Bob Marley Anniversary Spotlights Rasta Religion

February 4, 2005

Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley would have been 60 this Sunday. Legions of fans have descended on Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa for a month-long celebration marking the anniversary of the singer-poet's birth.

The festivities are being held in the African country due to its association with the Rastafarian religion, which Marley followed.

The celebration kicked off Tuesday with the opening of art and photo exhibitions and a symposium on African history based on themes in Marley's songs, which include such classics as "No Woman No Cry" and "I Shot the Sheriff."

Organizers expect that up to 300,000 people will jam the city's Meskal square on Sunday for a gala concert to mark the music legend's birthday on February 6, 1945.

Marley, who died at the age of 36 of brain cancer in 1981, is considered by many to be one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Most critics agree that no other musician has single-handedly held such sway over a music genre the way Marley did with reggae.

"He was a master poet for the ages," said Roger Steffens, a reggae historian based in Los Angeles. "Marley is still responsible for 50 percent of all reggae music sold in the United States. That would be like Elvis selling 50 percent of rock and roll. It's just not going to happen."

Bob Marley also helped popularize Rastafarianism, which venerates the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Selassie, who was deposed in 1974 and died in 1975 (many people believe he was murdered), is hailed by Rastafarians as an incarnation of God.

Street Preachers

Bob Marley, who was born Robert Nesta Marley, grew up dirt poor on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica.

Much of his music aims to lift up the impoverished and powerless, and anthems like "Get Up Stand Up" and "I Shot the Sheriff" carry a strong antiauthoritarian streak.

At a young age Marley fell in with the Rastafarians—known as the blackheart men among the Kingston residents who feared them. The Rastas then were a group of street preachers who taught the Bible and smoked marijuana.

Although its roots go back to the early 1900s, Rastafarianism takes its name from Ras (Prince or Duke) Tafari Makonnen, Haile Selassie's name until he was crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. The faith predicted that a new king with the power of God would rise out of Africa.

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