4 concerts that made Bob Marley a legend

December 10, 2015

There are countless moments, quotes, songs and lyrics in the legacy of Bob Marley that have him the legend he is today. But, when it comes to live performances and the stories behind, there are 4 specific shows that by far and away stand out amongst the rest. These shows are concerts that truly exemplified Bob’s courage, compassion, generosity and philosophical fortitude. Luckily, they were all captured in their entirety on video. We hope you enjoy, and learn a little more about the great man Bob truly was.

1. Smile Jamaica

While Bob had already been in the music industry for 14 years at this point, and had finally started to reach international success following the historic 1975 Natty Dread tour as well as the game-changing release of Rastaman Vibration, most historians and super-fans would agree that Smile Jamaica was the true start of Bob Marley becoming the legend he is today. On December 3, 1976, Bob and band were rehearsing at 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica, in preparation for the show. It was a time of extreme and violent political turmoil, where the country was divided between the democratic socialist People’s National Party (PNP) and the conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). Everyone picked a side and fought viciously to defend their beliefs; everyone except Bob Marley and the Wailers. As Bob said, “I not a politician. Politics is money business, and we in people business.” Unfortunately though, when you don’t take a side, everyone thinks you’re on the wrong side. As Neville Garrick (Bob’s art director) recently told me, “You can be on one side or the other, but if you try and stay on the fence, someone shoot you down off it.” And as was the reality in Jamaica at that, that’s exactly what happened. During the rehearsal, an unknown gunman made his way onto the property, cracked open the door to the kitchen, stuck his gun in and started shooting. Bob was shot in the arm, his wife Rita was grazed by a bullet in the head, and manager Don Taylor was shot several times in the stomach. Miraculously, all survived the shooting, and in a showing of great bravery and steadfast dedication to uniting the island, Bob and band went on to perform at the festival as scheduled, only two days later. Many people talk about standing up and fighting for freedom, but in this instance, Bob really did put his life on the line for peace. Nearly 80,000 people attended the free event, and many would point to Smile Jamaica as a beginning of the end for civil war in Jamaica.

2. One Love Peace Concert

After the Smile Jamaica concert, Bob Marley and his fellow Wailers embarked on a self-imposed exile to London that lasted over a year. It was during this time period that he wrote, recorded and released the album Exodus, which Time Magazine called the most important album of the century. But Jamaica was his home, and those who lived there were his people. And they needed him. The political turmoil had started to die down, but the country needed hope, and so they turned to the one man who they knew had the power to seal the country in unity. As a showing of the peace that was starting to form, the three main leaders of the rival gangs in Jamaica – Claudie Massop, Tony Welch and Earl ‘Tek Life’ Wadley – flew to England to convince Bob to return to the island. After discussing what they do to help solidify the unity that was brewing, it was decided a free concert would be held in Kingston, which Bob would headline. Also on the lineup (among others) were Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Culture and Ras Michael. By all accounts, the show was an amazing success, highlighted by a moment that will forever live on in both Bob Marley’s and Jamaica’s history. While performing “Jammin'”, in a moment of pure inspiration Bob called the leaders of both political parties – Prime Minister Michael Manley (PNP) and JLP leader Edward Seaga – up on to the stage to join hands. He sang out in the melody of the song, “Show the people that you, love ‘em right. Show the people that you, gonna unite!” Seen in the photograph at the top of this article, Bob brought them together and held their joined hands up to the sky, in the kind of moment of unity that is usually reserved for movies and fairy tales. It was the symbol of the end for political violence in Jamaica, and for this amazing act that inspired the world over, later that summer he received the United Nations’ Peace Medal of the Third World. Bob said in an interview surrounding the event, “Them gonna follow the example we set. When we come together the whole world gonna look and seh ‘It can be done.'”

3. Amandla Festival of Unity

By the late 1970s, Bob Marley had turned much of his attention to Africa. Having just returned home from the Babylon By Bus tour, Bob was working on the release of what many would say is his finest and most philosophically-focused album, Survival. Comprised of songs like “Africa Unite”, “Zimbabwe” and “So Much Trouble In The World”, Bob spoke of the struggles of Africa and especially the black man’s role in that battle. The album cover was adorned with flags from every nation, and its release later that year would have lasting impacts on the continent and its people (see #4). He would go on to help Africa in a variety of ways, but the first example of Bob using his fame and talent to help the lives of black men in Africa was at Amandla: The Festival of Unity. Set in Boston at the renowned university’s Harvard Stadium, the goals of the event were to support the liberation of South Africa and the end to apartheid (as well as the on-going efforts of Bostonians to end racism in their own city). Signing on only three weeks before the event, Bob agreed to perform at the show for free, with the promoters simply covering the band’s travel expenses. By all accounts, it was a truly historic show. As one of the organizers recalled, “The performance was just magic. People in Boston come up to me even today and tell me that witnessing that performance was life-changing for them. This is not a joke. It was just magical. The people around him knew it, and we knew it.” In the end, the event ended up raising tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for the rebel soldiers in South Africa, and yet again Bob Marley cements his place in history as a voice of freedom, of unity, and of overcoming the struggle.

4. Zimbabwe Independence Celebrations

Perhaps the pinnacle of Bob’s struggle for a free and united Africa, in 1980 Marley was invited to perform at the inaugural Zimbabwe Independence Celebration. Bob was perhaps the best and only person to perform at the event, as he and his music played a major role in inspiring those who earned the country the independence it still enjoys today. With the release of Survival Bob gave Africa the aforementioned, “Zimbabwe”. The message of the song personified so beautifully and vehemently in the lyrics, “Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny, and in this judgement there is no partiality. So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle, ‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble. Brother, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right, you’re so right! We gonna fight, we’ll have to fight, we gonna fight, fight for our rights!”

The song instantly became the battle cry for the soldiers who were doing just that, and with Bob’s words inspiring them along the way, the independence of the nation was finally won and celebrated on April 18, 1980. But while they were desperate to have Bob perform at the ceremony, the young country could not even afford to get the band and their equipment across the sea, let alone pay the going rate of one of the world’s biggest live acts. So, in true Marley fashion, Bob spent his own money to charter a plane and bring the band’s equipment – along with lighting and sound gear – over to Zimbabwe. And so it went, with about 40,000 inside the stadium, the ceremony commenced. The new flag was raised, and the first official words in the nation of Zimbabwe were, “Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers!”

The problem, however, was that while 40,000 were able to get in to see the show, the other 2 million surrounding the stadium, weren’t. A riot ensued, and tear gas was dispersed across the area, inevitably making it’s way into the venue. The people scattered, the band all left the stage, but Bob stayed. Without any music to back him up, and tears in his eyes from the gas, like a true rebel soldier he just kept on fighting the fight—he kept on singing. Eventually, the Wailers returned to the stage to back up their brother in arms. Bob turned around to his bandmates and joking proclaimed, “Now we know who is the real revolutionaries” (a lyric line from the song “Zimbabwe”). As the music started up again, the people made their way back into the stadium. Bob spoke with some officials and announced that they had agreed to host a second concert the following evening as a means to help quell the rioting. The next night, Bob delivered on that promise and played a special show just for the people… over 100,000 of them.

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