From the Slums to the Superstar Status Essay
From the Slums to the Superstar Status
Abstract He was the most leading emissary and practitioner of the reggae music genre. He embodies its spirit and spreads its message to all the ends of the earth. Bob Marley’s exceptional songs incorporate the stylistic range of the contemporary music of Jamaica spanning ska, rock steady, and eventually reggae. He transported this music further as a social force with worldwide appeal. No other musician was able to transform the cultural as well as musical landscape as significantly as the boy from the slums did. Bob Marley: From the Slums to the Superstar Status
The man is like a hero in the classic legends of old. He lived at a time when the concept of One World, One Love inspired by the religion he believes in was starting to be felt and heard. He lived a remarkable life. It remains to have an increasing and utterly strong resonance. His was a life that represents several occasions of mystical wilderness, gangland wars, artistic as well as metaphysical insights, and political cruelty. He has reached a wide audience and his influence continues to spread. His apocalyptic truths are life-changing and inspiring as far as his Western audiences are concerned.
His influence extends much further in the Third World region. His impact goes beyond the confines of his native country. He has also touched the lives of the people in certain parts of West Africa, the Maoris of New Zealand, in India and Indonesia as well as the Hopi Indians in New Mexico (Moskowitz, 2007). To these people, he was a redeemer. The elements which contributed to his exceptional works are his talent, his understanding, the love he has to give, and the sadness he felt for the society into which he was born.
In his demise, he left a great deal of brilliant music from where people have taken inspiration and lessons out of. A man from a country that belongs to the Third World was able to transcend seeming boundaries. His only tools were his philosophical wisdom and natural humility. He is considered to be the most valuable artist of the 20th century (Toynbee, 2007). He has left an evocative and exceptional music to the world. His music has outlived him. Truly, the songs he made are not only universal but timeless too. Robert Nesta Marley became the first and perhaps the only big name to surface from the third world.
From his meager roots, he has grown to become a man of major import and impact that his attempted assassination has political motivations. His musical influence is still felt. He became the first reggae artist to release a full-length LP that instantaneously transformed the 30 year old marketing model (Moskowitz, 2007). Apart from its commercial success, his music has a universal quality that is able to surpass language, social status, and nationality. Bob Marley was a boy from the slums of Jamaica. It was where his music drew inspiration from. His life ended too soon.
Nonetheless, he is an artist that was well loved the world over. His superstar status continues to rage on. As a biracial son, his was an unhappy childhood. At a young age, he was already exposed to a society that is cruel and racist. Still, together with the bands he has formed and the music he has played, Bob Marley was able to realize success not only in his native country but even across the globe. His background is of particular essence. He was the first to rise to the ranks of superstar status, the first from a Third World country, that is.
He was one of the rebellious and charismatic artists of recent history whose music reflects his humble origin. Jamaica’s history of slavery lingers on the memory of its people. Slavery has filtered through the very heart of Bob Marley’s native country, from the mid-nineteenth century plantations to the popular music of recent times. Even though it has been eradicated way back in 1834, the Africans and their offspring started to develop a culture of their own from what is left from their traditional way of life and combining them with other British traditions (Moskowitz, 2007).
Precisely, such mixed culture had certain similarities with the rising society of people of color in the United States. Still, Bob Marley’s native country remained to be a rural community that exclusive of the industrialization of its northern neighbor was more strongly attached to its African heritage. Bob Marley was able to leave behind numerous songs even though his life was relatively short-lived. Not like other songwriters, he was took part in all phases of creation of his music.
Bob Marley penned the lyrics of his songs, he worked on the instrumental parts, his was found inside the control room while in the process of laying down his tracks (Moskowitz, 2007). Moreover, he also took part in the overdubbing and editing process involved in the creation of his music. His music was essentially reggae that it practically cornered the “roots reggae” term. Bob’s rhythm section initiated what came to be called as the “one drop” rhythm. The term refers to the standard roots reggae groove.
It can be done by accenting the drum only on beat three of a four beat measure. Normally, in Western Europe’s classical music, the accentuation is placed on beats one and three of a four beat measure. On the other hand, the second and fourth beats of a four beat measure are accentuated in the American rock and roll music (Moskowitz, 2007). The unique rhythm set his apart from the ones he has grown accustomed to. Such rhythm gave his music a distinct Jamaican character. Moreover, the man was likewise a skilled lyricist.
