Bob Marley Is Still Catching Fire

Christopher John Farley – Pop Matters

[11 May 2006]

May 11 is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the king of reggae, the day when Bob Marley succumbed to cancer in Miami in 1981 at the age of 36. Today his music is more popular respected than ever. Christopher John Farley, author of the new book, Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley, looks back.
by Christopher John Farley
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Bob Marley didn’t believe in death. It is part of Rastafari teaching that there is no dying, only living, and Marley held that to be true. For Marley, at least, death was just the beginning.
It may seem, to the casual top-40 listener, that reggae music is a limited genre, a sidestream to the mainstream, a musical form that saw its glory days, its better days, in the days of Bob Marley.
Listen closer.
The sound of reggae is everywhere. Bob Marley’s greatest hits album, Legend is still on the Billboard charts, more than 20 years after its release. Artists that he influenced are all over MTV, in various forms and in various genres. There are too many to list them all.
Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley
by Christopher John Farley
Armistad/HarperCollins
May 2006, 224 pages, $21.95
[Amazon]

Some draw from his sound: Hasidic roots-reggae rapper Matisyahu. The Fugees — Wyclef has covered Marley songs, and fellow Fugee Lauryn Hill has covered Marley songs and given birth to Marley grandkids. Dancehall star Sean Paul has produced two best-selling CDs. And Marley’s son Damian scored a recent chart hit with his song “Welcome to Jamrock.” Others draw from his general spirit: Gwen Stefani; Julian Casablancas, the lead singer of the Strokes, a band that sometimes borrows reggae rhythms, is an avowed Marley fan. U2 has covered Marley’s songs in concert and lead singer Bono inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In the past other musicians have been influenced by Marley, including Eric Clapton, who covered his song “I Shot the Sheriff”; Stevie Wonder, who wrote “Master Blaster” as a tribute to the reggae king; and the now-defunct ska-reggae-punk band Sublime, who re-recorded Marley’s song “Jailhouse”. In the future there will no doubt be more Marley acolytes.
To be sure, reggae is not what it was. It has been hijacked by a seemingly rougher musical cousin: dancehall. Many of the new crop of musicians who come out of Jamaica seek to emulate Marley’s sales but fail to comprehend his spirit. Their songs are devoid of social content and their lyrics often lack resonance. Some newer Jamaican singers, such as Luciano and Sizzla, stand up and stand out. Others simply bow down, lay down and follow commercial trends. Marley’s music has also been co-opted by some listeners. You can hear it at corporate picnics, on romantic comedy film soundtracks, at frat parties.
But make no mistake: Reggae, Marley’s kind of reggae, is rootsier, ruder, more revolutionary than many people take it for. Marley grew up on the streets of Trench Town in Jamaica, a ghetto that was tougher than the hometown of any American rapper. In fact, the streets that gave birth to reggae also helped create rap. The tradition of DJs talking or “toasting” over records started in Kingston, Jamaica, and was later turned into rapping in the Bronx. DJ Kool Herc, “the godfather of rap”, hailed from Jamaica. One of Run-DMC’s earliest songs was titled “Roots Rock Reggae”, a tribute to the shared heritage of rap and reggae. Biggie Smalls’s family has roots in Jamaica.
Today, the music of the African Diaspora has a worldwide stage. Marley helped build that stage, touring Africa, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Today, we see groups like Three 6 Mafia winning Oscars for songs like “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” and we wonder: Is the world stage being used for the right reasons?
Marley sang songs about being freed from prison. He also sang about freeing one’s mind. He wrote songs about confronting cops. He also sang about facing Jah. He didn’t caricature street life and turn it into a commodity for entertainment. He transformed the hardship he saw around him for purposes of revolution and revelation.
Listen closer.
On one of his most famous compositions, “Redemption Song,” Marley asks for help to sing his “songs of freedom.” He’s still not getting all the help he should. But his song is still being sung.
Christopher John Farley is the author of the forthcoming biography, Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley (Amistad/HarperCollins).
Bob Marley bass player loses royalty lawsuit
Mon May 15, 2006 1:02 PM BST
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By Adam Pasick
LONDON (Reuters) – Aston “Familyman” Barrett, the bass player for Bob Marley and the Wailers, has lost a 60 million pound lawsuit over royalties and song-writing credits that pitted him against Island Records and the Marley family.
Barrett, who received his nickname for fathering 52 children, testified that he and his brother Carlton “Carly” Barrett, a drummer for the reggae band who was murdered in 1985, did not receive the money they were due following Marley’s death from cancer in 1981.
But Mr Justice Kim Lewison dismissed the suit in a ruling at London’s High Court on Monday, a move welcomed by Marley’s widow Rita and her family.
“We always felt this would be the outcome, and it was hard to listen to Aston Barrett reduce his friend Bob to someone who was more interested in playing football than making music,” the family said in a statement.
Barrett will be liable for court costs and may be forced to sell two properties in Jamaica as a result of the ruling.
The Barrett brothers played on numerous albums by Bob Marley and the Wailers, including “Natty Dread”, “Rastaman Vibration” and “Babylon by Bus”. The judge dismissed their claim to have written several of the band’s songs including “War” and “Them Belly Full.”
During the trial, Rita Marley and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell played down the contributions of the brothers and said Aston Barrett surrendered his right to further royalties in a 1994 agreement that paid him several hundred thousand dollars.
“There is, in my judgement, no reason to decline to enforce the settlement agreement against Mr Aston Barrett,” Mr Justice Lewison said in his ruling.
Island Records is part of Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music company, and a unit of France’s Vivendi.


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