Analyzing Bob Marley

Analyzing Bob Marley



Analyzing Bob Marley

Few people manage to live a legacy after they die. Those who manage to do so are fortunate to be remembered in the history books for many generations. They use their talents and abilities to do well and to change the world in a positive way. They later use the influence they get to change people’s lives and to make their country and their people better. Robert Nesta Marley is one such person. Using his music, he was able to speak against social injustices that happened in his country and around the world. He spoke on many diverse issues that ranged from love to freedom. His music appealed to many people. He was able to make an impact in his country as well as in many other countries around the world. This is because he sang about issues that other people could relate with in their lives. People also enjoyed the lyrics and the passion with which he sang. Robert Nesta Marley refused and challenged the status quo, choosing instead to shed light on social injustice and using his musical blessings to influence change in Jamaica and around the world.

Marley was born to a white father and an afro Jamaican mother in Nine Mile region of Jamaica in 1945. He struggled with the issues of race as a young boy, but he identified himself as black. He did not have the joy of living with both his parents as they had separated when he was young. He stayed with both parents, moving from the rural areas where his mother lived to Kingston, where his father resided. His parents lived contrasting lives as his mother was poor and his father was relatively wealthier. His mother eventually moved to Kingston with her family where they lived in the slums of Trenchtown. This exposed Marley to many things such as poverty and violence. Songs such as Burnin and Lootin reflect the kind of violence that prevailed in the slums. He apprenticed as a welder but he quit after a short period following a work accident. He did not bother to look for another form of trade, but he chose to focus on his music career. The slums are a major influence in Marley’s songs (White, 2006).

Marley is considered a cultural icon and he pioneered reggae music. However, he began with a different genre of music known as ska, which was a fusion of soul and R&B with Jamaican influence. He met several people during his early years in music and they were instrumental in developing his career. While in the slums, he got the opportunity to attend voice classes and he learnt more about harmony and melody. He met some of the people who would later become members of the Wailing Wailers. Marley changed his sound of music from ska and he adopted a rocky tune. He later transitioned to reggae, a music genre he helped to spread all over the world (White, 2006). Although he did not invent the tune, his influence was so great that many consider him personally responsible for popularizing it. Reggae changed the music industry in Jamaica. To this day, many people consider Jamaica the home of reggae. Many artists prefer using reggae and this has helped to develop it further.

Marley was outspoken about the social injustices he saw in his country. He wanted the Jamaican government to do more for the people. He spoke against the hunger that was going on in his country as the government watched as reflected in his song Them Belly Full. He mentioned issues of inequality and social justice in his song War. He believed that people had to remove the barriers of wealth, social status, and race that held them back, and that this could lead to a better world. He spoke about the presence of slums in his country as well as the police brutality. The changing political and economic scene in Jamaica during the seventies was a major turning point for Marley, in terms of his musical lyrics. There was massive unemployment and many people were suffering because of this. The government was cautious of Marley, following his decision to speak out against the social ills and injustices in high places (Bordowitz, 2004).

Marley not only influenced politics, but he was a source of inspiration for many people in his country and elsewhere. He instilled a sense of black pride among the people. He believed and had hope for Africa. Marley was aware of the oppression that the black Africans suffered under the hands of the white people. He spoke against the downpression of the white people, which limited the Africans and denied them any freedom. He not only looked at the black Africans living on the continent, but he was aware of the plight of other black people elsewhere. The songs Buffalo Soldier and Could you be Loved express his concerns and sentiments regarding the situation. 

Marley was more open towards personal responsibility and this was reflected in the songs he did in the later part of his life. He did not just blame the government for social ills and people’s misery. He recognized that individuals had a role to play in determining the life they wanted to live. The songs Redemption Song and Get up Stand up highlights the thoughts he had regarding individual responsibility. He believed that people could change their circumstances and better themselves. People’s thoughts reflect their actions and he recognized this in songs urging people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery. His experiences living in the trenchtown made him aware of the struggles that other people faced. He could identify with the poverty and lack of opportunities, which hindered people from realizing their dreams.

Marley spoke about love in his songs. He sang about seduction and romance in songs such as Wait in Vain, Rock it Baby, and Turn you Lights down Low. However, he also recognized another different kind of love. He sang about the kind of love that exists between brothers and sisters. He urged people to live together in unity and to love each other. The songs One Love, No more Trouble, and Pass it on best explains his thoughts and sentiments concerning the brotherly love. He urges people to disregard their differences and to embrace each other irrespective of their race, origin, color, or nationality.

Spirituality and religion were a major part of Marley’s life. Marley found a way of including religious elements in his songs despite the subject he was covering. Some of his love songs and songs dealing with social injustice contain religious messages. He was a Rastafarian, and this religion was different in its approach. He refused to get rid of cancer by amputating his big toe because of his religious beliefs. Although he believed in the healing power of Jah, the Rastafarian God, he also believed in natural and traditional cures. He was willing to die, rather than let a scalpel touch his body. Keeping his long natural hair was part of the religion, and he did this until the end. Other characteristics of the religion are the adoption of a vegetarian lifestyle and the smoking of weed, which the followers consider a herb. Marley believed that being a Rastafarian was part of people’s original roots. He urged people to embrace their identity by accepting religion through his music (White, 2006).

Bob Marley managed to live a legacy during his short time on earth. He managed to transform the world through his music and his message. He was not so much concerned about the entertainment aspect of his music, as he was about the changes that it would help to make in his country. Although a Jamaican, he managed to influence people all over the world. He chose to sing about issues that any person around the world could identify with and recognize. Issues of poverty, injustice, inequality, love and romance affect people from different parts of the world. His message was relevant during his time, and it continues to echo today.


Bordowitz, H. (2004). Every little thing gonna be alright: The Bob Marley reader. Cambridge, MA: Da Capro Press

White, T. (2006). Catch a fire: The life of Bob Marley. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company

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