Forty-five years ago the founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, had a dilemma. He wanted to bring downtown Kingston’s music to the international stage. Having recorded Jamaican music since 1959, achieving a hit there with Laurel Aitken, he felt the world needed to hear the sounds he heard reverberating around the town where he set his base; and make a pot of cash out of it too, naturally!
The music had moved on from ska roots, but reggae was still viewed as “novelty” music outside its native island. He wanted to show the world the words of reggae artists had all the sincerity and connotations as rock, and for this his toyed with two groups; the Maytals and the Wailers.
The dilemma was solved by eventually signing both, but initially The Maytals frontman Toots Hibbert sang with conviction and aptitude, but his vocals attributed to gospel; Blackwell considered it wouldn’t agree with Caucasians.
Meanwhile the Wailers, were a raggle-taggle bunch of Trenchtown youths who he simply didn’t trust. Still, frontman Bob Marley had one advantage, he was mulatto and might appeal to a wider audience. So he chanced the rude-boys with a sum and instructed them to go record an album, the rest is history; catch a fire, the tables turned.
Today the everyman perceives Bob Marley as “king” of reggae in similar light as Elvis being the “king” of rock n roll. After a tragic early death, his music righteously defines legendary and is impossible to replicate to perfection, even by the plethora of his children, musicians closet to him and those willing to cash in on the inclination.
Numerous movie producers have attempted a biopic but failed on its angle. The Wailers toured the UK recently, partially original line-up, but how can you replace the icon which is Bob Marley?
We’ve had “One Love: The Bob Marley Musical,” produced by Kwame Kwei-Armah, best known as the paramedic Finlay Newton in BBC’s Casualty, and Mitchell Brunings playing the Tuff Gong, and now a touring band, Legend are coming to a theatre near you; The Melksham Assembly Rooms on Friday 25th May and Swindon’s Wyvern on Friday 1st June.
The seven musicians and singers dedicated to the life and music of Bob Marley, led by the charismatic Michael Anton Phillips certainly come with an impressive résumé, working with artists such as The Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown, Rankin Roger, The Beat, and Burning Spear to name but a few. They cover the Marley catalogue in a staggering two-hour show, but this notable vita contradicts the opening line of the promotional blurb: “When you think Reggae, there is only one name that comes to your mind. The legend that was Bob Marley.”
I’m sorry, I beg to differ; against my warming to the tribute act, while this looks like a grand show and entertaining to say the least, when I think of reggae of course Bob pops to mind, but its far from the only one. Selfless Bob Marley himself was adamant reggae is not a “one man music, it’s a people music.”
To the reggae lover narrowly perceiving reggae as “Bob Marley,” is akin to saying Elvis was the only man who rock n rolled, or only Beethoven wrote classical. Through ska to rock steady the music developed, moulded into reggae. From boss to dub, bashment, rockers and steppers, dancehall and lover’s rock, through to breakbeat and dubstep, reggae has avenues far outreaching the cliched Bob Marley studio albums marker, it has pioneered music technology, it has redefined pop and helped to create genres such as two-tone, punk and hip hop (original hip hop creator, DJ Kool Herc was a Jamaican immigrant with a sound system in the Bronx, a fact histories of hip hop appear to overlook.)
More relevant to my point though, is that Reggae’s many tangents has made many stars from it’s musicians. Take all, from Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker to Shabba Ranks and Sean Paul, dare I say it.
Still the mainstream media start wailing themselves every time a reggae artist breaks through, giving it “is this the next Bob Marley?” No, it’s Joe Bloggs, or Finley Quail Egg, or whatever their name may be, they sing reggae, like Bob did, doesn’t mean they’re attempting to be another Bob Marley, idiot.
Am I getting blurry-eyed about this now, or do you see my point? Any other tribute act I’d turn a blind eye, but my chosen musical idol, these guys have got to be good or I’d suggest you spend your money on a ticket stub for an upcoming reggae artist or group. However, watch these guys on their promotional video. I did and I’m tempted to swing this around, they do sound absolutely a hundred and twenty percent awesome.
I stated further up, no one can replicate to perfection the natural genius of Bob Marley, none should try and I’d add, no one here is attempting to; to me, on reflection, this is a bunch of musicians attempting a tribute to someone they clearly have great respect for. You know, I got it in the neck for passing comment on a Little Mix tribute act; how can you have a tribute act to a group currently in their prime? The girl’s responded, enlightening they create a safe and welcoming environment for children to enjoy the music of Little Mix. I ate my hat, they were right darn it; girl power!
It’s only the line “think reggae, think Bob Marley,” I’m whining about, I’d suggest they edit it. Maybe I’m just tetchy as I know I’ll never get to see Bob Marley perform; no one except perhaps genetic scientists of the future with cloning technology can change this, so forget my small axe, let the Assembly Rooms and Wyvern be filled with the sound of jamming; here’s a event to celebrate and rejoice all Bob Marley did to spread the wonderful sound of reggae across the world; people get ready.