Bob Marley was the person most responsible for the globalization of reggae music, even though his career was tragically cut short by cancer, authors and academics told Efe on Monday as Jamaica geared up to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth, The Latin American Herald Review reports.
Robert Nesta Marley was born Feb. 6, 1945, and by the time of his death in 1981 at the age of 36, reggae had a global following.
His music became marketable to international audiences in the early 1970s, when Island Records founder Chris Blackwell decided selling a whole album would be more profitable than sticking with the Jamaican music scene’s emphasis on singles, Stephen King, author of “Reggae, Rastafari and the Rhetoric of Social Control,” told Efe.
The British-born Blackwell presented Bob Marley & The Wailers to the world as a rock band, fronting them the money for their breakthrough 1972 album, “Catch a Fire.”
Another factor that helped globalize reggae was Bob Marley’s exploration of political themes, such as social transformation, rejection of colonialism and self-emancipation.
Carolyn Cooper, professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of West Indies, said Marley became a global icon in a time where there were movements for social justice in various parts of the world.
“Reggae became the soundtrack for political dissent,” she said.
The globalization of reggae also reverberated in Jamaica, notably in the 1972, 1976 and 1980 general elections.
“Politicians started to use reggae and Rastafari (the faith espoused by Marley) to find a new market of voters, low class and middle class which in the end, paved the way for both reggae and Rastafari to be legitimized,” King said.
Ray Hitchins, a lecturer at UWI’s Institute of Caribbean Studies, called Marley the “most significant figure in Jamaica’s culture”.
Marley has also had a remarkable impact on Jamaica’s economy, boosting tourism, especially by reggae fans making the pilgrimage to his home, Hitchins said.
“One of the major attractions of Bob Marley’s history is who he is and where he comes from and how he reached others. He was the very best at what he did,” Hitchins said.
Cooper said Bob Marley’s legacy can be seen in how he broke barriers in the music industry by showing that “somebody from a small island can have a huge impact in the world.”