With streets festooned with Rastafarian flags and bunting, Jamaica is readying itself for an influx of reggae-tourists in 2015 as the island prepares to celebrate musical icon Bob Marley’s birthday in what would have been his 70th year.
Nothing says “˜welcome to Jamaica’ like the rhythmic boom-boom bass of reggae, an unmistakable beat-bouncing musical genre that is synonymous worldwide with the island’s dreadlocked maestro – Bob Nesta Marley. Legions of fans and holidaymakers are expected to pay tribute to the Jamaican icon in 2015 during the “World Remembers Bob Marley” celebrations in the year of his 70th birthday. Born on 6th February 1945, Bob Marley continues to tug on the heartstrings of scores of reggae fans from across the globe. With his charismatic, loose-limbed stage presence and lyrics promoting “One Love”, Bob Marley is captured beautifully in bronze monuments, plaques and in a number of attractions in Jamaica, including the Bob Marley Museum, housed in the singer’s former home in Kingston.
As the Caribbean’s biggest reggae icon, Marley’s death from cancer in 1981 at the age of 36 hasn’t diminished his musical and spiritual influence one bit. A calendar of events across Jamaica will provide a fitting tribute to the island’s most iconic figure to coincide with posthumously released live recordings. This comes a year after the 30th anniversary of the release of Marley’s landmark Legends album (the best-selling album by a Jamaican artist and the best-selling reggae album in history) and the launch of Ben & Jerry’s special-edition Bob Marley ice-cream flavour “Satisfy My Bowl” – a mouth-watering concoction of banana ice cream beats, a mashup of caramel and cookie swirls and a chorus of chocolatey peace signs dedicated to a man whose music practiced togetherness and harmony. All proceeds from the special-edition flavour will go to young people in Jamaica to continue Bob Marley’s legacy of using music to change the world.
2015 will also see the unveiling of a Bob Marley reggae musical created by the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) and Tuff Gong International. Telling the story of Marley’s childhood, the musical – named Nesta’s Rock – is centred on a young boy called Ness in Jamaica’s capital Kingston who embarks on a journey from the slums to Nine Miles and eventually to musical superstardom. It will run, initially, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in Kingston from January 9th 2015 – February 22nd 2015 with a special showing on Marley’s birthday itself – tickets are already selling fast! Beautiful adaptations of some of Marley’s biggest hits have a starring role in the production with Redemption Song, Three Little Birds and Could You Be Loved. The cast is comprised entirely of native Jamaicans between the ages of nine and 21 and has the full backing of Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter and the person charged with protecting his legacy. The narrative is expected to embody the social gospel and spiritual vision of the island’s reggae guru whilst showcasing the extraordinary diversity of work that spanned a stylistic spectrum from Jamaican ska to rock steady.
Not every reggae musician has been able change cultural landscapes like Marley did – and still does more than 30 years after his death. Every song he wrote had a message – be it love, hope or political uprising – and he delivered each in a proud, passionate and declamatory voice. He reached out to the poor and disfranchised and, by doing so, touched the world. In his 70th birthday year, his best-loved anthems will provide an uplifting, audible backdrop of positivity across Jamaica, from city neighbourhood to tiny, rural village and glitzy beach resort. Posters will adorn Trench Town – the neighbourhood in Kingston where a young Marley developed his love of music, listening to rhythm and blues on American radio stations – while flags will fly around the hotel properties owned by Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame who signed Marley in the early Seventies and found his songs an international audience.
Though he died prematurely at an early age, Bob Marley’s heartbeat reggae rhythms continue to pulse across Jamaica, the Caribbean and the wider world. After he was buried on the island with full state honours in 1981, “One Love” – Marley’s soulful pacifist reggae anthem – became the theme song of the Jamaican Tourist Board. Today, holidaymakers are serenaded by the lyrics of this musical milestone when they explore the Bob Marley Museum and Tuff Gong studio. Many Marley pilgrims also venture out to his birthplace and final resting place in the mausoleum in Nine Mile in the parish of St. Ann. You’ll see items that reflect his daily life, such as his hammock, brightly-painted frescoes, herb garden and the much-loved battered Land Rover he drove around the island.
2015 will also witness a partnership between the Bob Marley Foundation and the Jamaica Film Festival in a special commemoration of Bob Marley’s birthday. A montage of Bob “˜Nesta’ Marley’s most-loved songs is planned, with No Woman, No Cry surely a contender as a classic still worshiped by millions of music fans worldwide. Other films rumoured to be in the running are biographical documentaries that reveal lesser-known facts about Marley’s life, such as the reason why his name changed from Nesta Robert Marley; why the date on his birth certificate incorrectly states that he was born on 6th April; how it was learned that Marley could read palms at the age of four; why he was known as “white boy’; and how he came to be buried with a soccer ball, his Gibson Les Paul guitar, and a bud of marijuana. In one day alone, more than 40,000 people filed past his coffin as his body lay in state in Jamaica’s National Arena – a touching reflection of the place Bob Marley holds in the heart of his homeland.
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