Ambush in the night
Bob Marley

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 29th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

With a hit album (Rastaman Vibration) and successful world tour, Bob Marley was one of the hottest artistes in music in 1976. In Jamaica, however, there was political turmoil among supporters of the governing People’s National Party (PNP) and Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

To help soothe tension, the reggae star agreed to headline the Smile Jamaica concert on December 5 that year. Two days before that event at National Heroes’ Park, Marley, his wife Rita, Manager Don Taylor and Louis Griffiths, a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, were shot while rehearsing at his Hope Road home.

Recollections from eyewitnesses place seven men invading the compound and opening fire. Marley was struck in the chest and arm but his injuries were not life-threatening; he was taken to University Hospital of the West Indies and went into hiding after being treated.

Rita Marley sustained a graze to the head while in her car in the driveway; Taylor’s injuries were more serious. He was shot in the legs and abdomen and had to be flown to Miami for emergency surgery.

Griffiths was shot in the torso.

Although Marley described himself as apolitical, many persons believed he had ties to the PNP. As part of The Wailers, he performed on the musical bandwagon that campaigned with its leader Michael Manley leading to general election in February 1972.

Manley, who governed on a socialist platform, comfortably won power and was seeking a second term in December 1976. The PNP again reached out to Marley and other reggae artistes for support.

Judy Mowatt was a member of The I Three, Marley’s harmony trio that also included Rita and Marcia Griffiths. In an interview with Marley archivist Roger Steffens for his book, So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley, she recalled the incident.

“I had a vision a few days before the shooting. Marcia left; she didn’t feel too good about that concert. Like she had a premonition that something could happen, or she heard something and she left the island. Rita and myself had been going to rehearsals. So one night I went to my bed and I dreamt that this rooster, it was a rooster with three chickens, and the rooster got shot, and the shot ricocheted and damaged two of the chickens. I even saw like one of the chicken’s tripe inside, the intestines come out. And I didn’t like it, and I told it to Rita and Rita knew about it. But we were looking out for something. Because usually, how the Africa woman understands, a lot of times we depend on our dreams. We know that when you dream, if it’s not so, it’s close to what it is. So we were expecting something to happen. And then again, I went to my bed. I never mentioned this — but I went to my bed again and I saw in the newspaper where Bob sang that song Smile Jamaica and that was the song that created a controversy because of certain lyrics that he had in it that was like a then political slogan: Regardless, you control your state of being, so smile, because the power’s ours. The victory’s ours.”

Smile Jamaica was the show’s theme song, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Although fingers were pointed at well-known JLP enforcers for the attack, no one was ever arrested. Marley showed up for the concert and did an abbreviated set.

Shortly after Smile Jamaica, he left Jamaica for The Bahamas, then the United Kingdom where he recorded profusely, resulting in the epic 1977 album Exodus. It would not be until April 1978 that he returned to Jamaica.

Marley died in May 1981 from cancer in Miami at age 36.

Manley and the PNP easily won the December 15 election, taking 47 of the 60 parliamentary seats.

Howard Campbell

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