Bob Marley: Using Art Towards Peace and Justice

 Though Bob Marley passed away many years ago, his legacy and music continue to inspire young people all over the world. Why is this so? How can one person who was born into a poor small town have such influence?
Not only was Bob Marley a talented musician, but it was Marley’s quest and work toward for non-violence and social justice that made him a true superstar and inspiration.

Marley was single minded in his dedication to the people of Jamaica and Africa, but he also saw that there were changes that needed to take place throughout the world for true peace and justice. In his song “Revolution” he writes,

Let righteousness cover the earth
like the water cover the sea

It is true that wherever there are people who are hurting or who are under pressure and oppression, they find a strong voice in Bob Marley to lift their hearts and inspire them to change their communities with positivity and art.

If you ask most people, they will tell you that Reggae music is the most well-known, or quintessential music of Jamaica. But this was not always the case!

In fact, Reggae did not enter into the Jamaican culture until the late 1960s. Just as great social change was occurring in the United States at that time as brave people struggled for the rights of women, African Americans, Labor Workers, so too was Jamaica experiencing a cry for change.

In Jamaica’s early history, the Spanish began to populate the country and brought with them African slaves. Later on, the British Empire established a colony in Jamaica and also brought slaves from Africa.
Jamaica saw many slave uprisings during the British colonial rule as courageous freedom fighters stood up against inhumanity and tyranny. Through these uprisings, small concentrations of free black people were eventually created throughout the island.
In 1832, thirty one years before the United States Government ended slavery, the British Empire abolished slavery—including on the island of Jamaica. Despite years of harsh and cruel treatment by the European White rulers, the freed slaves were strong in their pride and identity and they kept many of the traditions of African heritage, which was retained in their language, art, and music.

In the 1960’s Reggae music became a powerful expression of the African traditions celebrated by the people of African descent throughout Jamaica. Reggae was felt to be a rejection of European influence and a sign of proud heritage as they sang and played the sounds of traditional African music. The lyrics of many Reggae songs often are also highly politicized, which stems from the fact that reggae was developing just as Jamaica was entering a time known as the Cultural Revolution.

Although Bob Marley did not invent the sound of Reggae music as we know it today, Marley helped popularize Reggae music throughout Jamaica and the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. Marley’s music touched the longings of people striving for justice and human dignity. His songs dealt with strong themes such as peace and love and also his feelings about black oppression and poverty in Jamaica. Marley saw the power that art has to change people’s opinions and to bring hope to those who have been marginalized by society.

One of the main purposes of reggae music was to empower the Jamaican people and to help instill in them a sense of pride for their African heritage. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Jamaicans began to see themselves as culture unto themselves for the first time and they wanted to embrace those things that made them uniquely Jamaican. Reggae music was a large part of their effort to take back their culture. Marley’s music inspired and empowered the Jamaican people and showed them the way to lasting social justice was through non-violence and mutual love and respect between individuals and cultures. Although much of his songs were focused on the peace and love themes, he also politicized many of his songs. His songs that had a political bend or focus relayed his disdain for the Black oppression and poverty that was happening amongst his people in Jamaica at that time.

In 1976 violent clashes between two major political parties inspired Marley to play the Smile Jamaica festival with hopes of inspiring non-violent solutions among his people. A group of angry rioters were upset at Marley’s approach and decided to assassinate Bob Marley. Just days before the concert was scheduled, gunmen entered his family’s home, shooting Marley; his wife, Rita; and his manager, Don Taylor, in the middle of the night. Thankfully, they all survived, and despite his injuries, Marley did not let opposition stop him from his goal of bringing peace through art. Remarkably, Bob Marley performed at the festival just two days later, saying, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

Bob Marley never let the troubles of the world dissuade him from his goals. He had a vision for his future and a great hope for the world. Marley knew that when courageous people organize together in non-violence and compassion, those people could achieve anything. While some might see the negativity of the world and become overwhelmed by it all, Bob Marley stayed positive and allowed the love of people and music keep his heart uplifted. In the song “Positive Vibration” he sings,
Say you can leave that negative way
If you know what I mean
Make way for the positive day

Is Bob Marley’s legacy alive today? Yes. His memory lives on wherever people join together with a love for peace and justice. Many people continue to lift up the spirit of peace and justice through art just as Marley did through his music. Who knows? Maybe someday it will be your art that people will celebrate for its positivity!