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Marley’s throne still empty


BOB Marley’s death on May 11, 1981 robbed reggae music of its king. The search was on for his successor. But who?

At the time, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, his former colleagues in The Wailers, were at different phases in their careers. Tosh was preparing to promote his Wanted Dread An’ Alive album on Rolling Stones Records, while Wailer was enjoying a new lease on life in Jamaica with hit songs like Crucial.

Respected Marley archivist, Roger Steffens, said neither was prepared to take over Marley’s lofty mantle.

“They tried, Peter certainly did. Bunny was still absent from the stage and that didn’t change until 1986. Peter was ready to take over but lost a lot of fans when he didn’t express any great sympathy for Bob’s passing,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

There were other contenders – Jimmy Cliff, who found international fame before Marley; Burning Spear, Toots Hibbert and Dennis Brown. But the albums each artiste recorded at the time were way off the level of Survival and Uprising, Marley’s last albums for Island Records.

While emerging acts like Black Uhuru kept the roots-reggae banner flying, a bawdy sound called dancehall was catching on among youth in Jamaica, as well as Diaspora pockets in New York City and London.

The void created by Marley’s death, Steffens stated, resulted in declining standards.

“We can see in the aftermath [of his death] exactly how important his presence was. The biggest star to emerge was Yellowman, who was the moral opposite of Bob Marley,” the American historian noted.

Yellowman dominated Jamaican music charts in the early 1980s. His remarkable feats not only sparked a rise in deejays but also caught the attention of the major Columbia Records which signed him.

By the mid-1980s, roots-reggae was considered old-hat. Late that decade a new wave of dancehall acts were on the horizon, the best-known being Ninjaman and Shabba Ranks.

Their flair was embraced by the growing hip hop nation, and most of the top dancehall artistes were signed to a major American record company at the close of the 1990s.

Using Elvis Presley and The Beatles as examples, Roger Steffens believes it is senseless looking for another Bob Marley.

“I think Cat Coore summed it up the best when he said, ‘Everyone is judged on a scale of one to Bob Marley.’ He was just one of a kind.”

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