He was able to construct expressively powerful chains of words which are apparently pleasant to the ears yet contain serious punches the moment their meanings are explored. Bob Marley was able to extract the sense as well as the emotion out of every word and then skillfully conceal them in laid-back “island”-sounding music. It was his intention. If Bob Marley’s songs were quite clearly venomous or political, perhaps it could not have crossed over into the airwaves or has gained commercial success. He exhibited a kind of front which manifested itself in the way he carried himself and the way he looked.
He was usually seen dressed up in pants, shirts, boots, and stocking hats or “tams” (Moskowitz, 2007). While performing, Bob Marley usually fell into a trance-like state as he sings his songs. Bob Marley sings with eyes closed as he flails his arms and his dreadlocks swings to the rhythm. This is the character that is distinctly Bob Marley. He became the foremost star from the so-called “world music” (Stephens, 1999). Born to a biracial family in the year 1945, he was exposed to the extraordinary musical culture of his native country in the 1950s.
The American rhythm and blues, the rumba and calypso of the Caribbean, the ballroom dance of Europe, the Protestant Revivalist hymns, and the drumming sounds of African music are the songs he has heard while growing up (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). Attached to the networks which connected Jamaican families to the North American and English communities, part of a local hotel circuit and inter-island club, as far as the popular musicians of Jamaica is concerned, the local was already the global (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). In the year 1962, Bob Marley cut his first records as a singer (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001).
He was only 17 years old at that time. The following year, he assembled a vocal group which came to be known as the Wailers. Inspired by existing American soul acts like Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions, Bob Marley and his band were used by their producer, Coxsone Dodd, as an in-house vocal group to front whatever was fashionable at that time on the local dance floor. They then covered versions of international soul and pop hits, ska, rocksteady. In 1963 and 1966, they were able to release approximately eighty singles with enough hits to launch the group as Jamaica’s most successful.
However, in 1966 the group was reduced to a vocal trio which included Bob Marley, his childhood friend, Bunny Livingstone, and Peter Tosh. The stripped-down vocal group that recruited the Barrett brothers, Carlton and Aston to play the drums and bass, dedicated themselves to Rastafarianism and started working with producer Lee Perry, who added a rhythm section and encouraged them to come up with their unique sound and material (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). The Wailers’ records around this time were instrumental in defining reggae as a music genre.
It was also during this time that Bob Marley started to make his mark onto the British pop. A Jamaican music entrepreneur by the name of Chris Blackwell, who was concerned in supplying reggae records to the British Jamaican community through the Trojan label and was developing new rock acts under his Island label, heard the new Wailers sound and came into a realization that his two markets need not be separated from one another (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). He believed that the reggae music of the Wailers can be sold to rock fans.
His first Island album entitled Catch a Fire which was released in 1973 serves as a blueprint for international music marketing (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). It can not be denied that the Wailer’s distinction lies not only in the complexity and dynamism of reggae as compared to rock music, but in the exotic quality of Rastafarianism itself. Their songs became recognizable in the production standards, the enhanced guitar accompaniment and of course, the distinct voice of Bob Marley (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). His religion and music as it appears covers an ancient mysticism that is quite suitable for the shanty town of his origin.
There is certainly something of the prophet about him which makes him unique from the other popular music stars and allows diverse constituencies to grab him. To a certain degree, it has something to do with Bob Marley’s mission, a passionate drive to create music and in the process, proclaim the truth about the world. Still, to some extent, it can be attributed to the man’s poetic vision, taken in equivalent measure from the King James Bible and patwa, the creole language of Jamaica (Toynbee, 2007). Moreover, it has something to do with the mystery of his life. His mother is black while his father is white.
He was born in a colonial island in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the boy of humble decent became one of the most respectable superstars the world has ever known. Many years have already past since his demise but he remains to be that superstar from the third world to rise to such phenomenal status. Undeniably, all of the aforementioned factors are of the essence. However, the most vital component in the creation of Bob Marley’s Messianic aura lies in the careful and effective repackaging of his music by the culture industry at a time when the legendary artist is already gone.
If the measure of celebrity status is based on amount, in the sense that the more people know who a certain person is, the more famous that person is considered to be, it is safe to say therefore that Bob Marley is quite a very famous celebrity (Toynbee, 2007). He has long been gone yet his music lives on. His audience still exists. Perhaps, he is indeed the most popular musical figure of the modern times. Certainly, in the north and west of the global market, figures do give some indication of the man’s celebrity status.
