Sun. Dec 8th, 2019

Bob Marley, the CIA and the country of mysteries | Culture


They will remember that the 2015 Booker Award it was for Brief history of seven murders, an overwhelming novel by Marlon James that portrays Jamaican violence after the attack on Bob Marley in 1976. Marley is a silent presence in the book, under the name of The Singer. And something like that happens in So much to tell. Bob Marley's oral history (Malpaso), where Bob barely speaks.

An unprofessional book, I must notify. The author, Roger Steffens, He meddles too much in the 75-voice choir and avoids thorny issues, like almost everything about Rita Marley. Nor does it help that photos, poorly reproduced, are instant snapshots. Besides, in the Spanish edition the index has disappeared, reducing the usefulness of the volume.

Anyway, the study of reggae It has historically been a matter of obsessive white fans, unconcerned with literary issues. The essentials of So much to tell are the testimonies of those who grew up with Bob. We understand your position in the racial hierarchy of Jamaica. Against the usual portrait of his father as a British lax moral officer, we discovered that Norman Sinclair Marley was a private soldier who married his mother, Cedella Booker. The marriage did not last, but Norman made some attempt to educate his son. Bob's problem was that he looked mestizo among the black population, which made him vulnerable to child cruelty. Cedella, then joined to Bunny's father Wailer Livingston, did not take care of him with special affection.

We learn terrifying stories about the Jamaican music industry, as productive as relentless with artists. The Wailers (Bob, Bunny and Peter Tosh plus other vocalists rescued here) were popular, but they couldn't live off their art until well into the seventies. That frustration may explain that they endured so many horrible representatives: the American Danny Sims, who boasted of his contacts with the Mafia; the footballer Alan Skill Cole, a ludopath; Don Taylor, a believer in "the one who starts and distributes well, keeps the best part."

Book cover.


Book cover.

Compared to them, Chris Blackwell seems like a prodigy of diligence and vision. The founder of Island Records, white English, designed the international launch of Marley, first with the Wailers and then alone. Member of the jet set, seems to be detested by most respondents in So much to tell. Although he grew up in Jamaica, perhaps the natives did not understand him correctly: Bunny Livingston denounces scandalized that, in 1973, Blackwell wanted to present the Wailers in the freak clubs, that is, the gay circuit. For an orthodox rasta, that was an aberration; quite possibly, it was one more promotional action.

The assault on Marley's mansion in Kingston occupies several chapters. Here, Jamaicans are very cautious; essentially foreigners talk. Three theories dominate: that it was a revenge for an unpaid debt of Don Taylor; that he wanted to punish Alan Skill Cole, involved in horse racing rigging; Finally, the political motives.

The latter has logic, Caribbean logic. In 1976, the struggle between the ruling party, the PNP, and the rightist JLP, was bloody. Marley detested the political system, but had promised to act in a charity concert linked to the electoral campaign of the leftist PNP. The aggressors were gunmen who, with weapons provided by the CIA, were at the service of the JLP. All clear? No. They entered shooting at Mansalva and wounded Bob, his wife Rita and the aforementioned Don Taylor. The alleged hitmen could have finished off anyone, since precisely that night the security personnel who protected the house were absent; They did not. Technically speaking, even by Jamaican standards, that was a fudge.

So we will continue to speculate. As the book warns at the beginning, it is difficult to find the truth in Jamaica. After all, it is the country of versions.

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