With his swinging dreads, slouch hats and poignant lyrics, Bob Marley remains one of the most iconic Rastafarians that has ever lived. His songs, Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright, No Women No Cry and One Love are national anthems while his prophecies on love and lifestyle live on. He brought Jamaican music and the Rasta mantra to an international audience alongside an iconic sense of style that continues to be borrowed by fashion houses. “Bob Marley was never seen,” commented Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga in 1981, “He was an experience.”
“Bob Marley was never seen, he was an experience” — Edward Seaga
Marley’s dreads were born out of spiritual expression and a commitment to the Rastafarian lifestyle, which promotes the “locking of hair”. He wore slouch hats, brims and beanies with classic shirts, retro sportswear and denims. “He was so elegant in his jeans and T-shirt," said unexpected fan Silvia Fendi at the menswear shows earlier this year in June. She paid homage to the late reggae star by using signature Jamaican colours, red, green and gold, throughout her accessory collection, while Christian Dior previously dedicated a saddle bag to the musician in 2004. A young Naomi Campbell is one of the children featured in his Is This Love video (1978).
The image of Marley has, at times, been trivialised by the mass of dreadlocks, flags, ganja T-shirts and merchandise. However his original voice was one of peace and spirituality that stretched far beyond a haircut or a green leaf. Those who worked with him described him as shy, polite and hardworking. The colours he promoted had a deep resonance: red was symbolic of the blood of martyrs, gold for the wealth of Africa and green for its beauty. He reportedly had twelve children: four with his wife, Rita Anderson (one adopted) and eight further children with eight different women. While to some he may come across as a womaniser, it was Marley who wrote the immortal phrase, “If she’s amazing she won’t be easy. If she’s easy she won’t be amazing.”
“If she’s amazing she won’t be easy. If she’s easy she won’t be amazing” — Bob Marley
Marley died from a malignant melanoma in 1981, a mere 36 years old. Doctors recall that during treatment the anesthetic failed to work on him due to resistance he had built up through smoking marijuana. He lay awake on the operating table until he was eventually knocked out by a much larger dose. He bowed out with the final words to his son Ziggy, “Money can’t buy life.”
Text by Mhairi Graham