Jah Guide The Message East, 1979

Music and curation courtesy of Dubwise Garage

Did you know

that Japan is currently one of the top Reggae markets in the world? With its annual Japansplash Reggae Festival – bringing in over 50,000 people each year – and thriving club scene, Japan is truly feeling the Rastaman vibration. It wasn’t always that way, however. In fact, only one international Reggae act – The Pioneers – had ever made its way to the hemisphere before Bob Marley & The Wailers took their first and only journey East in April of 1979.

Bob Marley & Wailers in Tokyo

Bob Marley & The Wailers arrive at the Tokyo Airport in early April

The tour was part of a larger play by Island Records to popularize Reggae in Asia and Oceania, as well as to promote Marley and his most recent Babylon By Bus live album, which had been recorded during the European leg of the 1978 Kaya Tour and released in November of that year. Most of the tracks were from the band’s three-night run at the Pavillion de Paris in France on July 25-27, 1978. Other tracks were recorded by Island’s Mobile Studio during their performances at the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark (July 1, 1978), Stafford Bingley Hall, Stafford, UK (June 22, 1978), and Ahoy Hallen, Rotterdam (July 7, 1978).

Babylon By Bus album cover

Babylon By Bus album cover (Island Records, 1978)

The cover art was a throwback to the novelty limited “Zippo” pressings of the 1973 Catch A Fire album. Designed by Neville Garrick, the windows of the bus on the front cover were cut out, revealing part of the inner sleeve. By rotating the orientation each sleeve went into the case, fans could choose from four different scenes to view through the windows. Fun Fact: the album’s title, Babylon By Bus, was taken from the title of a review of Marley’s performance at Stafford’s Bingley Hall in ’78 by journalist Penny Reel, which appeared in the New Musical Express. At the time Marley was one of the biggest live acts in the world, but the double-album charted in the Top 40 for a little more than two months— the worst chart placing for Bob since the release of Natty Dread three years earlier. Although recorded during a peak period in the band’s touring legacy, some say that due to the “on the fly” mixing at Criteria Studios done without input from the group, the final result felt detached from the cohesiveness and raw power and energy that made 1975’s Live! album such a phenomenal success.

Bob Marley visits Japan (April 5-13, 1979)
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The tour, on the other hand, did live up to the hype. And there was plenty of hype. In fact, coming into Japan was really The Wailers first experience dealing with a paparazzi & fan flooded mob scene right as they’d gotten off the plane. Unlike most European and US tours where promoters would hold a press conference at a hotel ballroom, here in Tokyo it was held right at the airport. And fan fare aside, the band played six sold-out shows in the capital city, followed by two more in Osaka. And at every show, every audience member knew every line to every song…

Live shots of Bob Marley in Tokyo (April 5-10, 1979)
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As Neville Garrick notes in our conversation with him about the tour though (see audio below), it was surprising for them to learn after the concerts that very few of the people actually spoke English. Because of that, Bob and the band were unsure as to how much of the message was actually getting across. But, some of the hardcore fans who planned to meet the band brought friends to help translate their conversations. From these exchanges it was learned that, because the lyrics were printed on the album packaging, many of them did in fact understand the meanings to the songs, and such studies were actually one of the ways in which the people attempted to learn English. Other anecdotes from our conversation with Neville include the band’s trip to the Yamaha factory in Osaka, and the story behind the band bringing herb into the country in the face of a strict no-tolerance drug policy that landed Paul McCartney in a Japanese prison only months prior.

Live shots of Bob in Osaka (April 11 & 13, 1979)
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Overall the run was a smash success, and many credit the trip as being the single most influential driver of what would become Japan’s now-thriving Reggae music scene. Pushing on, The Wailers head down to New Zealand for a show at Western Springs in Auckland on April 16th. Here again they arrive to a ceremonious greeting, with the local Māori tribe of the area putting on a special show to celebrate the visit. Bob thoroughly enjoys his time listening to and talking with the people, but is disheartened to learn that the aborigine communities in the region – much like the Rastas of Jamaica – are treated like second-class citizens by those in power. Nevertheless, the trip is a successful one, and from it we are blessed with some amazing photos along with one of Bob’s most well known television interviews.

Bob Marley & The Wailers visit New Zealand (April 16, 1979)
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Bob Marley is interviewed by Dylan Taite in Aotearoa, New Zealand

From here, the band heads down to Australia for nine shows across the island, making stops in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Yet again, all of the shows sell out (or just about), and The Wailers actually end up routing back to Melbourne at the end of the run for a third performance, because too many people couldn’t get into their initial two gigs.

Bob Marley & The Wailers tour Australia (April 18 – May 1, 1979)
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Rounding out the tour, Bob & The Wailers play two more shows in Hawaii. On May 5th they perform in Maui at the Lahaini Civic Center, and the next day they head to The Big Island for a gig at the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu. The shows were very well received, everyone enjoyed their time there, and it is noted that on this trip the band gets some of the finest herb – aptly named “Maui Wowie” – they have ever smoked.

Bob Marley & The Wailers live in Hawaii (May 5 & 6, 1979)
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In the end, we chose to feature the Babylon By Bus tour on our monthly blog series – in lieu of other very important events in April like The Wailers performance at the Zimbabwe Independence Coronation, and the infamous One Love Peace Concert – because we think it’s a paramount-yet-overlooked example of Bob’s true influence across the globe. This tour was as important for Reggae at large as it was for the band. These were places where Reggae was just something you had heard about on the radio or from a friend at your local record store. After the tour, however, true fan bases were developed, and the doors were opened for other Reggae artists to come and perform in these cities. Very few musical acts in history – very few people even – can claim to have had this much of an impact on an entire region of the globe. But Bob Marley & The Wailers aren’t just any band… they are Rastamen, and Jah guide them on a mission to spread His message until it reaches all those who are supposed to hear it.

Story by Zach Weinberg and Michael Watson (of midnightraverblog.com)
Music from Dubwise Garage (bobmarleyconcerts.com)
Photo Curation by Manu Morales
Photographers unknown (email us if you have any info)
Archival materials thanks to the Marley family, Midnight Raver, Manu Morales & Neville Garrick

The Neville Tapes

In an exclusive and never-before-heard interview with Neville Garrick – Bob’s art director and former director of the Bob Marley Foundation in Jamaica – we hear his first-hand account of the tour!

The Archives

Original Japanese Tour Program

Japanese Tour Poster

Japan Tour Poster 1979

Footage of Bob in New Zealand

“Lively Up Yourself” live in New Zealand

The Wailers are featured in a New Zealand TV Segment, “Come A Long Way”

Bob talks with host Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum of Australian TV program, Countdown

Tour Program for Australia and Hawaii

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Two reviews of Bob’s concerts in Sydney

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Concert tickets and backstage passes

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Bob Marley

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