Bob Marley

When I think of good music, I think of songs that make me want to dance. Riffs I can’t get out of my mind. Lyrics that give me pause or transport me emotionally. I think of artists who represent something much bigger than the well-arranged melodies and verses blasting through my speakers. But when I think of great music, I think of artists who manage to do all of these things in their own, unique way.

It is a difficult task to choose my absolute favorite musician, and most times I avoid this difficulty by offering a top five list. While I am hesitant to select a single “favorite,” the artist I would unquestionably choose to celebrate as My Musical Honoree is Bob Marley.

While Reggae is not largely present in American popular music, Bob Marley managed to bring the genre to the world at large—unifying people through music that made you dance and simultaneously contemplate the struggles of humanity. As Marley once said, “My music fights against the system that teaches people to live and die.” His mission was to open minds by way of the ears, and his accomplishments in this realm can be seen through his political influence in Jamaica. In fact, Marley was causing such a stir that he was the target of an assassination attempt in 1976.

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What is interesting is that a man who didn’t particularly set out to make a political difference managed to change the world around him simply by sharing his experience, his thoughts, and his voice through music. The Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown-Burke, said, “His songs describe virtually every mood of human emotion, and his lyrics resound up until this very day.” His music connects with you in a quest for unity—“one love, one heart”—because our experiences are linked as members of humanity.

In terms of musicality, Marley’s music has a unique sound as it infuses Reggae with a wide array of musical styles. In a PBS feature on Bob Marley, Roger Steffens writes,

“As for innovation, Marley was a multi-talented synthesizer of new ideas and rhythms, beginning with his precocious “Judge Not” solo debut at the dawn of the ska era, right up through his ongoing experiments with gospel, r&b, rock, folk, jazz, Latin, punk, scat, disco, and even (in unpublished form) bossa nova.”

This ability turned small island Reggae into a genre that appealed to the sensibilities of the world at large.

The first time I can recall hearing Bob Marley’s music was on a car ride with my mom. “Stir it Up” came on, and though I didn’t know the words, it felt familiar. The heavy guitar skank at the start of the track, the smooth, yet thumping bass line, and the harmony of The Wailers in the background—it was a comfortable groove that I couldn’t get away from. Marley’s music made me feel good. It still does, but now that I’m older, I can appreciate the message behind the words. Bob Marley said many wise things, and I hope that you will explore his music further to hear them for yourself, but in parting, here are some of his words to carry with you: “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake up and live!”

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This article is part of Red Envelope’s “#redMusic – My Musical Honoree” Project. Find out more by visiting their Twitter or following the hashtag #redMusic.