There is the existence of cumulative sales, for instance. In the year 2005, Bob Marley’s albums have earned sales amounting to 16. 5 million in the United States alone (Toynbee, 2007). In 2005, he placed twelfth in the Forbes list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. The list was based on total yearly revenue which takes into account earnings generated not purely from record sales but counting as well those earned from the exploitation of merchandising, licensing deals, and copyright to name a few. It gives a more rounded gauge of celebrity status in comparison to record sales.
Such list even reflects worldwide earnings (Toynbee, 2007). However, the global factor of such figures from the cultural industries barely arrives at the man’s status in the marginal regions around the globe. Here, his audiences listen to his music on cassette tapes which are generally copied and spread outside official music industry channels. Statistics are not available for such kind of activity. There is even no way to measure the circulation of images of the man in the form of drawings and posters, or the proliferation of tales about him.
There is also no available statistics to tell the number of local musicians playing his songs, or have simply considered him as the inspiration in their respective musical careers. To be considered popular exclusive of buying power, even when it accounts to the millions, has not so much value in the cultural industries in the center of the global system (Toynbee, 2007). To be famous means to have a greater social importance even when measures are not registered commercially. That kind of distinction bucks the system, signifying that there are certain autonomous tendencies working on.
In that light, and considering anecdote and some somewhat unreliable verifications it appears to be logical to state that in the international south, Bob Marley is certainly quite famous. Combining such assessments with the available statistics, it can be concluded that the man is a universal superstar of the present day (Toynbee, 2007). The sheer geographical stretch of his achievements is visibly noteworthy. However, it also has an unusual quality. Bob Marley is not only a superstar.
He is a third world star who traces his roots from the small Caribbean island of Jamaica, and eventually securing an audience and a particular resonance across the underprivileged citizens from the southern part of the world. Remarkably, he remains to be the only figure of this kind. Certainly, there are other successful artists who hailed from the margins, for instance form what came to be known as “world music” (Toynbee, 2007). Produced primarily in former colonies beginning in the middle part of the 1980s, world music has been secured an audience from the middle-class market in the highly developed capitalist nations of the world.
Nonetheless, it remains to be a small niche, representing only 2 per cent of worldwide recorded music sales (Toynbee, 2007). Bob Marley was ultimately to surface as the first reggae superstar, even though the Wailers’ success created conflicts within the group. Prior to the third album, Natty Dread which was released in 1974, Livingston and Tosh were refusing to go on another exhausting tour of the United States and Britain (Hebdige, 1990). Bob Marley revised the line-up for the 1975 tour. He hired musicians and added a female backing group which came to be known as the I-Threes.
He toured Africa, Europe, and North America over the next few years. He even produced a live album called the Wailers Live and three other LPs for Island Records, namely, Rastaman Vibration, Exodus and Kaya. During his final years, he gained the respect of not only his fellow Jamaicans but also of other music critics and audiences the world over (Hebdige, 1990). In the year 1976, the album entitled Rastaman Vibration broke into the hit charts in America (Hebdige, 1990). For most people, the aforementioned album was yet the most obvious display of the man’s beliefs and music.
The worldwide success received by this album strengthened the increasing political importance of Bob Marley in his native town wherein his Rastafarian views reverberated clearly among the ghetto youth. As a gesture of thanksgiving to his fellow Jamaicans, he made a decision to stage a free concert at the National Heroes Park in Kingston scheduled on the 5th day of December 1976 (Moskowitz, 2007). The concert was intended to stress the need for peace in the city slums where rival groups have caused murder and chaos. He became a major target for politically motivated violence because of his fame.
Shortly following the announcement of the concert, the government declared a December 20th election (Hebdige, 1990). It signaled another ghetto war. Before the scheduled concert, armed men forced an entry into the house of Bob Marley and fired a gun at him. Unfortunately, it was just an attempted assassination. For a while, he thought about whether or not to push through with the concert. Nonetheless, he came out on stage on the scheduled date in defiance of his would-be assassins. Right after the concert, he left his native country for London.
