Down to the Roots: The Radical Politics of Reggae

Jessica Lipsky SAVE THIS

Bob Marley live in concert in Zurich, Switzerland, on May 30, 1980. (Ueli Frey, WikiCommons)

Bob Marley is a paradox — part “Is This Love” and part “Buffalo Soldier.” He is the poster boy and evangelist for reggae music, viewed through a commodified 21st-century lens that sanitizes the truly radical nature of his music and legacy. Although less discussed among much of Marley’s contemporary worldwide fanbase, the singer-guitarist’s political messaging and activism speaks to the generations-long resonance and power of reggae music.

“For a lot of people in the 21st century, Bob Marley is all about ‘One Love,’ and he’s been systematically defanged. But for a lot of people, it’s still about ‘Get Up, Stand Up,’” said Don Letts, a first-generation Black British man of Jamaican descent whose contributions to reggae and punk include multiple documentaries, videos for The Clash, BBC 6 Music shows, and the Reggae 45s podcast…

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2 comments

  • kttbps23

    As a Jamaican, Bob Marley and other cultural musician were instrumental in bringing to for front issues of slavery and injustices within the country. Other artist such as Buju Banton kept that up with his music. His messages were silenced some what when he was arrested and charged in America. America is always seeking to destroy us black people, which it did when backed JLP party. This party created so much fighting and killing in Jamaica it is unbelievable. When the commercialized reggae music they destroyed its base making it a profit when it was not about profit but rather empowerment. They also pushed for the dancehall music which destroyed us as a people which was just to exploit us. It is sad and a change needs to occur.

  • Jessica Lipsky

    Very important points and an interesting perspective, thank you!
    Also I was remiss in not mentioning Buju in this piece – his story is a big part of the conversation.

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