By Hopewell Chin’ono
I want to share my Sunday story which you probably know bits and pieces about already motivated by a video I found on my desktop.
This hair raising perfomance in London in 1977 underpinned Bob Marley’s arrival into superstardom but on his own terms.
This perfomance on that very night defined how the world outside reggae music would engage with Bob Marley and the Wailers and indeed with the world of reggae music at large.
These two nights when Bob Marley held court at the Rainbow Theatre are the most talked about reggae shows up to this very day.
If all the people who claim to have been there were actual in attendance, then the place ought to have been bigger than Wembley stadium, and yet in reality it only took 3000 people at the most.
This is how important this particular show was in establishing reggae music not just as a protest type of music but also as an entertaining artform alongside Rock and Roll music.
This show gave birth to “Bob Marley the first Third World superstar” and as they say, the rest is history.
As he delivered Exodus, he looked into the audience with a messianic gaze, his hands held across like Jesus on a cross as he seductively moved his hips.
Bob was a ladies man, he dated and had a child with a Miss World, Cindy Breakspear.
That child is Damian Marley, the reggae super star popularly known as Junior Gong.
Gong was Bob Marley’s nickname, given to him in recognition of his street fighting abilities in Trenchtown.
He named his now famous recording company, Tuff Gong.
Bob Marley also dated Pascaline Mferri Bongo, the daughter of the late Gabonese president, Omar Bongo.
Marley’s electrifying performance in this particular video remains eerie to me each time I watch it.
I have watched it more than 200 times but each time brings a new journey of its own into understanding this man, his music and his mission in life.
He seems to be speaking to a higher force about the situation engulfing his people.
“Are you satisfied,” he asks, “…with the life you are living.”
You can hear the chanting of “Rasta Fari” from the predominantly white audience, each time that happens, Marley seems fired up from those chants.
This reggae sound which remains as new today as it did then, is anchored by the artistic “one drop” drumming of Carlton Barret and the thumping basslines of his brother, Ashton Barret who also doubled as the musical director for the Wailers.
Marley like a priest on a pulpit looks to his left where the stylish I Threes are dancing and backing his lyrics.
These female backing vocalists included his wife Rita and the legendary singer, Marcia Griffiths together with Judy Mowatt.
“Send us another brother Moses, from across the Red Sea,” Marley sings as he now gets into a trance as the Exodus sound gets even tighter with Carlton dropping the drum sticks as if his life depended on them.
Marley lets go of his microphone and turns to the I Threes now fully engrossed in a trance like possession, he dances behind his wife and settles down a bit before taking off again.
“Rasta Fari,” they keep chanting in the audience.
He comes back to his microphone for a couple more verses before he escapes into another world clearly no longer there with the people around him, only there physically and holding onto his microphone for dear life as he does a running-man dance.
He eventually does a 360 degree turn and veers to his left where his wife and the rest of the I Threes are dancing and singling “it is the movement of Jah People” in unison.
Like the superstar he was, he departs the stage doing those repeated 360 degree turns as Carlton and Ashton are pulsating the sound.
The I Threes and the rest of the band looks at each other in amusement with a sense of suprise at how the master had delivered the performance of Exodus and laughing at how his departure from the stage was as entertaining as the live perfomance itself.
Bob Marley had arrrived and if anyone in London was in doubt, that perfomance was their answer without any equivocation.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this particular perfomance exemplifies a man who seemed to know that his time on this earth was coming to an end.
The militancy and urgency in delivering a powerful message to the world as prophetic as his lyrics were had never been done by any musician with such style and grace.
Unfortunately for Marley, 1977 was also the year he was told that he had cancer.
He refused to have surgery on religious grounds, he soldiered on for another three years delivering blistering performances around the world before he lost the battle to this deadly disease in 1981.
His last words as he was being taken back home from Germany where he was being treated were, “Money Can’t Buy You Life!”
Unfortunately, he died in Miami after his plane touched down enroute to Jamaica from Germany.
There is more to be said about Bob Marley and his relationship with money, he was driven by a sense of revolutionary mission and not finances.
He once said that, “…some people are so poor, all they have is money.”
In 1980 Bob Marley was approached by ZANU and asked to perform at the Independence celebrations at Rufaro Stadium.
They send second hand car dealer and nightclub owner Job Kadengu to Jamaica to deliver a letter to Marley.
They had no money and they offered no performance fee.
That never bothered Marley who a year earlier had produced what became a signature tune simply titled Zimbabwe.
He called his management and asked them to hire a Jumbo jet from Gatwick airport, it was packed with earth thumping sound equipment never seen before in Rhodesia.
It flew to Salisbury from London and Marley and his team made their way from Jamaica to Harare via Kenya.
Marley footed the bill for equipment and plane hire from Gatwick airport to Harare and he paid the bill for himself and his band to fly to Harare from Jamaica.
That was his relationship with money, that was how he defined his purpose in life!
Very few music superstars have that sort of attitude in life and very few could have been as generous to a nation as Marley was to Zimbabwe.
If you look at his life, God has blessed him and his family for all these good deeds, all his kids have thrived in their careers and have made names for themselves.
Very few superstars have such coherent families, more so one who had earlier been dismissed as nothing but a herb smoker!
I say Good deeds because in Jamaica, Marley looked after thousands of families helping them with food and school fees.
“Nothing but ourselves can free our minds,” is a catchy line from one of his seminal works called Redemption song.
It has a deeper meaning in how he lived his 36 years on this earth, he assisted kids with paying their school fees, freeing their minds from ignorance.
Today the very leadership that saw it worthwhile to invite this global icon of reason are doing the opposite, stealing, robbing and looting from the poor and vulnerable in order to live ridiculously opulent lives!
I wonder what Marley would have said about us if he had lived to see today’s Zimbabwe.
At least he did warn us in his song dedicated to this country’s liberation struggle when he said “…soon we will find out who is the real revolutionaries.”
Robert Mugabe had fought tooth and nail according to Edgar Tekere to block Bob Marley from coming to perform at the independence celebrations, iopting for Cliff Richards.
We should have known then that he was an impostor!
How can a revolutionary leader as Bob called himself prefer an irritating Cliff Richard to a revolutionary icon who gave so much in moral support to your struggle like Bob Marley?
Thankfully folks like Edgar Tekere stood their ground and Marley performed to a liberated and happy people.
What became of them will be defined by history as Marley’s legacy has already found its place in that very history.
History eventually catches up with the truth!
Exodus was chosen as Time Magazine’s Album of the Century in its “Best of the Century” list at the turn of the millennium on December 26, 1999.
The iconic Time magazine wrote, “…every song is a classic, from the messages of love to the anthems of revolution.
But more than that, the album is a political and cultural nexus, drawing inspiration from the Third World and then giving voice to it the world over.”
The British Broadcasting Corporation selected One Love as their song of the century.
Bob Marley’s life is one of the most compelling, powerful and humbling stories that come once in a life time for generations.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @daddyhope