Music Legend Bob Marley in Rare Photos
(This is not an exact transcription of the video, but is the article as published on the VOA website.)
Many people credit Marley for introducing Jamaican-born reggae to a U.S. and worldwide audience in the 1960s and ’70s. His compilation album, Legend, which was released posthumously in 1984, remains the best-selling reggae album of all time, with sales of more than 20 million copies.
American photographer David Burnett admits he had never heard of Marley when TIME Magazine sent him on assignment to Jamaica in 1976 to shoot a story on reggae music.
“I had no idea who Bob Marley or what reggae was, pretty much, when I went to Jamaica. By the time I left, I think I had a pretty good idea that we were on to something,” he says.
Burnett ended up spending an entire afternoon with Marley, photographing him at his home in Kingston, Jamaica.
“Half an hour into our little discussion with him, I was really touched by what I understood to be a very intelligent guy sitting here talking with us.”
Burnett says he thought Marley really “had something to say” and that he wasn’t “just another rock ‘n roll musician.”
Marley’s music explored the themes of love and personal liberation, social injustice and patriotism -- all ideas rooted in his Rastafari beliefs.
Burnett says Marley was somebody who was both very simple in the way he expressed his very fundamental beliefs and yet very complex.
“He was able to express things in a way that everybody can understand,” Burnett says.
Following his afternoon photo session with Marley in Kingston, Jamaica, Burnett was invited to join the artist and his band, Bob Marley and The Wailers, on tour in Europe in the spring of 1977.
Burnett says seeing the power of the band in concert was quite an experience.
“Once he got into singing, I think there was an inner part of him which lit up, and he was someone to behold on stage. I look at some of the pictures from the concerts. I see something there that’s pretty powerful and pretty strong.”
Years after that afternoon with Marley in Jamaica and on the band’s European concert tour a year later, Burnett published the photographs in a new book and photo exhibit, called Soul Rebel: An Intimate Portrait of Bob Marley.
Chris Murray is the founder and director of Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C., where Burnett’s photographs of Marley are displayed. He is the curator of the exhibit and also wrote the introduction to the book.
“David walked in here one day with the photos, and when I saw them I was literally knocked back because I was looking at what I consider to be among the greatest photos ever taken of Bob Marley,” he says.
Murray says there is one photograph from the collection of which he is particularly fond.
“The way Bob is dancing with one foot in the air and his guitar and his dreadlocks flying in the air -- it just gives a little bit of indication of how much power, how much spirit, how much intensity he gave in his performances, and I love that photo for that reason…”
David Burnett also had a favorite.
“You see these incredibly elegant hands, and then when you know about the kind of difficult life that he had as a kid growing up in Jamaica, there’s kind of a contrast there of those porcelain, beautiful fingers -- these beautiful hands -- and the tough life that he’d gone through, and out of it comes this amazing, poetic music.”
Burnett believes that Bob Marley used his music not simply as a means for promoting love and peace, but also as a way of reaching out to people.
“We found a wonderful quote in which he said, ‘My music will live forever,’ and he didn’t say it in a boastful way, but I think he understood that there was a certain power in the music that people would appreciate. And now since the book and the exhibition have come out, I see how many people have been really touched by the mere presence of Bob Marley.”
It’s been 32 years since Burnett took those intimate portraits of Bob Marley. So both Burnett and Murray were surprised to find just how much appeal the artist still holds -- not just for their generation -- but for the generation that has followed.
“In my opinion, these photographs will be in every major museum in the world sooner or later because as a portrait of a great musician, a great entertainer, a great personality of the world, -- it’s hard to take a better picture of Bob Marley than we see here in these particular photos,” says Chris Murray.Burnett says it wasn’t really until he and Murray did the show and published the book that he really understood the degree to which Bob’s message and music “resonate with people.”
Murray says the response from the people has been wonderful.
“They’ve really loved the opportunity to see these pictures of someone who’s moved so many people through his music and his poetry and his persona, and so it’s been a very, very special reaction to the book and the exhibit,” he says.
Burnett says that if Marley’s music really does live forever, he hopes his pictures “will help that happen just a tiny bit.”