Twenty Nine years ago today, Bob Marley and the Wailers took the stage at Zimbabwe’s Independence Day ceremonies in Harare’s Rufaro Stadium. Prince Charles was on hand to witness the renaming of the former British colony Rhodesia and to see the British flag lowered for the last time, only to be replaced by the new Zimbabwean colors. Marley had declared solidarity with the African rebel forces on his 1979 album Survival in a song called “Zimbabwe” that he composed during an earlier trip to Ethiopia. “So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle,” he sang—so it seemed fitting that he should make a joyful noise at the conclusion of said struggle. But when it came time for the Wailers to begin playing, the jubilant crowd outside stormed the gates causing security forces to panic. The show was abruptly canceled amidst clouds of tear gas. Sensing the importance of the moment, and having paid the expenses to fly his band halfway around the world, Marley insisted that the show be restaged the following day. When he finally did perform “Zimbabwe” at the historic celebration, he brought to life his own lyrics “Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary.”
Bob’s son, the multiple-Grammy-winning singer and producer Stephen Marley, was not quite 8 years old at the time, but still recalls the experience vividly.
“Yo—me remember. That show was a bloodclaat show to bloodclaat. Caw me never know what teargas was. And you know, me see the people them ah run and ah drop. Them time you have some bloodclaat tank and them ting deh push down the fence.”
“Yeah because member say, Prince Weh-Him-Name did deh deh still.”
“Yeah, that bwoy deh.” [laughs]
AND A BIG CROWD OF PEOPLE?
“Yeah, so when the people them get a way now. And fi him army panic. Caw fi him army come with him y’know.”
SO WAS HE ACTUALLY LISTENING TO THE MUSIC TOO?
“No… is like we break. Is like Gong break pon the stage. And the people get a way to bloodclaat. And me ah tell you, me see the tank and dem ting and ray ray. But you know, true we deh pon the stage and me deh deh ah look an ting… And Ziggy ah run come and me say, ‘How the people dem ah drop?’ And him ah say, ‘Tear gas.’ So that was how we get introduced to tear gas.”
DID IT BURN YOUR EYES?
“Yeah man and the Gong come run with two towels and put it over we face and them carry we off.”
YOU NEVER HAD THAT IN JAMAICA?
“In Jamaica we protected in terms of we nah go anywhere without we family. But yo, that did big though. That was powerful. Y’understand. That was powerful. Beca’ we go back the next day and do the show… Yeah because it haffi… It did stop you know. And Gong get vexed and say ‘NO! Show tomorrow.’ So we lick the show the next day.”
AND HE GETS UP AND SINGS A SONG THAT SAYS “EVERY MAN HAVE A RIGHT TO DECIDE HIS OWN DESTINY.”
“Some people become things. You have some man who become good. We born certain way. You never hear we talk bout under no gal… or no… eh-eh! You always hear one thing. If you like it or not. If it sells or not. If it plays on the radio or not. We not gonna change tomorrow. [bangs the table] YEAH… So the struggle continues.”
With the passage of time, another line of Bob’s tune “Zimbabwe” has come to loom ever larger: “I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” And the struggle still continues.
“Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die…
Don’t ask me why.”