Survival, Uprising, Confrontation. They were intended as Bob Marley’s final statement to the world, a musical trinity that promoted unity and strength in the face of worldwide political oppression. But ill omens, waning health, “politricks” and pressures of Babylon were massed against him. In this extract from our 2016 cover feature, MOJO’s David Hutcheon speaks to friends and family about the reggae legend’s final message to the world...
On July 21, 1978, a boy named Damian was born to Cindy Breakspeare in Kingston, Jamaica, the last of Bob Marley’s children to arrive in his lifetime. The Tuff Gong himself was in California, playing the 42nd show of his Kaya tour, an exhausting trek that had begun in Michigan, two months before and still had another fortnight to go. Such had been the peripatetic lifestyle of the world’s most iconic reggae star since gunmen attacked him at his home in December 1976, putting bullets in Bob, his wife, Rita, and manager, Don Taylor, prior to the Smile Jamaica concert that had been hijacked by “politricks”.
“I definitely think the assassination was political,” says Neville Garrick, his designer and close confidant. “But Bob had said, ‘Rasta don’t go left, Rasta don’t go right, Rasta go straight ahead.’ He didn’t pick sides. When Bob decided to do that concert it was no political show.” A few days later, Marley and Garrick left for the Bahamas and then moved to London, where his inner circle and band would spend the winter and spring of 1977.
“We lived in Bull Bay,” remembers Cedella Marley, then nine, “and I can remember Auntie, who helped raise us because Mummy and Daddy were always gone, waking us up. She just said, ‘Your parents have been shot.’ The next morning we saw Daddy, and he’s smiling at us like nothing happened. And then he was gone. I think he probably felt the further he was away from us the safer we were going to be. We didn’t see him much for a long time, but he was good at leaving messages and we spoke to him once or twice a week by phone.”
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“I think that’s what gave him the idea of calling an album Survival,” says Rita down the line from the Marley Resort on Cable Beach in the Bahamas, a space the couple discovered while recuperating from the attack, and that Rita and daughter Stephanie developed after Bob’s death. “That was the kind of writer he was, he wrote about the world around him. He wanted to take that danger and turn it into something strong and artistic.”
There was more to it than that. Once again, Marley was aware of being exiled in Babylon. Just like when he had left his childhood home in Saint Ann Parish to live with his father in Kingston, only to be rescued by his mother, who spirited the sickly six-year-old back to the rural north coast; or his miserable time in Delaware in the 1960s, working on the Chrysler assembly line; or those cold, impoverished early European tours that tore the heart out of the original Wailers. All around him, he saw signs of the Natural Mystic he had warned about in 1977 – “Many more will have to suffer/Many more will have to die” – and he was determined to turn that into the definitive trilogy of Rasta militancy, of surviving, resisting and conquering Babylon. What he didn’t know was that his time on Earth was drawing to a close…
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