US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Marley: The Original Soundtrack Bob Marley and the Wailers

By Danny Duncan Collum | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Marley: The Original Soundtrack
Bob Marley and the Wailers (Tuff Gong, 2012)

Bob Marley, who took reggae music from Jamaica to the world, is one of the pop culture saints of our age—on par with Elvis, Che Guevara, Malcolm X. Marley died of cancer at age 36 in 1981, but his image is better known today than it ever was in his lifetime. Now there is a documentary about Marley’s life (called simply, Marley) and this soundtrack compilation of live and studio recordings to introduce his work to yet another generation.

What most people probably know about Bob Marley is that he was a Rastafarian, a member of a Jamaican religious cult that considers pot-smoking a sort of sacrament. People who see the movie Marley will also learn that he had 11 children by seven different women.

But Marley was also, in other ways, a man of high principle. He grew up as one of Jamaica’s poor and was truly committed to justice for them and for all people of African descent. Street kids were welcome at his Kingston mansion, and in 1980, when Marley was offered the opportunity to perform at Zimbabwe’s independence celebration, he and his band went at Marley’s personal expense.

In these 24 tracks that span the length of Marley’s musical career, his genius as a vocalist and pop tunesmith is evident from the very beginning, as is his prophetic religious vision. One of his earliest hits, “Small Ax,” tweaks a prophecy of John the Baptist into a promise of social revolution as Marley sings, “You are the big tree, we are the small ax, ready to chop you down.”

In 1973 America’s premier rock critic, Robert Christgau, wrote of one of Marley’s albums that “half of these songs are worthy of St. John the Divine.” Listening to this whole collection can only confirm that judgment and extend it to the man’s entire career.

This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 7, page 42).