Bob Marley and The Wailers were a Jamaican reggae band fronted by Bob Marley. The group developed from the earlier ska group known as The Wailers, created by Peter Tosh, Marley and Bunny Livingston. The lineup initially went by various different names such as the Teenagers, the Wailing Rudeboys, the Wailing Wailers and finally just the Wailers. The group briefly disassembled, but upon their return, reunited officially as: Bob Marley and The Wailers. And so we begin the story of one of the greatest, most political bands to have ever lived.
The early 1960s saw Jamaica’s ska trend begin to take over the world, and become a focal point of West Indian culture. One record that stood out was ‘Simmer Down’ released amid the growing tension and violence of Kingston once Jamaica had finally recieved independence from the British. Having finally been relieved of the Union Jack and placing it firmly in the past, Jamaica was fighting over its future. ‘Simmer Down’ acted as a call for Jamaica’s youth to drop their weapons and stop the violence, whilst the song was also released into a ska scene the was increasingly being defined in the public eye by its relationship to the Rastafarian lifestyle.
The British led a very strict religious regime in the Carribean that ideas of the dreaded Rastaman were considered blasphemous. But in Trenchtown, Jamaica, they were growing ever stronger. Reggae was quickly becoming a vehicle for social protests and political messages. Not only did it identify with the Rastafarian’s but mostly people living in poor conditions and unfavourable circumstances which was the majority of the population. Bob Marley and The Wailers were destined to change these conditions, and raise awareness to the world of the troubles that Jamaica was going through.
Marley wholeheartedly took to reggae, it provided him with a vision and ambition. Marley and The Wailers were increasing in popularity, but it wasn’t until Eric Clapton’s 1975 hit cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” that larger audiences began to take notice of the Jamaican supergroup. Following this, Marley and The Wailers signed a record deal with Island Recordings, releasing music that depicted the current living hell that was Jamaica, in songs like “Burnin’ and Lootin’”, “Small Axe”, “Concrete Jungle”, and especially “War”.
However, those in charge of Jamaica at the time were not in favour of Bob Marley and The Wailers speaking so much truth on the supposed tropical paradise. Much of the violence in Kingston was due to the islands government and police, run predominantly by white politicians. The two parties were fronted by Michael Manly of the People’s National Party, and Edwards Seaga of Jamaica’s Labour Party, of which the PNP was feared to be too socialist, whilst many considered JLP far too ruthless.
Jamaica was edging closer towards a general election, and violence in Kingston was out of control. By this time Bob was known worldwide among human rights campaigners, political activists and freedom fighters in Africa. Members of the PNP had visited Marley’s house and pressed him to play a free outdoor “Smile Jamaica” concert to help keep peace in the city. Despite believing that politicians were spawn of the devil, Bob and The Wailers consented in the name of peace. Despite having no preference in the election, rumours broke out that the group wished Michael Manley, leader of the PNP, to win the election, leading to further unrest. A short while later, whilst the group were relaxing from rehearsals, two cars pulled up and shot Marley’s wife Rita in the head, Bob Marley himself, and his manager, Don Taylor. No one died that evening, but tensions in Jamaica flamed even higher.
What happened next is truly astonishing. In 1978, two years after the shootings of the “Smile Jamaica” Bob Marley and the wailers played The One Love Peace Concert. It was uniquely political, and highly regarded as one of the most monumental musical events ever recorded. Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga opened conversations with leaders of Jamaica’s biggest street gangs to ensure the revolting and rioting would stop. Together, the two respective politicians joined hands with Bob Marley on stage, in an event that totally shocked the world. This was a crucial moment in Jamaican politics, as the two pledged to stop the violence occurring across the country, and begin to promote peace throughout.
Bob Marley is famously quoted to have said “It’s better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life.” It’s clear to see that throughout his life, he fought for freedom through his music, and wholeheartedly devoted himself to promoting peace throughout his home country of Jamaica. Bob Marley and The Wailers for this reason will go down in history, not just for their incredible music, but through their dedication to promoting peace and equality.