Glenn Tucker | Wanted: a critical assessment of Marley
Reggae Month was launched in 2008. It was decided that February – Black History Month and the month that includes Martin Luther King Day and Bob Marley’s birthday, etc – would be the appropriate time to celebrate Reggae Month.
Every year, there are panel discussions about how to promote the music, with some of us bemoaning the fact that ‘others’ are making more money from reggae than Jamaicans. And yes, most of the participants have basically the same thing to say about reggae as they do about corruption, crime, and a host of other concerns: that “Government needs to do more” or “the private sector is not doing enough”. Well, I knew Bob Marley, the late reggae music icon, and maybe if my editor will allow me to share one evening’s experience with him, the folks in the industry could learn something.
In 1976, I was the football coach for the UWI team. I was preparing them for the Inter-Campus Games in Trinidad. Bob and Jamaica’s greatest footballer, Allan Cole, invited themselves to these sessions. One evening, after I suggested that he train with a certain prominent Manning Cup team – mainly because I felt that coach was better than I was – he declared, “Well, I an’ I doa wah kick with the schoolas, I wah kick wid the scholas.”
The phone call
Late one evening, I was taking him somewhere, and we had a problem that most young people today would find strange. We could not find a phone that was working. We went up to Chancellor Hall, where I lived, and I observed that the office at the porter’s lodge was unmanned. Since he said he “just wah seh something to a guy”, I assumed it would be a short call. So I did the unthinkable.
I sneaked into the office and dialled the number. I stood guard outside. But the call went on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, I decided to go inside and stand in front of him, hoping that would send a message. But he looked up at me and just made himself more comfortable in the porter’s chair.
At that stage, he said to his party, “I nah go down that road, Star. I an’ I very fruitful. Is nuff mout’ I haffi feed. And more is to come. I caan depend pan Jamaica alone fi feed all a dem pickney and dem mother.
“So I an’ I want everybody in di world fi buy my music. Dat mean dem haffi understand what I an’ I a seh. I waan get everybody money, and I waan everybody get my message. An’ if dem pickney ask dem parents anything bout I music, dem parents must not have to blush an’ cover dem face fi ansa. My music suppose fi can go inna hymn book, Star.”
It was years later before those words meant anything to me. Shabba Ranks had just finished a show in New York. One of his screaming fans was being interviewed. She said that she loved his voice and she loved his sexiness, then, to my surprise, she added, ‘But what is he saying …’. And that’s the point, folks.
Problems with the material
Many people have lots of problems with the material. Some years ago, I wrote about the leading artiste at that time, pointing out how poisonous his brilliant lyrics were to young people and that the misogynistic themes in his songs suggested a bright but deeply troubled person. Where he is spending his time these days suggests that I was spot on in my assessment. Most female artistes feel that the key to success is to tell as much as possible about their anatomy, exposing as much of it as possible.
But is that working? Where is the king of the lewd lyrics today? Bob Marley died more than 30 years ago, yet last year, Forbes magazine named him the fifth-top-earning dead celebrity. He is actually the only Caribbean artiste to grace a Forbes list. What he sings to women has become a classic that parents and children can enjoy together and emulate: No Woman, No Cry.
Koffee, the teenage Grammy winner, has shot to fame overnight. And I do not know what even her toes look like. Are there any lessons here?
Three years after Bob’s death in 1981, the album Legend was released. It is the top-selling reggae album of all time and has been certified not gold, not platinum, but DIAMOND. It is still selling more than 250,000 copies every year.
Perhaps the Reggae Month folks could learn some things from the Marley family. First, Bob Marley Week is a smart annual campaign during which time millions of fans all around the world celebrate this special week dedicated to Marley. This dwarfs Reggae Month in every critical category.
The Marley estate continues to earn, annually, in J$3.3 billion, and the net worth of the estate is estimated to be just under J$18.5 billion. The proceeds are derived from the sale of products in more than 48 countries, according to Forbes. This includes headphones, Marley Natural cannabis, smoking accessories, Get Together portable speakers (which logged J$852 million in sales in 2016), and Smile Jamaica earphones (J$1.15 billion). Then there are Uplift earphones, Marley Coffee, and Marley Natural. The family treats the estate, known as House Marley, as a business and has hired an experienced team to help run the business and deal with unauthorised use of Bob’s name and likeness. Forbes estimates that the unauthorised sale of Marley music and merchandise generates more than half a billion dollars a year, but family members dispute this.
It would be unfair to end without noting that Bob did have his failings. For someone who was always careful with his money, he had some strange habits designed to protect this money that achieved the very opposite effect.
He had 11 children with seven women. Yet he never made a will as he always felt that lawyers and legal documents were the evil tools of Babylon. The myriad lawsuits that, predictably, ensued left me with the impression that these same lawyers were, unintentionally, some of his chief beneficiaries.
May I suggest that next Reggae Month, the industry players devote a week to a critical assessment of Marley, his music, and the management of his estate. Give ‘Government’ a break.
Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and a sociologist. email@example.com.