Marley must be turning in his grave

Fred Zindi Music

Bob Nesta Marley died on May 11 1981, a year after Zimbabwe celebrated its independence. He is one man who tried hard to change the world through his beliefs, values and musical teachings of peace, love and harmony

A lot of today’s musical youths no longer follow his teachings as depicted in songs such as “One Love”, “Get Up, Stand Up”, “Redemption Song” and “Blackman Redemption”.

He came here to express solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. For the benefit of today’s youths, this article captures the historical events of that independence night.

It is early afternoon on Wednesday, April 16, 1980. Bob Marley, with his entire crew, arrives at Salisbury Airport (now Harare) in Zimbabwe. The airport, unused to so much business after 15 years of international isolation due to sanctions imposed on Rhodesia as a result of Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), is in some confusion although the British South Africa Police, as they are still unfortunately named, stand by and watch with bemused smiles. It has been a long journey, for Bob Marley and the Wailers starting from Kingston, Jamaica, the previous Sunday.

The first contact between the new Zimbabwe Government and Bob Marley had come in March. It was simply, an invitation for Bob Marley to attend the country’s Independence celebrations. The intention was not for him to perform, so the invitation was just for him and wife. However, Bob Marley, being the revolutionary he had become, wrote a song entitled “Zimbabwe” just before Zimbabwe celebrated its Independence in 1980. He insisted that his whole band should be invited too and would give a performance at the celebrations.

Chris Blackwell, his manager at the time, was against this tour, but Marley who had been following events in Zimbabwe decided he would go. He hired a public address system in London and paid for its freight to Zimbabwe at his own expense.

It was almost inevitable that a man so identified with the struggles against class and racial oppression should be invited to perform at the celebrations of the birth of a new nation, Zimbabwe.

During the years of Chimurenga, Bob Marley’s music had been adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front; indeed, there were stories of ZANLA troops playing Marley cassettes in the bush. Thus he was the only outside artiste asked to participate in Zimbabwe’s Independence celebrations.

In the weeks following the initial invitation the idea grew that, maybe, Bob Marley and the Wailers could actually perform at the celebrations. The Zimbabwe Government put negotiations in the hands of Job Kadengu and Gordon Muchanyuka, two African businessmen with heavy ZANU-PF credentials at the time.

The weekend before the Independence ceremony, Muchanyuka flew to Kingston, Jamaica, for discussions with Marley. By the Sunday it was agreed that Bob Marley and the Wailers would be an official part of the Independence ceremony.

By midday, April 17, downtown Salisbury is transformed into one enormous freebie. The trucks park at the road junctions, making traffic conditions even more impossible; the official LONG LIVE COMRADE MUGABE paper sun-hats are distributed to the grasping crowds, clutching expectantly to the sides of the lorries.

Uptown Salisbury, at the Monomotapa Hotel (now Crowne Plaza), the world’s Press congregate. At the beginning of the year no Africans were allowed past the door of this hotel unless accompanied by a collar and tie. Now the white Rhodesians, as they still insist they are, merely bitch about the “inevitable decline” in standards since Mugabe came to power.

At Rufaro Stadium, Zimbabwe Television (ZBCTV) is finding its best camera positions while the seating arrangements for the world’s dignitaries are decided. To one side of the stadium a construction crew complete work on a massive stage. This is for Bob Marley and the Wailers. Now, “massive”, of course, is a relative word. It’s the kind of stage accepted as par for the course at most European rock festivals. In Zimbabwe, it’s one of the greatest concert construction jobs ever seen and it’s been built in something like six hours. The country had never seen such massive musical equipment before. Heaps and heaps of speakers similar to those displayed during Woodstock Festival are in Rufaro Stadium.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, plus cooks and children including Ziggy Marley, departed from Jamaica for London on the Sunday evening.

By the time the band had arrived, a chartered Boeing 707 was on its way from London to Salisbury with 21 tonnes of equipment; a full 35-thousand watt public address system plus backline equipment. It was one of the most extraordinary logistics operations. Mick Cater, from Alec Leslie Entertainments, flew down with the equipment and then set himself the problem of building a stage in time for the Independence celebrations.

By Wednesday, when the 12-strong road crew had arrived in Zimbabwe, he had six hours in which to construct the stage and find sufficient power for the system. By the time the Independence ceremony had started, the stage was ready. At the invitation of Thomson Kachingwe, who was running the joint, Bob Marley and the Wailers found themselves at Job’s Night Club, in down town Salisbury. Marley had previously met Job Kadengu during the negotiations to perform in Zimbabwe. Job also owned Skyline Motel. They had spent the previous night with the guerrillas at Skyline Motel outside of town since all hotel space in Salisbury had long been taken by the Government official guests and, of course, by the media. The next day, Bob Marley even had time to visit Mutoko where he witnessed first-hand the ganja planters. True to his Rastafarian beliefs, he sampled some. He justified to onlookers why Rastas wore dreadlocks and smoked ganja. According to Bob Marley, ganja is a gateway to understanding. It opens up the mind so as to be cognisant of the connection between oneself and Jah. It is a meditative tool meant to bring about self-realisation and mystical experiences. What it is not about is getting “stoned”. Rastas therefore take ganja for both meditative and medicinal reasons. They do not touch drugs such as cocaine or heroin as that is seen as being irresponsible about one’s body.

At 8:30pm, the Wailers leave for Rufaro Stadium, working their way backstage. The ceremony has already started, with eager young black and white school kids going through gymnastics routines. At 10pm Bob Marley and the Wailers are introduced.

It’s a poignant moment Bob Marley takes a celebratory stance at front of stage, calling out “Viva Zimbabwe”, and each time eliciting a greater response from the audience. It is a moment pregnant with possibilities. Rastafari in our father’s land. A realisation of the inherent unity in black culture, as emotional for the audience as it is for the band. Homecoming.

The band’s mixing desk is located halfway down the side of the stadium. The concert starts at 10pm, and Zimbabwe responds to Bob Marley and the Wailers. The people have left their seats in the grandstands, finding room to dance and, well, simply express themselves. It is, indeed, an extraordinary night.

Even though the majority of the audience speak Shona and the cries of “Jah Rastafari” find no response as this language is still new to the people. Indeed, the Haile Selassie backdrop behind the band mystifies at least one person. This is a night of some great significance and enjoyment, undiminished by the police action some 10 minutes into the set when the acid stench of teargas wafts across the stage.

The police, worried by a unit of ZANLA troops demanding to be allowed into the stadium, set off a teargas canister. The audience run hysterically, while the band stops playing. A moment of chaos resolved when the ZANLA guerillas are allowed in. They run to the side of the stage, acknowledging Bob Marley and the Wailers. The show continues with “War/No More Trouble”, “Chant Down Babylon”, “Blackman Redemption”, “Get Up, Stand Up (for Your Rights)”, and of course, “Zimbabwe”.

Bob Marley and the Wailers are on stage for half an hour. It’s one of the shortest sets the band has ever played but, of course, they are not in Zimbabwe as part of some commercial enterprise. Tonight Bob Marley and the Wailers have expressed a potent solidarity with the Zimbabwe struggle. I wonder what he would think of Zimbabwe now?

Natty dread it inna Zimbabwe

Set it up inna Zimbabwe

Mash it up inna Zimbabwe

Africans a liberate Zimbabwe

No more internal power struggle

We come together, to overcome

The little trouble

Soon we will find out

Who is the real revolutionary

Brother you’re right, you’re right

You’re right, you’re you’re so right

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