Bob Marley was not political – Right?

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18 Karat Reggae Gold 2021 : ONENESS
18 Karat Reggae Gold 2021 : ONENESS
Bob Marley and Michael Manley
Bob Marley and Michael Manley

By David Cupples. Author of Stir It Up novel.

Bob Marley has stated very clearly that he was not political and indeed would never even think in political terms. He felt beholden, at the deepest level, to the law of Jah and not the law of man. What does this mean?

The casual observer might conclude that Marley was a religious hermit, a recluse given over to a regimen of Ital food, ganja, women and music. Playing football all the day. Sitting on a beach in Bull Bay or Negril in a marijuana haze between Wailers tours and watching the world go by. If Jah is all, who cares what happens on a worldly level? And all Marley’s musical rants against “Babylon” and “the System” were nothing more than ivory tower philosophical musing.

Most reggae fans will recognize this picture as false. In 1970s Jamaica, with tribal war raging in the streets, Bob had to be apolitical. Showing overt favoritism for JLP or PNP would have been suicidal; as it was, even with professing his neutrality day in and day out, he ended up getting shot. Beyond that, it seems clear that Bob despised the cronyism and ineffectualness of Jamaican politics of the time. With all the petty partisanship, progress never seemed to be made. “Nothing change, nothing strange,” he sang. He definitely was fed up.

This picture, though, demands elaboration. During Michael Manley’s first term as prime minister (1972 – 1976) significant advances were achieved. As far as there was to go in a newly-independent, dirt poor “Third World” country like Jamaica (independent only since 1962) change could not come fast enough to ease the suffering of the people. If you’re in pain, incremental change doesn’t do it for you. But among his base Manley was wildly popular and many thanked their lucky stars that he was standing up for them and working to ease their plight.

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The CIA destabilization program against the Manley administration took a serious toll and by Manley’s second term his programs were in serious trouble. The advances achieved early on were torpedoed and with Manley forced by imminent bankruptcy of the economy having to go against his entire soul and being and take IMF and World Bank loans, the country began a long slide from which it has not recovered.

Nevertheless, true reggae fans will understand that while Bob had no stomach for politics he wasn’t ignorant of policy. Bob Marley was no ivory tower revolutionary. Political decisions and actions have real implications for the lives of people. In his heart, did Bob resonate more strongly with Michael Manley’s platform than Edward Seaga’s? There would seem little doubt that this was true. Harvard-educated Seaga – the United States’ man in Jamaica – clearly represented the Babylon status quo while Manley stood for the “eyes on the prize” advancement of black peoples.

In America, elections to political office have far greater significance for the world at large than the elections of a tiny Caribbean island back in the 1970s. Had not the CIA and high-level US antipathy toward Jamaica not sabotaged his administration, Michael Manley may have achieved great things for his people. In America today there is a candidate who is almost a mirror image of Manley, bucking mainstream intransigence, corruption, propaganda and paranoia in a bold drive to improve the lives of the people, a man whose political platforms and policies are identified by the same moniker as Manley’s: democratic socialism.

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It would be a misunderstanding of the life and heart of Bob Marley and a serious error in judgment, I believe, for Americans, whether Rasta, African-American, white Bob Marley super fan or anyone else to over-interpret Bob’s repugnance of Jamaican politics in the 1970s as a reason not to vote. Bob hated politics as practiced, not policy. I write in Stir It Up, my novel of CIA machinations against Manley and Marley in 1970s Jamaica, that had Michael Manley been supported rather than undermined by the US, he may have literally changed the world – for the better. Today, in the heart of Babylon, this hope has been resurrected. There is in America today a clear choice against the status quo of white privilege and supremacy and oppression of people of color. This choice is a man, not a woman. I for one will not miss this opportunity to be a part of this drive toward a better world. Brethren and sistren, please follow suit.

David Cupples is the author of Stir It Up: The CIA Targets Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Progressive Manley Government, a novel (video trailer: Contact David at: — —



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