‘How many rivers do we have to cross,’ asked Robert Nesta Marley, ‘before we can talk to the boss?’ The king of reggae channelled a sense of righteous anger at colonial exploitation, and became an omnipotent symbol of peace and unity. And all before he was cut down in his prime…
Bob Marley performs live on stage with the Wailers in Voorburg, Holland in 1976 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

It starts with a bright stab of horns and eases into a deceptively lithe but naggingly insistent groove. Almost instantly the singer comes in, his easy, almost languorous, tones belying the manifesto-like call to arms of the lyrics:

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior

And another inferior

Is finally

And permanently


And abandoned

Everywhere is war –

Me say war

Bob Marley’s War, released in 1976, was addressed specifically to the liberation movements then proliferating in Africa under colonialism’s last gasp, calling out “the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique, South Africa… ” But its central message — “Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race… the dream of lasting peace… will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained” — remains depressingly relevant nearly half a century on, as institutional racism is challenged and the most basic message — that black lives matter — needs, yet again, to be hammered home.


Stuart Husband


September 2020


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