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Bob Marley Needs to be Recognized!

You don’t have to be from Jamaica to be familiar with the global hits – “One Love,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Buffalo Soldier,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “I Shot the Sheriff. These are just some of the iconic songs of peace activist Bob Marley, who died in 1981. 

The Caribbean island of Jamaica and Marley go hand in hand. Even at the 2023 biopic movie premiere, “Bob Marley: One Love,” its prime minister was quoted as saying the Jamaican government was again “considering” honoring Marley its highest award, which would give him the title of a national hero.

As Caribbean Americans celebrate National Caribbean American Heritage Month in June (which is also Black Music Month), this is an excellent time to reflect on one of the Caribbean’s most populous areas—Jamaica, with about 2.8 million people. Jamaica is considered one of the major islands of the Caribbean, including Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The Bahamas are also part of the Caribbean islands but has a smaller population.

Jamaica has a rich history in music and is the only country in the world where music defines its culture. This has not always been the case. Before the Bahamas became “a place to vacation,” it was said international business interests wanted to put casinos and gambling on the isle of Jamaica. The Jamaican Government rejected the idea. As a result, tourism and support for Jamaica’s tourist industry dried up, and that business went to the Bahamas. This took a sizable dip out of Jamaica’s tourism until an unknown musical group and their lead singer became known for their unique style of music.

As a British Colony, Jamaica gained its independence on August 6, 1962. Jamaica’s main industry has always been and continues to be tourism. As a young boy, I remember a time when the Jamaican government was trying to figure out how this young country would fund and sustain itself. In my biased opinion, the most critical development in Jamaica’s history has been the creation of a style of music known as Reggae by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Music in Jamaica during the ’60s embraced the calypso sound. My father was from Jamaica, and these are the sounds I would hear as a young boy…”Please, Mister, don’t you touch mi tomatoes!” This was a sexual suggestion that would bring laughter and enjoyment to any Jamaican party. Calypso morphed into a genre called Ska until Reggae came upon the scene. The Wailers’ music told the stories of a small area known as Trench Town and the tribulations of living there, poverty and the injustice issues the people of Jamaica faced, along with the atrocities faced by Black people around the world.

Reggae created its own culture, which included the smoking of marijuana, known in Jamaica as ganja. Contrary to popular belief, ganja is illegal in Jamaica, although it plays a significant part in the country’s public image internationally. Reggae became associated with the religion of Rastafari, which has beliefs rooted in specific interpretations of the Bible. Marley smoked ganja as a ritual to his religion, along with wearing the hairstyle known as dreadlocks, which is seen all over the world today.
The expression of Reggae music, along with smoking a little ganja and adopting the rebellious hairstyle of dreadlocks, made many desire to make the trip to “Mecca” or Jamaica.

Women, too, fantasized about this experience, and it became synonymous with the phrase, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, from the movie of the same name. Stella wanted to temporarily escape from her corporate life in America for a guilt-free fling in Jamaica. Women would go to the island of the white sands to find a Jamaican man.
It is where Stella could enjoy passionate sex, smoke ganja, and party to Reggae music without anyone ever knowing her secret. This became a ritual for many women all over the world.

While Marley has helped make Jamaica a worldwide name, the country has not given the highest honor given to one of its most famous countrymen! He has received the Medal of Peace from the United Nations and the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award. TIME magazine has honored Marley’s Exodus as the album of the century. And he holds a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, “Bob Marley: One Love” has become one of the top-earning musical biopics in the nation’s history.

Like anywhere else, Jamaican music has evolved, and Marley’s Reggae helped to lead the foundation for other famous Jamaican artists such as Shaggy, Sean Paul, and Beres Hammond. But there is a phrase in Jamaica that says, “Soon come.”

Jamaica is long overdue to honor Marley with its highest honor, and Caribbean Americans everywhere hope this award will “SOON COME!”

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