley began his music career in the sixties and was a major hit in his island nation of Jamaica. However, it would be years before he could attract the attention of the west. Very few "Third World" musicians have attained success in the western world and it was only when he caught the attention of Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records that Marley entered the mainstream English market. Chris's label concentrated on the Rock market in the late sixties and so he decided to market the Wailers as a Rock band. The band arrived in the UK in 1973 to tour and appeared on television. In July 1973, they supported Bruce Springsteen in New York. "Catch a Fire" and "Burnin'" were the names of the albums that were responsible for Marley's entry in the British Pop scene and by 1975, Marley had scored his first UK chart hit, "No Woman, No Cry".

There was no stopping this strong Rastafarian from achieving global stardom. Throughout, Marley stuck to his strong political and religious sentiments and his lyrics echoed his social activism and his struggle to achieve a harmonious existence within mankind on earth. He even suffered an assassination attempt and had to leave Jamaica for 18 months. In 1978, he played the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston and brought the two leaders of the violently warring Jamaican political parties together in a largely symbolic peacemaking gesture. By then, his fame had spread all over the world and he set off on a huge worldwide tour that would cross USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

It was around this time that ominous signs started appearing on the health front of this maestro. Cancer cells had been discovered in his toe a few years earlier when he was operated after a football accident. In a few years the cancer had started spreading and Marley collapsed on stage during a Madison Garden concert in 1980.No medical help could save him now and within a year, he succumbed to brain cancer on May 11, 1981. One of the world's greatest performer, singer and songwriter was no more!

The legend of Bob Marley continues till date and the magic of Reggae music has been spread far and wide by the talent of this local Jamaican hero. His music has been kept alive by thousands of musicians all over the world and the Wailers continue to tour the world and spread the message. Of special interest to Indians was the addition of local Bombay guitarist, Roy Venkatraman, to this band for a few years. We, Bombay musicians were delighted to hear the news of his being asked to join the band after he jammed with them when the Wailers toured Bombay. The next few years were hectic for this talented musician who toured the world with this legendary band. Truly a fabulous way to pay tribute to one of the finest musicians that the world has ever seen! According to Rastafarian religious beliefs, Bob Marley like Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was never born and therefore could not die. Certainly, the same can be said of his music

Rock on!

Nandu Bhende











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