Photo: The New Times
By Ebuka Onyeji
May 11 is globally recognized as Bob Marley’s Day. A day observed by playing the songs of the reggae maestro and showcasing the Rastafarian root culture.
This year’s Marley’s day is unique because it marked exactly 36 years that Marley died at the age of 36 in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1981 due to cancer.
That means that Thursday, May 11, 2017 is the “equilibrium day” of Bob Marley’s life circle, something that’ll only happen once.
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in Nine Miles, Saint Ann, Jamaica, to Norval Marley and Cedella Booker.
Marley started his career with the Wailers, a group he formed with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston in 1963. Marley married Rita Marley in February 1966, and it was she who introduced him to Rastafarianism. By 1969 Bob, Tosh and Livingston had fully embraced Rastafarianism, which greatly influenced Marley’s music in particular and reggae music in general.
In 1974 Tosh and Livingston left the Wailers to start solo careers. Marley later formed the band “Bob Marley and the Wailers”, with his wife Rita as one of three backup singers called the I-Trees. This period saw the release of some ground-breaking albums, such as “Natty Dread”, “Rastaman Vibration”.
In 1976, during a period of spiralling political violence in Jamaica, an attempt was made on Marley’s life. Marley left for England, where he lived in self-exile for two years. In England “Exodus” was produced, and it remained on the British charts for 56 straight weeks. This was followed by another successful album, “Kaya.” These successes introduced reggae music to the western world, and established the beginning of Marley’s international status.
In 1977 Marley consulted with a doctor when a wound in his big toe would not heal. More tests revealed malignant melanoma. He refused to have his toe amputated as his doctors recommended, claiming it contradicted his Rastafarian beliefs. Others, however, claim that the main reason behind his refusal was the possible negative impact on his dancing skills. The cancer was kept secret from the general public while Bob continued working.
Returning to Jamaica in 1978, he continued work and released “Survival” in 1979 which was followed by a successful European tour. In 1980, he was the only foreign artist to participate in the independence ceremony of Zimbabwe. It was a time of great success for Marley, and he started an American tour to reach blacks in the U.S. He played two shows at Madison Square Garden, but collapsed while jogging in NYC’s Central Park on September 21, 1980. The cancer diagnosed earlier had spread to his brain, lungs and stomach. Bob Marley died in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981.
As a mark of respect and gratitude, the New York Department of Education has co-named a section of Brooklyn as Bob Marley Boulevard.