The Day when the news broke that the King of Reggae, Robert Nesta Marley had passed is a day I will never forget. The 11th of May 1981, I remember that the sun was out that morning, we were travelling to school while driving passed another school. Right before the news broke I saw children playing and remembering wishing to myself that I could be playing with my friends. At that moment began one of my earliest memories of the country of Jamaica having a collective moment, emotion and spirit. The day became very heavy, steeped with hard felt loss.
This was long before I would be exposed to various perspectives of Marley’s life through the writings of people like Malika Lee Whitney, Dermot Hussey and Roger Steffens. These writings showed the history of the Wailers, the evolution and impact of their music, the nuances of Marley, and specifically the far-reaching international effect of the music that was made in Jamaica. Even the film characterization by Will Smith of the life of the King in the movie “Legend” (named after the album, with the main character being named Robert).
I remember feeling cheated since my mother forbade me from going to the very famous One Love Peace Concert in 1978 (a very sensible decision since at that point I had not even seen my tenth birthday yet). There was definitely a uniform feeling of loss and recognition that we Jamaicans had lost someone extremely amazing, powerful, prophetic and most importantly, who was ours.
There was confusion and true disappointment, there was a general consensus that Marley was going to get well, going to beat the cancer, probably come back even stronger and more powerful than before. Alas that was not to be. The day though was filled with memories of my favourite moments that I had accumulated so far in my short life. I was too young to articulate it then, but there was the beginning of the understanding that I had been exposed to a very special period of Jamaican and Reggae music. A period I would later hear called the golden era.
Yes I remember the day we lost a King, one of Jamaica’s greatest sons, probably Reggae’s greatest. I will never forget that day, but it will not be as powerful as the memory of the King’s music, performances and impact.
Below is a video of part of that One Love Peace Concert.