The uplifting, inspiring, empowering music of Bob Marley is to reggae what the rousing, revolutionary music of Public Enemy is to the pop tunes that dominate hip hop today. . .
Bob Marley took the words, beliefs and rhythms of the Rastafarian movement and brought them to the Jamaican public, the American public and ultimately to the entire world. Freedom fighters in Africa joyously went into battle against the Portugese colonizers and the repressive White South African regime with Marley’s words and melodies ringing in their ears.
The Rastafarians were Jamaicans, inspired by the prophecies of Marcus Garvey, who looked at the Emperor Hailie Selassie I of Ethiopia as the Divintiy. Selassie I was said to be able to trace his lineage back 3,000 years to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Before ascending the throne, he was the “Crown Prince” which in the language of Ethiopia means he was the “Ras Tafari.”
Marcus Garvey, as a very young man in Jamaica, was inspired by the teachings of Booker T. Washington, and so he came to America to become one of his disciples. But by the time he arrived, the great man had died. He soon began setting up his own organization based on Black self reliance, “Black Is Beautiful“, and “Africa for the Africans.” It came to be known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the UNIA. Though based in Harlem, it had millions of followers around the world. It contributed mightily to the development of The Nation of Islam in America, the Black Panthers, the African and Caribbean liberation movements and to Black nationalist organizations around the globe.
Marcus Garvey was descended from the Maroons of Jamaica. They were fiercely independent Africans living throughout the interior of the island. When England seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, the Africans that the Spanish had enslaved escaped into the interior and joined forces with the surviving native Americans and were never conquered. These ferocious guerilla fighters shattered numerous regiment after regiment of the legendary British Imperial army.
Thus, Marcus Garvey translated the unbreakable African spirit of the Maroons into a political movement, and the Rastafarians turned the Garvey movement into a “religion” whose doctrines Robert Nesta Marley set to popular music. Yes, this is somewhat of a simplification for the purposes of clarity. So we invite you to write us and help us to fill in the details. . .
By; Dr. Arthur Lewin
Dr. Lewin was born in Harlem, New York. His parents hail from Jamaica and Cuba. His research has included topics in Jamaican political history, charismatic leadership in African America, Africa and the Caribbean and the class structure in Black America. He is the author of the popular book Africa is Not a Country its a Continent!