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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 10:48 GMT
The enduring legend of Marley
Bob Marley
Bob Marley has been a cultural icon since his premature death
The month of musical celebrations taking place in Ethiopia in honour of late reggae legend Bob Marley proves the power of his influence more than two decades after his death.

The Jamaican musician would have turned 60 on 6 February, but his premature death from cancer in 1981 leaves his iconic image frozen in time.

Marley and his group The Wailers originally formed in 1963, spending the early phase of their career scoring a string of hits in Jamaica under the tutelage of producer Coxsone Dodd.

Marley did not always perform lead vocals on songs that initially touched a variety of musical styles.

Musical legacy

He spent the summer of 1969 working at a car factory in the US as wider success proved elusive, but what followed was the key to their musical legacy.

They worked with producer Lee Perry, who recognised their rebel qualities and helped fuse the sound which was to become well-known around the world during the 1970s.

A deal with Island Records propelled Marley and The Wailers onto the international stage, a first for a Jamaican group.

Bob Marley
In terms of influence, Marley clearly remains the template for much old school reggae
Music writer Ian Gittins

A new-line up was formed in 1974 along with female backing trio the I-Threes, including Marley's wife Rita, which was a musical force to be reckoned with until his death.

Exodus (1977) and Kaya (1978) were landmark albums and commercial hits - and by 1981, Island Records estimated Marley's worldwide sales stood at $190 million (100 million).

He has gone on to sell more records since his death, with 1984 compilation album Legend providing Marley's only UK chart-topper.

Music writer Ian Gittins says that Marley is "the ultimate icon of reggae" and "seemingly untouchable in his field", but is unsure that his musical legacy can last.

"In terms of influence, Marley clearly remains the template for much old school reggae.

"But times have changed," he says. "Most dancehall music now acknowledges hip-hop, R&B and funk in a mixed-up, vibrant cultural melange.

"Although it's not a bad thing, Marley's music can sound dated and even quaint," adds Mr Gittins.


From his position of prominence, Marley acted as a peacemaker and champion of Africa during his life.

He played the One Love concert in the Jamaican capital in 1978, bringing together on stage the leaders of the country's bitterly divided political factions.

Bob Marley
Bob Marley acted as a peacemaker in his native Jamaica

The Wailers' album Survival (1979) was very well received in Africa and the band played a concert in Zimbabwe to celebrate the newly-independent country's freedom.

However, Dan Asher - who photographed Marley at his peak in the late 1970s - says the late singer should not be regarded as a "Jamaican prophet".

"I don't look at Bob Marley as a deep thinker. He was a populariser. In the 60s people believed they could foment social change."

Mr Asher believes that Marley's songs have a "universal message" of unity and peace which lives on - but may never be realised.

"At the moment not even one country is united. Unity sounds like a really good ideal, but I don't think we should put much store by it," he says.

But the celebrations in Ethiopia show that Marley is a cultural figure who still lives on in the minds of his followers and music fans alike.

See scenes from celebrations in Ethiopia and Jamaica


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