By Natalia Bonilla
SAN JUAN – Bob Marley’s image in his homeland contrasts from the common international view of the late singer and musician as the epitome of reggae, Rastafarianism, marijuana and even Jamaica itself.
“Whereas many foreigners think Bob Marley is above everybody else, in Jamaica he is seen as equal to other artists,” Ray Hitchins, a lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of West Indies, told Efe.
“Celebrities are not put on a pedestal here like in other places of the world,” he said, while adding that Jamaicans are aware of how much the island’s tourism and economy has benefited from their country’s most famous son, who would be 70 on Friday.
In Jamaica, Marley shared the spotlight with many other reggae stars, such as Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt and Peter Tosh, who was Bob’s bandmate in The Wailers before embarking on a solo career.
The world discovered Marley thanks to the vision of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who introduced Bob’s persona and songs to international markets.
“One of the major attractions of the Bob Marley’s history is who he is, where he comes from and how he reached people,” Hitchins said, referring to the singer’s humble origins.
Hitchins, an expert in ethnomusicology, emphasized that with their 1972, Blackwell-produced album “Catch a Fire,” Marley and the Wailers gained international recognition by addressing political themes that challenged the status quo.
“He was politically conscious. He was ahead of his time,” Hitchins said, noting that Marley ventured to question white supremacy just a decade after Jamaica independence from the United Kingdom.
In fact, Marley was one of the first reggae artists to publicly acknowledge that he was a follower of Rastafarianism, a faith that venerates Ethiopia as the biblical Zion and promotes black repatriation to Africa.
Though his Rasta identity was not entirely a plus in Jamaica, where Rastafarians then faced discrimination, it added to his mystique internationally.
Marley, according to Hitchins, is more famous now than before his death from cancer in 1981, due in large part to the systematic marketing – promoted by his own family – of his image and brand to the point of making it a “synonym for Jamaica.”
The sale of T-shirts, albums, coffee and even cannabis under the brand of Bob Marley indicate that the reggae icon’s popularity will only increase, Hitchins said.
“His legacy is not complete. His influence continues to grow and expand. It has not met its full potential,” he said.