There’s a lot that we’ll never know about Bob Marley, a lot that we’ll never see, simply because he grew up and lived during a time when even the most creative people didn’t see the necessity of documenting themselves for posterity. It’s arguable that the world would be a richer place if Bob Marley had had an Instagram account or some similar outlet of constantly sharing his thoughts with the world; not everyone wants to constantly share their thoughts with the world, and nearly no-one’s thoughts are constantly worth sharing. (Though I imagine that an artist like Marley, who had a strong political message and an ambition to make change in the world, would have done really well as a Twitter activist.) However, it’s hard to argue that the world would, in fact, be at least a tiny bit richer if there were more – and higher quality – footage of Bob Marley and the Wailers in action. Their earliest days as a group were barely documented, and that would be fascinating to see. There must have been so many amazing performances that have been lost to memory, especially the ones that came before the worldwide fame. It’s not entirely a blank – enough shows were filmed for at least one full concert documentary, probably more. It’s enough to get a good idea of what a Bob Marley concert would have been like; it looks like fun, it looks like a powerful show to take in. We’ve just been spoiled by the technological and social advances that now allow artists to have an all-access relationship with their fans. We like all of that unfiltered oversharing. We just want to see our favorite artists doing what they do.
Like a transmission from a time machine. Takes you back to 1979, when Bob Marley was at his peak as an activist; so different yet so very much the same. One of Marley’s main concerns was, of course, the status of Black people in the new world; another was the struggle of many African nations to liberate themselves from European colonization. Though for most Americans ‘colonialism’ conjures up nothing more than vague images of The Jungle Book and Victorians in funny hats, in reality large parts of Africa remained under partial or full European rule well into the 1980’s, and the problems we so often hear about – poverty, civil unrest, environmental erosion, famine, disease, etc – are a direct result of colonial damage. In the 70’s, Bob Marley and many activists dreamed of pan-African solidarity and unification, black people coming together to build new, strong and vibrant communities independent of European oppression. It was a nice fantasy, but wholly unrealistic, failing to take into account the amount of damage that had been done to indigenous cultures and communities. It was also naive on the part of New Worlders; Africa is huge and vastly diverse, and Africans don’t necessarily see themselves as being in solidarity just because they’re all black to European and American eyes. It was a bitter disappointment of those dreams when, as the tide of colonialism swept out, many states fell into bloody ethnic and religious disputes, their recent history marred by civil war and all-out genocide. On the global stage, African leaders have to deal with being treated like the special-needs kid on the playground, subject of condescension and sympathy mixed with revulsion. Back home in the new world, black lives are trash, just like they’ve always been. Yes, there’s a liberation movement, stronger and louder than it’s been in decades, but it’s got a ‘here-we-go-again’ bitterness to it, with little of the idealistic rhetoric that marked Bob Marley’s brand of activism. When Bob Marley urged the oppressed to get up and stand up, there was a faith that real and lasting equality – for Black people, for the poor, for women – was imminently within reach; now we’re all just fighting to keep from sliding three steps back.