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Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, by Timothy White, is a novel which discusses the life of Bob Marley as well as the beginnings of Rastafarianism which played a huge role in Bob Marley’s life. Part of Marley’s popularity was that his music transcended the boundaries of race, society and demographic levels. Many of the lyrics in Marley’s music had elements of Rastafarianism as well as strong statements about the people of Jamaica, but not all listeners seemed to mind or even understand these lyrics. For that reason, Marley’s music was incredibly popular. Bob Marley would go on to achieve international fame and acclaim, but it was his role as the representative of Jamaica, Rasta dreads and the significance of black people throughout history that mattered.
“There was no mention in the Gleaner, however, of an event which took place during the early hours of the morning in the rural parish of St. Ann. Nineteen-year-old Cedella Marley had given birth to her first child” (49). Nobody knew it at the time, but one of Jamaica’s national hero’s was born into the world on February 6, 1945 in the rural parish of St. Ann.
Bob Marley, born Nesta Robert Marley, was born to Norval Sinclair and Cedella Booker-Marley in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish Jamaica. His father was of British descent and was an officer in the Royal Marines as well as a plantation overseer. His family applied constant pressure, and although he provided financial support for them, Norval seldom saw his wife and son. Marley was ten years old when Norval died of a heart attack in 1955 at age seventy. Cedella, who is often referred to as Ciddy, was nineteen when she gave birth to Bob with her husband Norval. Norval Marley married her to ensure that Bob was not seen as a bastard, but she was essentially left on her own with Bob’s birth. However, she had the support of her extended family including Bob’s Grandfather Omeriah.
Bob Marley’s keen sense in music began in his childhood years. His mother had always claimed that his musical talent came from her. Ciddy moved with Bob to Kingston in order to improve her situation as a single mother. Once there, they would move in with Toddy Livingston, with whom Cedella had a little girl named Pearl. In Trench town, where Cedella moved in an effort to save money, Marley would listen to the radio with his best friend Bunny, Todd’s son. Together they would enjoy listening to blues, R&B, and more songs as they beamed in from Miami. At the time, Marley was only fourteen years old and going in and out of private schools. Toddy and Cedella talked about making Marley an apprentice for the summer so that Marley could have a trade as a future career. Marley, however, had already started composing songs. He had also become a good street fighter, but his interest in music was corresponding with what was popular at the time.
Marley’s fame and acclaim would later follow him all over the world, whose music would touch the lives of many fans. The novel opens with Bob Marley performing at the concert for Independence Day in Zimbabwe. He is disoriented and his illusions of grandeur with the African people had been dismantled after he witnessed African police beating on their own people because of the chaos at the concert to see him. For many in the Third World, Marley was seen as a man who had the capacity to repel evil, which is an idea he cultivated, calling himself the “Duppy Conqueror.” The reason many Jamaicans are superstitious can trace back to the roots of Rastafarianism.
Rastafarianism is unique because it originated in Jamaica. It began mainly in the inner cities and poor sections of Jamaica where life was hard and unemployment was high. The original idea Rastafarianism held was that Emperor Haile Selassie was God and that black people could find salvation by moving back to Ethiopia. The main idea has changed during the years, as there are now many groups with no clear doctrine. The one main belief that is still consistent is that Emperor Haile Selassie is God. Although Marley was Jamaican and Jamaica was where he grew up, it was always Africa his heart longed for and not Jamaica since his belief in Rastafarianism.
Bob Marley’s first band was Bob Marley and the Wailers, originally consisting of three members, which would have members coming and going before Marley’s death in 1981. The band first consisted of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston. Tosh liked to tell everyone that he was the leader of the group, as he is known for first forming the group. Marley, meanwhile, had broken off his ties with Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican reggae producer who had refused to pay him for his work. One of the biggest clubs in Kingston, known as Sound System, is a place where reggae music is played. In an effort to promote his band’s music and gain popularity, this was one place where he attempts to promote his music. When Marley eventually becomes successful and moves into 56 Hope Road, Kingston, he will buy a silver BMW which will read “Lettars stand fe Bob Marley an’ Wailers.” His house is now a museum dedicated in his honor.
A combination of factors contributed to Marley’s rise to fame. For starters, his timing was perfect. There was political and social unrest in Jamaica and poor people were looking for someone to give them hope. Also, the music industry needed something fresh, vibrant and new to give it a boost. Marley’s talent made sense in the historical and cultural context provided by the end of Rock and Roll. He was the first figure of a new phase identified as the beginning of what has come to be known as world music. Marley had a unique style, honest message and earthy sound, all which contained elements of the Rasta faith. These combined with his fresh perspective and positive energy would make him unforgettable, and a national hero of Jamaica.
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