He then settled on the English city and recorded another album (Frith, Straw and Street, 2001). His fellow Jamaican artists have taken advantage of the interest in roots reggae which the man has inspired. Groups like the Burning Spear and Culture, the Third World, the Gladiators as well as the Mighty Diamonds have all toured outside of their native country attracted a huge following among young white rock fanatics (Hebdige, 1990). Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh have both gone on to produce successful solo hits, and they have refused to stay at a far distance from their musical roots.
On Tosh’s albums entitled Equal Rights and Legalise It, his audience saw a man who is just as angry as he was back in the old Wailers days when he penned the songs such as Get up, Stand up and 400 Years. On the other hand the Blackheart Man album of Bunny Livingston was his tribute to his fellow Rastas. Both Livingston and Tosh’s albums sold well in the United States and Europe. Tosh even conquered his distaste of touring when he visited Britain way back in 1979. Even Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, whose music is based on conventional Rasta drumming have toured Britain and played before a white audience (Hebdige, 1990).
All of the aforementioned achievements are in the end, owed to the larger success of the man himself. However, part of the reason why his music reached soaring heights is that his musical compositions are basically pleasant-sounding. His brand of music is forever sweet sounding although the lyrics contain critical commentaries about the colonial system. Similar to the calypso artists, he knew how to convey his message across behind a lilting refrain. It is the classic Caribbean package of harsh social criticism concealed in a easy-sounding and uplifting rhythm.
He was effectively causing the Western world dance to the rhythm of the prophecies of their own fall (Hebdige, 1990). With the kind of violent society that Bob Marley had surfaced from and rose above, his death seems quite a cruel stroke of fate. It was in the year 1977 when the doctors surgically removed a portion of his toe which had been wounded in a soccer game (Moskowitz, 2007). The doctors found a cancerous lump on his toe. In 1980, while jogging at Central Park, he suddenly collapsed.
When he was brought to the hospital, the doctors discovered that the cancer has already spread to other parts of his body. In less than a year later, he succumbed to death. He was all of 36 years old at that time. Even though he died young, the heartbeat reggae rhythms of the vast amount of songs he made have endured. The legend of Bob Marley has transcended the years. Furthermore, his music and charismatic persona has effected a transformation to his native country. On the 21st day of May 1981, Bob Marley was laid to his final resting place with full state honors.
In a great paradox, considering the loathed position that Rastafarians and their music once has in Jamaica, One Love, the antiwar reggae song of Bob Marley was adapted by the country’s tourist board as a theme song. In the mean time, his music kept on finding its audience. Garnering sales which amounted to over 10 million in the United States alone, the Legend best of covering the Island Records days from 1972 until 1981 is still the best-selling record of a Jamaican artist and the best-selling reggae album of all time (Moskowitz, 2007). This man’s influence in the music scene during his lifetime and even after is certainly extraordinary.
Together with his band, he has sold over 21 million starting in 1991 (Moskowitz, 2007). The figures have not been collected until after 10 years has passed since the time of his death. Moreover, he was bestowed with the Jamaican Order of Merit, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, became a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Moskowitz, 2007). Apart from the aforementioned and all the other awards he has received during his lifetime and even after his death, the real measure of his worth is time itself. He was long gone.
Nonetheless, his music is still as relevant, remarkable and popular as it was at the time it was initially released in the market. The hypnotic and loping beats of reggae music bear a distinct signature which climbed to the 1970s music scene on the forefront, primarily through the music of Bob Marley and his band under the Tuff and Island recording labels. The songs they made, particularly the ones included in the Rastaman and Natty Dread albums remain to be the landmarks of reggae that served as the voice of the disfranchised and poverty-stricken Jamaicans and, by extension, to the people of the world.
Through his music, Bob Marley was able to fill them with dignity and pride of heritage, no matter how sad real life seems to be. Furthermore, his reggae music hits gave rhythmic boost which has what he prefers to call “positive vibrations” to those who listen to them. No matter how his sound was perceived, be it the dance music with a strong political undertone or political music fit for dancing, the music of Bob Marley is a powerful remedy for difficult times. References Frith, S. , Straw, W. , & Street, J.
(2001). The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock. New York: Cambridge University Press. Hebdige, D. (1990). Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. New York: Routledge. Moskowitz, D. V. (2007). Bob Marley: A Biography. California: Greenwood Publishing Group. Stephens, G. (1999). On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglas, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Marley. New York: Cambridge University Press. Toynbee, J. (2007). Bob Marley: Herald of a Postcolonial World? Cambridge: Polity.