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Bob Marley In Africa

A brief history of Bob Marley’s time in Africa.

Bob Marley was a pan-Africanist. His Rastafarian faith influenced a belief in the unity of African people across the globe—a perspective that's prominent in all of his music.

Throughout his years, the reggae legend wrote numerous songs against European imperialism and spoke out in support of the movement for Zimbabwean independence and against South African apartheid.

Marley first traveled to Africa in 1978, when he visited both Ethiopia and Kenya. Later, and more famously, he went to to Gabon and performed at Zimbabwe's Independence Day celebration in 1980.

Today, on Marley's birthday, we look back at a brief history of his time in Africa.

"Ethiopia Is His Spiritual Resting Place"

During his 1979 trip to Ethiopia, Marley stayed in Shashamane, “a communal settlement situated on 500-acres of land donated by His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I to Rastafarians that choose to repatriate to Ethiopia," his official website writes. Vanity Fair actually visited Shashamane a couple of years ago, calling it “Ethiopia's Rastafarian Utopia."

When asked about his religious beliefs, the singer once mentioned, "I would say to the people, Be still, and know that His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the Almighty…. I don't see how much more reveal our people want. Wha' dem want? A white God, well God come black. True true." (from Steven Davis' Bob Marley: The Biography)

Marley was baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church shortly before his death and his funeral used both Ethiopian Orthodox elements and Rastafari tradition. "Bob's whole life is about Africa, it is not about Jamaica," the singer's widow, Rita Marley, told The Guardian back in 2005. "Ethiopia is his spiritual resting place."

Bob Marley's rare "Selassie In The Chapel," a cover of Elvis' "Crying In The Chapel"

Marley & Zimbabwe's Liberation

Marley released the liberation struggle song "Zimbabwe" in 1979. He premiered it later that year at the Amandla Festival of Unity at Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts.

“During the years of Chimurenga, Bob Marley's music had been adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front; indeed, there were stories of ZANLA troops playing Marley cassettes in the bush," University of Zimbabwe professor Fred Zindi tells Forbes. “Certainly, Marley's music has potency and a commitment which goes far beyond simple entertainment. He now enjoys a special place in Third World culture; an artist who directly identifies with the black African struggle. Thus, he was the only outside artist asked to participate in Zimbabwe's independence celebrations."

In 1980, Marley performed a concert at Harare's Rufaro Stadium in celebration of Zimbabwean Independence.

Gabon

Marley controversially dated the daughter of Gabonese leader Omar Bongo. "When Marley went to Gabon, the country was a dictatorship. The regime of President Omar Bongo was built on oil wealth and was notorious for its corruption and repression of political opponents," writes Africa Is A Country.

A clip from the Marley documentary tells the story of how the singer agreed to play a birthday concert for Omar Bongo, unaware of his repressive politics. According to the documentary, Marley and his band only found out Bongo was a dictator after arriving in Gabon, but decided to play the concert anyways since they'd traveled that far.

In an interview with LargeUp, Marley director Kevin MacDonald speaks about the influence Pascaline Bongo had on Marley's pan-Africanism:

I had been told by a few people that [Pascaline Bongo] had been very important in the last years of his life, in introducing him to Africa. The first time he played in Africa he was invited by her father but her, really. That seemed like a key point in his life. Obviously Africa means so much to him. I thought here's a bizarre story, a strange individual in this incredibly luxurious environment and you feel like that's a million miles from Trenchtown, so that appealed to me. They'd had a relationship that went beyond just a girlfriend relationship, I think she'd been also instrumental in a couple things in his life. She visited him in Germany before he died.

"Africa Unite": An Anthem For Pan-African Solidarity

"Africa Unite / 'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon / And we're going to our Father's land / How good and how pleasant it would be before God and man / To see the unification of all Africans."

Marley recorded "Africa Unite" for the politically-charged 1979 album, Survival. Inspired by Marcus Garvey's call for Jamaicans and all people of African descent to return to Africa, the song sees Marley singing about "coming home" and leaving the imperialist Babylon.

"Africa, you're my forefather cornerstone."

Interview
Photo by Trevor Stuurman.

Interview: Thando Hopa Never Anticipated Acceptance in the Industry—She Anticipated a Fight

We speak to the South African lawyer, model, actress and activist about her historic Vogue cover, stereotypes imposed on people living with albinism and her work with human interest stories about vulnerable groups as a WEF fellow.

Vogue Portugal's April edition was a moment that caused everyone to hold their breath collectively. For the first time ever, a woman living with albinism was featured on the cover of the magazine in a sublime and timeless manner. Thando Hopa, a South African lawyer, model, actress and activist was the woman behind this historic first. It was not just a personal win for Hopa, but a victory for a community that continues to be underrepresented, stigmatised and even harmed for a condition outside of their control, particularly in Africa.

At just 31, the multi-hyphenate Hopa is a force to be reckoned with across different spaces. Through her considerable advocacy work as an activist, Hopa has and continues to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about people living with albinism as well as changing what complex representation looks like within mainstream media. In 2018, Hopa was named the one of the world's 100 most influential women by the BBC. After hanging up her gown as a legal prosecutor after four years of working with victims of sexual assault, Hopa is on a mission to change skewed perceptions and prejudices when it comes to standards of beauty.

As a current fellow at the World Economic Forum, she is also working towards changing editorial oversights that occur when depicting historically underrepresented and vulnerable groups. The fellowship programme prepares individuals for leadership in both public and private sectors, and to work across all spheres of global society.

OkayAfrica recently spoke to Hopa to find out about how it felt to be the first woman with albinism to be featured on Vogue, the current projects she's working on and what's in the pipeline for her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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