Bob Marley and Jamaica’s Cultural Revolution

by |February 22, 2011

While much of what we post on this blog falls into the funny or news genres, I thought it was important to take a more historical look at the impact Bob Marley and his music had on the Cultural Revolution in his home country of Jamaica. When many people think of Bob Marley they think of hemp leaves and reggae music, but what he contributed to the cultural development of Jamaicans goes much deeper than that.

The aim of this article is to shed some light on the history of Jamaica in the context of its music and to give readers a better sense of where Bob Marley fits within that history. I will also discuss Bob Marley’s affect on reggae music and what his music did for the Jamaican people during their Cultural Revolution. By the end of the article readers should have a better understanding of how Jamaican people and reggae music got to where they are today.

A Brief History of Jamaica and Jamaican Music

 In Jamaica’s early history, just after Columbus arrived, the Spanish began to populate the country and with them they brought African slaves. Later, the British established a colony there as well, bringing more slaves with them. Jamaica saw many slave uprising during the British colonial rule, which in turn created small concentrations of free black people throughout the island. In 1832, the British Empire abolished slavery and formers slaves in addition to those who had already been freed made up the majority of the Jamaican population. The many years of colonization created a consistent influx of new slaves, which had a definite influence on the Jamaican culture. The strong African heritage of the Jamaican people clearly influenced not only their culture but their language, art, and music.

The African influence on Jamaican music is apparent in several of its attributes. Many Jamaican music genres feature the call and response style of singing, which is something that comes directly from African cultures. Also, reggae music has a lot in common, rhythmically, with African music in addition to the lyrics often being sung in a language called Patois, which contains pieces of African and English languages.

Although many Jamaican musicians also performed European style music, such as waltzes, when they were slaves, much of the European influence was abandoned during the Cultural Revolution in the mid-20th century in lieu of more traditionally Jamaican elements.

Bob Marley and Reggae Music

While most people now view reggae music as the quintessential music of Jamaica, reggae did not enter into the Jamaican culture until the late 1960s. Reggae music, in general, is a rejection of European influence and focuses on the sounds of traditional African music. Reggae music is also often seen as highly politicized, which stems from the fact that reggae was developing just as Jamaica was entering their Cultural Revolution.

Bob Marley helped popularize reggae music throughout Jamaica and the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s (though he was definitely not the only one who had a strong impact on reggae music). What made reggae music unique was not only its traditionally African sounds mixed with modern instruments but also the messages within the songs. Many of Bob Marley’s songs focused on themes found in his relationship with the Rastafarian movement. His songs dealt with strong themes such as peace and love and also his feelings about black oppression and poverty in Jamaica. Marley also went further with his music and sometimes sung about reunifying with their homeland of Africa.

How Bob Marley Affected the Jamaican Culture Revolution

One of the main purposes of reggae music was to empower the Jamaican people and to help instill in them a sense of pride for their heritage. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Jamaicans began to see themselves as culture unto themselves for the first time and they wanted to embrace those things that made them uniquely Jamaican. Reggae music was a large part of their effort to take back their culture.

Bob Marley’s music helped empower the Jamaican people to take hold of what was uniquely theirs. His music also promoted peace and love amongst all peoples. Although much of his songs were focused on the peace and love themes, he also politicized many of his songs. His songs that had a political bend or focus relayed his disdain for the black oppression and poverty that was happening amongst his people in Jamaica at that time.

Bob Marley also attempted to bring peace to his warring homeland of Jamaica. In 1978, Marley head back to Jamaica after two years of self-imposed exile and played at a political concert called The Love Peace Concert. At the concert he requested that the then-ruling leader Michael Manley and his political rival Edward Seaga shake hands on stage in an attempt to bring some calm to an area with such political unrest.


Bob Marley’s music and political messages helped invigorate the people of Jamaica during a time of cultural and political unrest. His reggae music spread the message of hope and peace while also bringing issues of racial oppression and poverty to a national stage. While he was not the only one responsible for popularizing reggae music or enabling the Cultural Revolution, he is definitely the figure many people most associate with that time and musical genre.

Much more than just a musician, Bob Marley was a religious and political light during a bleak time in Jamaica’s history. His music and message propelled a nation to take back what was theirs and embrace their history and culture.

You can keep Bob Marley’s spirit and purpose alive by wearing licensed Bob Marley t-shirts that represent his Rastafarian culture as well as his Jamaican roots.