Obama’s Bob Marley effect

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
November 09, 2008

Barack ObamaOne of the hidden, unnoticed and unsung variables in the recently concluded United States Presidential elections was the Bob Marley effect in Senator Barack Obama’s run for the United States presidency and his awesome victory.

Robert “Bob” Nestor Marley and Senator Barack Obama both have one thing in common: a white parent. Bob Marley’s father was British and white; Senator Barack Obama’s mother was American and white.

Bob Marley was the “first superstar from the Third World” to gain international fame, fans, fortune and acclaim.

In fact, his 1979 LP entitled “Exodus” has been acclaimed as the “album of the century” and both Time Magazine and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) have designated his song “One Love” as the “Song of the Century”.

Time had this to say about Bob Marley’s “Exodus “LP: “every song is a class, from the messages of love to the anthems of revolution. But more than that, the album is a nexus, drawing inspiration from the Third World and then giving voice to it the world over”.

Bob Marley is indeed the “entertainer of the century”. Bob Marley not only took reggae music and its message to Europe, America, Asia and Africa but more importantly, Marley, the man, transcended race and class.

Bob Marley had the charisma and racial hue to draw thousand of young white Americans and Europeans, mainly women, to his countless sell-out concerts. This writer hypothesizes that Bob Marley’s white-looking , youthful, physical appearance served as the magnetic force to attrack the multitudes of young white female patrons to his shows — his slow, rhythmic inspiring reggae music notwithstanding.

Put another way, it might have been in the subconscious payche of these White-European patrons that they were in musical- cultural communion with one of their own. They internalized that they were in-tuned with a white artiste. They felt one with Bob Marley on stage during his concerts.

A white-looking Bob Marley was their musical- cultural comfort zone. And this comfort zone was further ossified by Bob Marley’s international lyrics. The white-European audiences totally identified with Bob Marley’s lyrics. They understood and felt his “positive vibration” up close and personal because they knew what “Babylon” meant; they knew of a “Trench Town” ghetto in America and Europe; they all yearned for “One Love” among humanity; and they expressed these sentiments outwardly by growing dreadlocks themselves.

Senator Barack Obama’s run for the United States presidency mirrored Bob Marley’s iconic musical – cultured legacy. Like Bob Marley, Senator Barack Obama was also able to woe thousands of young white Americans, mainly females, to work for his election. Like Bob Marley, these young American females saw Barack Obama as one of them. Obama’s campaign experience was their political comfort zone a la Bob Marley’s concerts.

Like Bob Marley, young white Americans totally identified with Obama’s message about their future. They felt Obama’s “positive vibration.” Like Bob Marley, Obama’s youthful, white –looking, physical appearance was the magnetic force to draw young white Americans to his side. They not only saw themselves in his political mirror but also clothed themselves in his rock star persona a la Bob Marley.

In addition, Bob Marley’s lyrics spoke to revolutionary change in society between the “Haves” and “Have nots” and exhorted the oppressed/ marginalized to “get up, stand up; stand up for your rights”.

Similarly, Senator Barack Obama’s campaign lyrics/ rhetoric spoke to ” change ” in America after eight years of President George Bush’s failed domestic economic and foreign policies.

Bob Marley and Senator Barack Obama were extremely successful and on target in this endeavor – “Change We Need”.

In the final analysis, the common denominator between Bob Marley and President- elect Barack Obama is that they both give ” the poor a voice the world over”. Only ” Time will tell” whether or not as the 44th President Barack Obama will emerge as United States President of the century.

If he were to achieve this unique goal/milestone, then, President Barack Obama will not only usher in “a new dawn of American leadership” at home, but, more importantly, he would have also sown the seeds of a new image of love, hope, respect and admiration for America around the world.

Dr. Kwame Namtambu is Professor Ementus, Kent State University.

12 thoughts on “Obama’s Bob Marley effect”

  1. An excellent commentry by the good doctor. He might just be on to something her via his astute analysis. I wonder however if Mandela had similar benefits in his favor why white South Africans , Europeans ,and Caucasian Americans enjoyed the act of pontificating at his feet back when his reign began , or was it limited to his non threatening message ?
    I am optimistic that cousin Obama can deliver more for the people on whose backs America was built than the African prince -Mandala-that suffered so long under the hands of the brutal, barbaric, savages ,for over 25 years.
    What a forgiving people these black folks are globally- hmmmm?

  2. Neil, this is not a time to be cynical, we must remember that in the Obama electoral victory the African American vote only represents 13% of the electorate which means close to 30% of caucasian Americans voted for Obama, asians, and Latinos making up the other 10%. It has been a long while that the world has been waiting to embrace a personality of Obama’s magnitude. In a world that is increasingly global in it’s perception it is time for us to move toward healing the scars of the past in order to facilitate a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. I am not saying forget, for the scarred tissue will always remind us of where we came from, but tribalism is no longer a political option in this new day. Dr. Natambu’s article was well written and well received.

