Robert Nesta Marley Feature Section
Bob Marley and The Book of Revelations
By Timothy White
If Billboard is often perceived as the bible of the international music business, then the musical saga of Bob Marley and the Wailers must be seen as a veritable Book of Revelation, especially since Bob's unfolding legacy annually reaches a new historic peak.
For example, the headline of a Nov. 23, 1996, Billboard cover story on the Soul Rebel announced: Bob Marley Album Hits 'Legendary' Heights." The article went on to explain that Bob Marley and the Wailers fabled 1984 Island Records compilation album had just surpassed the nine million mark in U.S. unit sales as certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making it one of the best-selling greatest hits album of all time. (Island Records also noted that worldwide sales of Legend had topped 15 million copies.) Moreover, Legend had spent 274 weeks on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog chart, including a cumulative 64 weeks at No.11. Legend is expected to return to No.1 again in the summer of '97 for another long season reign, just as it has every year in recent memory.
Yet "half the story has never been told" concerning the resounding impact upon this Earth of any truly righteous soul or his Jah-given message. Those who view the Bible itself as a reliable chronicle of a profoundly prognostic era will be pleased to know that archaeologists and other scholars of this century have discovered much that appears to verify the Holy Scriptures' value as an historical document.
For example, the plagues that befell Pharoah while he held the Israelites bondage correspond with periodic phenomena well-known in the Nile Valley since the reign of Ramesses II, including the awful infestations of lice (as the pestilential dog-fly is still known today); the boils that beset cattle and men (ulcers commonly called "Nile-heat" or "Nile-itch"); the fierce hailstorms (typically occurring in January and February); the dreadful turning of the Nile waters to blood (still manifested when minerals from the Abyssinian lake transform the Upper Nile into a dark reddish-brown murk); and the sudden descent of darkness upon the region (an occurrence linked with the searingly hot Simoon or Khamsin storms that whip huge expanses of sand into hellish, sun-blotting whirlwinds).
Similarly, the Exodus has been fixed with reasonable certainty by most historians as occurring circa 1290 B.C., with scriptural descriptions of the eastern delta of the Nile from which the Israelites departed being remarkably akin to the best information of that period unearthed by modern topographers. Indeed, even the manna from heaven that sustained the wandering tribes on their long passage from Egypt to Canaan has been confirmed by botanical scientists as being the indigenous plant-louse's honey-sweet secretions, which are white and resinous when they first fall to earth and later achieve a gold-brown hue. The cyclical abundance of "Manna es-Sama" is based on prevailing rains and the attendant migrations of the tamarisk-eating insects. Desert Bedouins have long retrieved this deeply nourishing early-morning delicacy amongst the dew-covered plants and rocks, often gathering enough to satisfy themselves and to offer it for export.
The new beginning for humanity as foretold to the Wise Men by the Star of Bethlehem is now believed to coincide with the actual convergence of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces on Dec. 4 in the year 7 B.C., with additional sociological and meteorological details surrounding the occurrence being consistent with assertions in the Talmud and St. Matthew's Gospel.
Those still waiting for Reggae to become the next big thing seem lost in the shadows of a sound that has currently grown too momentous to measure or contain. Anyone who scoffed at the notion that the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers would spread across the face of the Earth can only be confounded by its still-increasing global might.
As evidence, witness the five-times platinum power of the Haitian-American Fugees and their smash album The Score, as they issue a remix selection from that record, a cover of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," in a new rendition created with Bob's son Stephen Marley. The Fugees and their hip-hop homages to Marley have triumphed commercially around the planet, from the U.K. to France, from Germany to Japan.
Fact is, the diversity of talents who claim Marley as an influence is dazzling, whether it be such rock superstars as Mexico's Carlos Santana or Ireland's U2; the Aboriginal rock bands of Australia like Yothu Yindi; the numerous Bahian bloco afro Carnaval groups of Brazil (lle-Aiye, Muzenza,Araketu, Olodum); the Afro-pop pioneers of Zaire (Remmy Ongala), Zimbabwe (Thomas Mapfumo), South Africa (Lucky Dube), Nigera (Fela Anikolapu-Kuti), and the Ivory Coast (Alpha Blondy); or the Japanese stars of reggae like Tokyo's popular Japanese-African-American singer PJ and the Okinawan female act called The Nenes (who also covered "No Woman, No Cry").
Meanwhile, the Marley family continues the pan-continental tradition of spreading the reggae gospel, as proved by my own ever-expanding record collection, which includes a copy of Rita Marley's delightful collaboration with Ignacio Scola and Gregorio Paniagua for the Spanish Tabata Musica & Letra label, an album entitled Spectacles for Tribuffalos. That 1995 record was cut in Kingston, Jamaica; in London, England; and in Lyon, France; as well as in Madrid and the Monasterio de Camorritos in Cercedilla, Spain.
Lastly, I walked into a record store in Hamburg, Germany, not long ago and purchased a travel copy of Cedella Marley Booker's marvelous Warner Bros./Music for Little People CD, Smilin' Island of Song, for my flight back to the States. Its lilting island riddims reminded me that many of the sessions by Bob Marley's mom were captured in a studio on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, with New York City-born producer/vocalist/guitarist Taj Mahal and Trinidadian percussionist Kester Smith both contributing to the fun.
As fans assemble for the Fifth Annual Bob Marley Caribbean Festival, an event founded by Bob's mother and always featuring his many gifted children and friends, let's also celebrate the fulfillment of the Soul Rebel's truly biblical dream, that reggae music Marley-style would one day gather the whole world in its positive embrace.
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