My song today is ‘War’. This is a Bob Marley song that I feel is entirely reflective of the life he lived and the internal struggles he spent coming to terms with. It is not the most well-known of his songs, but is, in my mind, one of his best.
Forty years ago, Robert Nesta Marley OM (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) died. There have been many singers who have influenced their style of singing in their musical career but rarely do we come across one who helped to put their country on the map. Bob Marley (as he was generally known) most certainly breaks this mold. His songs were politicised and popularised to such an extent, that it is impossible to walk down any Jamaican road without hearing Marley’s voice and the sound of his backing group, coming across the airwaves of some transistor radio or ghetto blaster. Anyone hearing his voice anywhere in the world will know the singer’s name.
Bob Marley was born in Nine Mile, British Jamaica. His former home has been turned into a shrine and museum today, and I was pleased to visit the premises during my 2001 stay in Jamaica. He began his professional musical career in 1963, after forming Bob Marley and the Wailers. The group released its debut studio album ‘The Wailing Wailers’ in 1965, which contained the single ‘One Love/People Get Ready’. The song was popular worldwide and established Marley and the group as a rising figure in reggae. The Wailers subsequently released eleven further studio albums; while initially employing louder instrumentation and singing. The group began engaging in rhythmic-based song construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which coincided with the singer's conversion to Rastafari. During this period Bob Marley relocated to London, and the group embodied their musical shift with the release of the album ‘The Best of the Wailers’ in 1971.
Marley’s life as a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician led him to be considered a major pioneer of reggae. He successfully fused reggae, ska and rock into his own distinctive vocal and musical style. For over a decade he became a global figure in pop culture. He infused his music with a sense of spirituality. He was controversial in his outspoken support for the legalization of marijuana, while he also advocated for Pan Africanism.
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma, an illness from which he died in 1981. His fans around the world expressed their grief, and he received a state funeral in Jamaica. The greatest hits album ‘Legend’ was released in 1984, and it became the best-selling reggae album of all time. Marley also ranks as one of the best-selling artists of all time, with estimated sales of more than 75 million records worldwide. He was posthumously honoured by Jamaica soon after his death with a designated Order of Merit by his nation. In 1994, he was inducted into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’, and Rolling Stone ranked him Number 11 on its list of the ‘100 Greatest Artist of All Time’.
Today we remember the life and death of Bob Marley, who was a man who always seemed to be in an internal war of one kind or another, with his song ‘War’. I first heard this song when I was spending time out in Jamaica at the turn of the New Millennium while liaising with the Jamaican Minister of Education and Youth Culture and working closely with thirty-two Falmouth schools.
At the turn of 2000, the late South African President, Nelson Mandela (who had read three of my African books) phoned me at my home in Mirfield, West Yorkshire via a three-way Home-Office telephone link. Mr. Mandela told me, “I have read two of your African books, Mr. Forde, and thought they were wonderful stories. I just had to let you know”. Naturally, the telephone call had shocked, surprised, and elated me. Within two days of Mr. Mandela’s telephone call to me, the news item had been picked up and flashed across the world by the global television channel, News 24.
Within the month of this news item about Nelson’s Mandela praise for my writing, I was holidaying in Jamaica with my family. Before that holiday had transpired, the Jamaican education authorities had approached me. The Jamaicans idolised Nelson Mandela and whoever’s writing the great man had praised was ‘good enough for them'. The Jamaican education authority asked me to write some books about Falmouth Jamacia that put Jamaica in a good light. They also required valuable school resources to be raised in Falmouth schools which were severely lacking adequate educational funding. Falmouth is one of the poorest parts of Jamaica and used to be the slave capital of the world centuries earlier. I agreed to help, but on the condition that they also helped me to do two things.
Back in Yorkshire, England, I wanted to raise awareness between the cultures of different cultures, and I especially wanted to reduce racism in attitude and action between black and white pupils. To do this, I sought permission to involve every one of the thirty-two Falmouth schools in a Trans-Atlantic Pen-Pal Project. The Falmouth schools would be paired with thirty-two Yorkshire schools of predominantly white pupils, and every child in all sixty-four schools would write to each other monthly. Through a greater understanding between these ten thousand black and white pupils who were separated by the Atlantic Ocean, it was hoped that racism between black and white would be reduced (which it undoubtedly was). Never before had over 5,000 Yorkshire school children realised how great was the material difference between Falmouth and Yorkshire. The money for this entire project was mostly raised by the thirty-two Yorkshire schools along with the contributions from every business concern and shop in my hometown of Mirfield. By January 1st, 2000, the first two thousand Jamaican books had been written, published, and shipped across to Falmouth to stock school libraries and to sell to raise vital school funds. Several other charitable fund-raising ventures were undertaken by myself and many Mirfield friends over the coming year to fund another two thousand books being shipped across for sale. Within three years, approximately £30,000 of school items had been purchased from the sales of my books, and in grateful appreciation to myself, I had the honour of my books being placed on the reading curriculum of Falmouth schools.
These were happy and heady days but the stress of all this organisation, led me to have two severe heart attacks in the same week, obliging me to live a much less busy lifestyle.
For all of today’s birthday brigade and in memory of Bob Marley, I sing you ‘War’
Love and peace