For most of his career, as he gradually carved out an international name of worth, Marley was almost a nobody in his native Jamaica, while the Rastafari movement of which he was part has always remained marginal (less than 1% of Jamaica's population).
In 1974, the American guitarist Al Anderson joined Marley's group The Wailers. He remembers his first gig:
"My first gig with The Wailers had been at the National Arena in Kingston, and nobody clapped. There were like 200 people there. Nobody was interested in Bob Marley at that time."
He also remembers that Marley had absolutely no money, although by that time he was already entering the latter part of his career.
"Bob Marley had nothing going for him at that time - he couldn't even afford to give me something to eat. I ate nothing for months and slept on the floor of Hope Road for six months to be part of the Wailers."
Marley's career has similarities with that of Barack Obama. Whiter than the average Jamaican, he was at first instinctively disliked by ordinary Jamaicans for his comparative Whiteness, his Rastafarianism, and the "inauthentic" nature of his music, which differed from the more popular Jamaican styles. They also didn't care much for his dabbling in politics. In 1976 he was shot and wounded, and driven into self-imposed exile in England.
However, after Marley started to appeal to Whites and became an international superstar with 1977's Exodus album, then, as with Obama, there was a sudden sea change amongst Jamaicans.
The realization dawned that the singer had become the international symbol of "Jamaican cool," thanks to endorsements by White megastars like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, and impressive sales. Then suddenly he became "Our Bob" and symbol of the nation.
Jamaicans realized that playing up the Marley angle by wearing dreads and talking about "herb" and "Jah" would not only go down well with tipping tourists and impressionable White girls, but it would also help to project Jamaican cultural prestige. The Jamaican love for Marley is, at its heart, essentially insincere. It is simply the love of suckering Whites.
The Revenge of Riff Raff
13th October, 2013