  3. Stretch! Perhaps the target audience needed to relate to Obama. There have been many before Obama touting the same message. True he was never President; Martin Luther King Jr had a similar following. Time is the difference between them. Let us not forget Marley’s political impact in Jamaica that led to an assassination attempt. This is a good read. By the way, 47% of Whites in the United States voted for Obama. That was the highest percentage for a democrat since President Jimmy Carter. With no disrespect to the author or Marley, “jungle music” is the term that was used to describe Marley in most parts of the U.S. when he recorded Exodus. Outside of New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C, major California cities, and Hawaii were the exception. They were also the most diverse. However, Marley has sold more albums since his death due to the popularity of the compilation titled Legend. I know for a fact that in during the 90’s that album (legend) was a common soundtrack on college campuses across America in what we can regard as “blue districts” in liberal or democratic states. I would say that the one thing that both Marley and Obama have in common is their message to be involved in what’s going on because we can make a change. It’s not much different then the words spoken by Kennedy,” Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Standing up for your rights can improve your country. Changing from the negativity and disparity of the status quo can improve your country. Obama, Marley, and many other leaders have in common the intelligence and forth sight to see what’s wrong and offer the prescription or remedy. Usually that remedy is we the people holding our governments accountable and becoming more disciplined individuals in the process. The strange thing is that Obama reflects the type of man Cosby visions as the model of a Black Man. He is self made for the most part and considerate. My thought is that all of those who dislike Cosby’s political view will soon turn on Obama who has yet to promise them anything other than what they could do for themselves. It’s amazing how many took the redistribution of wealth thing literally without the consideration of actually having to earn something. Remember, Change starts within.

  4. is it not strange that the source where marley got most of his inspiration and voice for his lyrics never gets mentioned, but the links to his white father is what’s played up? i do agree that the commonality of both men is that one parent was white. but this thing about white women flocking to marley, i think is much ado about nothing. women have always flocked to musicians in droves. a musician of marley’s stature would have even more of a draw because of his rebel ways. i think one of the even more striking thing about marley and obama is that they both gravitated towards the black side. Perhaps that is the attraction and mystique to some whites.

  5. Farai, Marley was never seperated from his Black side. Obama on the other hand didn’t really have a “Black Side” until he was an adult. It funny how in society there are many black elites of light skin who always seek to be assimilated and accepted by Whites where Obama and Marley just remained themselves and gained loyalty and respect from all.

  6. I see where you are heading with this comment Vaughn ,and share the sentiments. One should be optimistic in these tumultious times.

  7. Great work Dr. Nantambu, I enjoy reading this article, however, there appears to be a typo error in the last line of the fourth paragraph. The word whould read his instead of hid, please check it out. for ease of reference the said paragraph was reproduced hereunder.

    In fact, his 1979 LP entitled “Exodus” has been acclaimed as the “album of the century” and both Time Magazine and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) have designed hid song “One Love” as the “Song of the Century”.

  8. It is true-Bob Marly did have a vision much like MLK and most of the world shared that vision-or so I would like to think. However, that vision brings deep thought for only as long as the song lasted “4-5mins”, and then it’s back to business as usual. Back in the area from which I hailed in Trinidad lived a family with devout Hindu practices (Bhagwat) every month, 7 days Ramayan with all the food one can eat, hundreds of devotees on site, and the most renowned pundit around the area. The thing is, as soon as the Ramayan was over, next day it was back to “cussing” the neighbour about how nasty their children was, and how much “man” his wife have; back to business as usual!

    My point! “One love, One heart, lets get together and feel alright” is during the time of “self preservation” for that family, but forgotten as soon as they think they have plesed their God. People around the world embrace that song because it represents hope, but the idea of charity begins at home is still to accede. I apologize for using the “Hindu” religion in my commentary but it’s the one that seem to have stuck in my mind. I’m sure it happens with every other sect or religious factions around the world eg. Muslims who kill in the name of Allah, or Jimmy swaggart who uses the Christian platform to avoid masturbation and get himself some live ones.

    If people would reflect on that song in time of deblilitating thoughts that leads to destructive actions the song would’ve brought it’s true meaning to life.

  9. It is very unfortunate that folks still give so much credence to artist such as writers, musicians, and similar creative minds by even going as far as living their empty lives vicariously either through their works or cult like personalities. Often these cultural figures are merely concerned in making a dollar.
    Bob Marley would have sent a much better message to fellow Jamaicans males, and others that purport to be ardent fans across the Diaspora by making a few less illegitimate kids and leaving them to struggle due to his reckless and unhealthy lifestyle.
    However what do I know? I expect several of his fans more concerned with his memory to grow outrage at my commentary, failing to the impact – negative or otherwise- of behaviors that are condoned by persons of influence.

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