“Three Little Birds.”
It’s the only song seemingly everyone knows and sings without protest: “Don’t worry… about a thing …‘cuz every little thing is gonna be alright.”
This theme of universality has almost deified reggae rock legend Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley. And in Miami, the impact of Bob Marley’s music and lifestyle is as complex as the musician.
This weekend the Bob Marley, Messenger exhibit begins its transient stop at HistoryMiami before it settles at the Bob Marley Museum in the artist’s homeland Jamaica. The exhibit debuted at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on May 11, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the reggae ambassador’s untimely death from cancer at the age of 36.
The display includes rare on and offstage photographs, Marley’s famous Gibson Les Paul guitar, his bible, concert posters, backstage passes, tour books, an interactive drumming station and more. There is also a South Florida video supplement that includes local reggae band Jahfe, Miami artist TREK6, who created a Bob Marley mural, former Coral Springs Mayor Roy Gold, author and playwright Geoffrey Philp, and Lorna Owens, the Registered Nurse who cared for Bob Marley while he was at Cedars of Lebanon (now University of Miami Hospital).
“The exhibit came about because Ziggy did a children’s program for us and when it was done, he said he had photos that no one had seen of his dad and wondered if we would consider doing a photo exhibit,” said Kait Stuebner, The Grammy Museum’s Co-Curator of the Bob Marley, Messenger exhibit. “We decided to do a full exhibit, working closely with the family who were the other curation team on the project.”
HistoryMiami’s Chief Curator Dr. Joanne Hyppolite heard about the exhibit during an unrelated meeting with The Grammy Museum’s Executive Director Bob Santelli.
“As soon as I heard they were developing the Marley exhibit I started lobbying for it,” emailed Hyppolite. “I also went to the L.A. opening to see it for myself and knew then that we had to have it. We decided we wanted to make a South Florida connection to Marley in the exhibition and that's how we came up with the idea of adding a video testimony.”
Bob Marley’s story mirrors the lives of many South Florida immigrants whose homelands are ravaged by poverty and political oppression. He spent part of his life creating music in Jamaica’s Trench Town, a Kingston enclave where squalor and social resistance birthed a musical genre for ghetto people worldwide (reggae).
“When I went to Bob’s rehearsals in North Miami, the man was all business,” said Earl Marks Sr. also known as Burning Spear, a deejay from Hanover, Jamaica, who spun throughout South Florida between 1975 and 1985. “Not even his wife Rita could make a joke when he was ready to work.”
With almost 50 million Facebook fans, Bob Marley still casts a spell on the world with his duppy (ghost) conquering odes to global unity, spiritual empowerment, ganja (marijuana) smoking and lovemaking. As a child who was labeled a half-caste and often alienated for being the son of a teenage, black Jamaican mother and an old, white British captain, his messages transcend race and class.
“I am always touched by the fans who were at tragic points when they considered harming themselves or others and dad's music brought them out of those dark places,” emailed Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley who headlines a Jamaican storytelling session at the museum in November.
Bob Marley found his identity in the Rastafarian faith, a movement that grew in 1930s Jamaica as a reaction to the socioeconomic injustices that disenfranchised poor Jamaicans. Bob Marley’s musical evangelism was defined by his faith, so he played an instrumental role in bringing the Rasta creed to the world.
Rastafarians (or Rastas) believe that the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I (also called Jah Rastafari) is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. They advocate self-reliance and resistance to any group that encroaches on human rights. The Rastafarian lifestyle is based on Old Testament principles that include a strict vegan diet and not altering one’s body or cutting one’s hair, resulting in the growth of long, banded, roped tresses called dreadlocks. Rastas smoke ganja as a sacramental rite that puts one in a holy, happy state.
You can see the diverse impact of Bob Marley’s message in Miami where he rehearsed at Criteria Studios (now The Hit Factory Criteria Recording Studios) in North Miami and performed his 1978 concert at Jai Alai Fronton. On the city’s east side in areas like South Beach, the artist’s one love, one heart mantra is a post-Woodstock anthem for middle to upper class boho-Rastas who smoke platinum ganja, sip Evian and sport T-shirts, bikinis and beaded bracelets baring Bob Marley’s image.
“I have a problem with the way Bob Marley has been commodified,” said Dr. Derrick Scott, a Rasta and Professor of Global Socio-Cultural Studies at Florida International University. “He just represents smoking weed and being happy. It’s like Martin Luther King just represents getting along, but that’s not really what their message was. ‘One Love’ is a popular song, but what Bob mostly talks about is the struggle for freedom from oppressive governments.”
On Miami’s west side, there’s a dreadlock renaissance happening in Overtown, Liberty City, Opa Locka, Carol City, and Miami Gardens where like Trench Town, violence and music live in a dissonant harmony. Trick Daddy, Rick Ross and many of Miami’s most successful rappers come from this side of town. Songs like “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “WAR, and “Who Feels It Knows It” explore subjects that mirror the social disparities that have absorbed many Black and Mild–toting drifters who smoke weed and wear Rasta fatigues and Bob Marley T-shirts purchased at local indoor flea markets.
“When you live in an American ghetto, it’s so easy to relate to the sounds of what is happening in Jamaica,” said Scott. “As much as Bob’s music is beautiful and peaceful, it’s ghetto music.”