The Marley appeal: Historian Roger Steffens weighs in

Historian Roger Steffens weighs in in this interview with Richard Johnson for Jamaica’s Observer.

THIRTY-ONE years after his death, the music of Bob Marley continues to stir emotions and pique interest across the globe.

This artiste with humble beginnings in St Ann, Jamaica, has gone on to touch all corners of the earth with his message — through music — of love, revolution and identity during his lifetime, but even more so since his death in 1981.

Noted Los Angeles-based historian Roger Steffens has dedicated his life to documenting the reggae experience including Marley, and Splash put the question to him; What makes Marley special and keeps him in the public consciousness even after his passing.

“It is the simple fact that no artiste, in any musical field, has matched his universal appeal based on the fact that his music means something to so many people,” Steffens posits.

“He cuts across all lines — spiritual, national, cultural — and has transcended music in a way no one else has, or likely ever will,” he continues.

Steffens bears out his point of Marley’s universal appeal by recalling conversations he had with a number of persons. He quotes renowed Third World guitarist and cellist Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore as saying, “Everywhere I go in the world I’m judged on the standard of Bob Marley”. His point on Marley’s diverse appeal is brought to life as he relates a conversation with the head of the human rights group Amnesty International who, he said, stated that throughout the entire world today Bob Marley is the symbol of freedom.

As Jamaica celebrates 50 years of political Independence Splash asked Steffens what has to be done by emerging artistes to ensure that they experience a longevity comparable to that of Marley.

He notes that today’s reggae acts will have trouble reinventing the wheel. Steffens therefore advises newcomers to follow Marley’s example and release no more than one album a year, and not to issue of flood of singles that cause the market to be oversaturated. “Less is more,” he instructs.

“Write 10 or 12 great songs, and put them out in albums that are ‘all killer, no filler’, just as Bob did. Is there any album of Bob’s on the Island label that contains even one inessential track? I think not,” Steffens tells Splash.

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