Saturday, July 2 2022

“A white man on a horse” is how his family remembered Norval Sinclair Marley. That’s how Cedella described him in the biography she wrote about the couple’s late son, Bob, and how one of Bob Marley’s girlfriends later described the father her lover never had. never really known.

Norval was in his late 60s when Bob was born to 18-year-old Cedella Malcolm in 1945. Shrouded in mystery to this day, ‘the white man on a horse’ was born in England to a British father and a a mother apparently of Syrian Jewish descent. . He and Cedella separated when Bob was a baby, and Norval passed away when the future music icon was just 10, having barely had a relationship with him.

For much of his tragically short career, Bob Marley’s music was steeped in religious and spiritual messages, some more overt than others. They largely stemmed from his identification with Rastafarianism, a connection that exploded from the 1960s. Since then, his personality and music have been associated with the Jamaican movement focusing on themes of redemption, marijuana use and respect for Haile Selassie, the sometimes deified Emperor of Ethiopia considered a direct descendant of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. .

Haile Selassie (centre), with his son and daughter in London, 1930. Published in The Forward July 30, 1939; available through the National Library of Israel’s digital collection

Much of the movement’s symbology derives from stories and motifs found in Jewish tradition and particularly in the Hebrew Bible. Many of these themes and concepts were in turn reflected in Marley’s music, more the result of a mythical passage connecting ancient Judea to Ethiopia and Jamaica than the attenuated gateway connecting Bob to the elusive Jewish “white man on a horse”.

Perhaps the most overt connection to the Jewish canon in Marley’s musical catalog is the result of the reggae star’s personal exodus, after he was shot in 1976.

Even before Jamaica’s independence from the United Kingdom was granted to Jamaica in 1962, political violence was a reality, as the island’s two main political parties – the Jamaica Labor Party and the National Party of the people – were fighting at the ballot box and in the streets. While the Cold War was still raging, the 1976 elections were as contentious as ever, influenced by national and international interests. Bob Marley was already a world-famous celebrity – more famous and in some ways even more powerful than either of the prime minister candidates. Although he remained publicly apolitical, anyone familiar with Marley’s words might logically assume that he was supporting a candidate, left-leaning Michael Manley, of the People’s National Party, rather than his US-born rival, Edward Seaga. States, of the Jamaican Labor Party.

Naturally, both sides wanted to claim Marley as a supporter.

In late 1976, Bob agreed to perform in a concert aimed at easing simmering political tensions. Yet two days before the so-called Smile Jamaica concert, armed assailants raided Marley’s posh Kingston home during a rehearsal break. Marley’s wife, Rita, was shot in the head. Bob was also shot and injured, as was the band’s manager and an employee. Luckily everyone survived, but the Marleys were shaken and the world was shocked.

The concert took place with Rita appearing on stage in her hospital gown. According to Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Ultimate Illustrated History, at one point during the show, Bob rolled up his shirt sleeve, showed the crowd the wound on his arm and said, “Bang-bang – I’m fine.” He insisted that his participation in the concert was devoid of political motives, explaining: “I just wanted to play for the love of the people”.

Yet even Bob Marley’s love couldn’t go that far when he felt his life was in danger. After a brief getaway to the Bahamas, Bob left for England where he would soon be producing this Weather magazine considered the best album of the 20and century.

First conceptualized before arriving in the UK, work on “Exodus” was – coincidentally or not – completed around Passover and released a few months later in the spring of 1977.

Using “Jah” (the Rastafarian name for God) and “Babylon” (the Rastafarian term for exile), parts of the title track sound almost like a supplement to the Haggadah (and some certainly used them as such in the past). over the years):

We, the generation… have gone through great tribulations…

Exodus: movement of the people of Jah! Oh yeah!

… Send us another brother Moses!

… On the other side of the Red Sea!

More than the clear references to the Passover story, some of Marley’s lyrics also reflect very distinct Jewish teachings related to the Festival of Freedom.

A key Passover idea that goes back as far as the Mishnah, for example, teaches that “in each generation a person should see himself as if he had personally left Egypt.” We are asked to look at our own lives and decide how the story and its lessons are relevant to each of us. In the Mishnah, this command is directly linked to the biblical injunction for fathers to tell the story of the Exodus to their children.

Perhaps “the white man on a horse” never read the Haggadah to his son, but – like a sage of Yavne or a Hasidic master – in “Exodus”, Bob Marley blurs the lines between past, present and future, requiring a personal relationship. and universal reassessment of narrative and meaning:

Open your eyes and look inside:

Are you satisfied with the life you lead?

We know where we are going;

We know where we come from.

We are leaving Babylon, all of you!

We are going to our Father’s land.

Zack Rothbart is a writer and editor who manages global content and media relations at the National Library of Israel, where he co-edits The Librarians, an online publication devoted to Jewish history, heritage and culture, Israeli and Middle Eastern. He tries to learn something from everyone and lives in Jerusalem with his loving and nurturing family, for whom he is grateful.

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