Fri | Apr 20, 2018

Marley's heroics

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2013 | 12:00 AM

The evening of December 3, 1976 was a tragic one in the life of reggae's king, the Honourable Robert Nesta Marley, OM, whose 68th birth anniversary we recognised last Wednesday.

An incident on that evening, coupled with Marley's heroics a few days later, proved beyond a doubt, the type of mettle he was made of.

It all unfolded at Marley's Hope Road residence, while Marley and his band, which became known as the Wailers, were rehearsing for a stage concert slated for the National Heroes Park in Kingston.

Labelled 'Smile Jamaica', it was scheduled for two days later during the height of a political campaign geared towards a general election due some 15 days after the concert, December 20, to be exact.

It was a period of intense political tension and rivalry between supporters of the ruling People's National Party (PNP), and challengers Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

History has it that the concert was called by the then leader of the PNP, Michael Manley, to help ease the tension between supporters of both sides, and Marley and his group were supposed to be the main attraction.


Marley's career had just taken off on an international level, with his first three albums for Chris Blackwell's Island Records - Catch A Fire, Burning, the last with the trio of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, and Natty Dread, the first on which The I-Threes replaced Bunny and Peter on backing vocals.

1976 was also the year when reggae-mania took over the United States, and almost all of Europe was going wild with Marley's recordings, which conveyed, sometimes in Jamaican proverbs and biblical passages, a message of hope to the downtrodden black masses.

Also, in early 1976, the credibly recognised, Rolling Stones magazine, named Bob Marley and the Wailers, the band of the year. The popular concept of music being a simple way of uniting people, and Marley being the force that he suddenly became, by virtue of those recent accolades, apparently led the organisers to draw on him to assist with quelling the tension.

Present at his Hope Road residence on that inauspicious evening of December 3, were his band members, his wife Rita, manager Don Taylor and other friends.

It was while the musicians were rehearsing and Bob was doing an interview with a reporter between 9 and 10 p.m., that explosions were heard inside the building.

Rita Marley, who was then on the outside, was shot by the escaping intruders. When the shooting subsided, it was discovered that Bob was shot in the arm and Taylor in the abdomen. Another friend was also injured.

Luckily, no one died, but Taylor had to be flown to Miami for treatment. What was amazing, however, was that an injured Marley was resilient enough to keep his appointment and perform at the Smile Jamaica concert, two days later.

The action spoke to the heroics and bravery of Marley aforementioned, especially since many thought that the attack was politically motivated, and that the concert was really an event in support of Manley, who was seeking re-election in the national polls.


As far as Marley was concerned, he had no such motives, as he had repeatedly stated that he had no interest in politics.

His recording, Ambush in the Night, was thought to be a direct reference to the incident and a way in which he celebrated his escape.

See them fighting for power,

but they know not the hour,

so they come with their guns, spare-parts and money,

trying to belittle our integrity now.

They say what we know, is just what they teach us,

And we are so ignorant that everytime they can reach us,

Through political strategy, they keep us hungry,

And when we gonna get some food, your brother got to be your enemy.

Well, ambush in the night, all guns aiming at me.

They open fire at me.

A recording, titled Smile Jamaica, was also written by Marley, in commemoration of the Smile Jamaica concert, part of which ran:

We're gonna help our people, help them right.

Oh Lord help us tonight.

Cast away that evil spell

Throw some water in the well

And smile in Jamaica now.

After the concert, Marley departed the island to recuperate in The Bahamas, utilising the opportunity to to do some writing at Chris Blackwell's Compass Point studio. He later embarked on a two-year, self-imposed exile in England, where he recorded the albums, Exodus and Kaya in 1977 and 1978, respectively.


When ordinary men would have vowed not to get implicated in events that endanger their lives, especially in the light of past, personal experiences, Marley was back in Jamaica in 1978 for a similar event, aimed at calming warring political factions - this time, the One Love peace concert, slated for the National Stadium on April 22.

The highlight of the concert was a spontaneous act by Marley that shocked many. In one dramatic moment, he called on stage the charismatic socialist leader of the PNP, Manley and the astutely conservative leader of the JLP, Edward Seaga.

The invitees themselves seemed shocked and understandably apprehensive about what would unfold.

Marley proceeded to hold their hands aloft and joined together, as a mark of a symbolic truce and an example to be embraced by their followers.

It was reported that Marley also used the concert to help unite Rastafarians of different tribes.

He was, in fact, coaxed into performing at the concert by West Kingston's political advocates Claudius Massop and Tony Welsh, who travelled to England to convince Marley that his presence at the concert could help ease the scourge of gang and political violence in Jamaica.

On the musical side of things, the show was well received. It boasted an all-star cast that included Jacob Miller, Beres Hammond and Zap Pow, Culture, Dennis Brown, and Peter Tosh, who as usual, was uncompromising in his chastisement of Jamaican politicians, who he blamed for the country's crime and economic problems.