This interview was conducted by Basil Wilson at Essex House in May, 1978. The interview was previously published in the June/July 1978 issue of Everybody’s Magazine.
WILSON: What is the reason why you have not given a concert in North America for a long time?
MARLEY: Well, the reason really based on physical reasons. Well, I am unfit. If you don’t fit, you don’t work. And during the time they set up the tour, my toe got hurt. I really couldn’t work with the toe injured.
Q. After the attempt on your life, you had left Jamaica and did not return until recently. How did it feel to return to Jamaica?
A. It’s nice to return to Jamaica because Jamaica is the greatest place. Jamaica is one of the best places on earth. So it was great to feel that light breeze blowing without any pollution and that nice fragrance of sweet herbs burning in the yard. It was beautiful.
Q. Do you think your return to Jamaica will contribute to the peace in Western Kingston?
A. The way I see peace for a long while black people scatter. It reach so far that them tear down Ethiopia. Seen. But I neither go right nor left. I go straight ahead. I neither can unite P.N.P. nor J.L.P. The two organizations set up to fight against one another. This is why it is called politics. But we don’t business with politics. We the black people have a root. We are not talking about JLP or PNP. We are talking about our real heritage. We are talking about Rasta.
Q. Do you think that your music has been affected the mere fact that you were away from Jamaica for such a long time?
A. You see me, you see this house that me into right now, if I am in Jamaica, I am into a house that stay the same way. You understand what I have to say? When I am in a Jamaica, I sit down in a house and I don’t go out in the street. When I am in America and I sit down, I don’t go out in the street. Nothing not going on but what is going on in my head. I wonder if you understand what I am saying?
Q. But a lot of your lyrics deal with the situation in Jamaica.
A. Let me tell you something now. You see because I come from Jamaica and carry that Jamaican root I don’t deny Jamaica, or be a traitor to Jamaica. I make the world see is Jamaica this music come from but if I was a traitor I would just sing and go on like the music didn’t come from Jamaica.
Q. Yes, but your music is inspired by what is happening in Jamaica.
A. To me Jamaica is a school. Seen. Everything that is happening in Jamaica is happening everywhere else. Look at Ethiopia. The Russians have given the Ethiopians and Somalians guns to fight each other. In Jamaica is the same runnings (situation). Just that, one big whig give the people guns to fight each other.
Q. But can you develop that emotional identification with the people when you are living outside of Jamaica?
A. Well, is the people in Jamaica really make me what I am. Is them say, ‘go Bob’. All when I shame how I sing, the people applaud. Them (Jamaican) people down there is the greatest people in the world. Is them build I and I.
Q. Are you definitely touring the states this year?
A. Yes, we are going to do a tour. Physically I am alright but there is some little bullshit that going on that I don’t like. The business that I am in, I must know everything and if I don’t know everything, I don’t work. See.
Q. Is that the problem with the North American tour?
A. Here what happen now. What happen to them is that they do not want to run this thing like how I want to run it. Them want to run me on a star trip but I am not on any star trip. I want that any time I tour Europe and I look at myself and realize that my structure (health) run down, I must rest. But they are not concerned with my structure. They run and plan a North American tour. You must remember when I was in Europe, you don’t even drink water. You have to purposely drink water and when you finish that tour, they set up another tour. I watch Muhammad Ali and Alan Cole and I see how these athletes take care of their structure. But the people who set up the tour do not work. They just collect money and when night come, you find them in bed with two girls while you ‘bus’ your r…e.. and a work hard all the time. When my toe was injured, they didn’t even know. My toe nail had just come out and when the boy them still set up a North American tour.
Q. Are you saying that last year the North American tour was set up without consulting you?
A. Yes. Because I tell them don’t set up no tour until I tell you. But them don’t want to live by that. What them say is “Bob, it is always good to tour six weeks after your record has been released”. That is fine but suppose my structure don’t run in that type of rhythm. I am not going to let them come f….. me up. Is the same reason why I f….. up my toe. If I was in Jamaica and my toe was hurt, I wouldn’t work.
Q. How did the toe get injured in the first place?
A. I used to buck, buck the toe from long time. And in Paris I was playing soccer and a man gave a r…. tackle in the rain. The foot started paining me and I wonder now why it kept burning for so long. You know when you playing soccer and you get hurt, it pain a little and then stop but this pain kept burning. Boy, I just scored a goal and just hop off the field. When I took off my shoes, the toenail was completely out. But I continued to perform anyhow. And hear this, hear what they had planned to do – they had planned to cut off my toe just so I could make the North American tour. I say the b….. c….. boy them plan to cut off my toe to do the tour. You understand what I say. I am in London and I consult a doctor. The record company phone the doctor and ask him how long will the toe take to heal. The doctor told them six months. Then they queried the doctor and asked the doctor how long it would take if the toe was cut off? The doctor told them that should take about a month. So them would cut off my toe just so I could work. Exodus was a bubble and if I make the tour Exodus would sell over a million. His Majesty said to me in London, “Is what sin you do to agree to cut off your toe?” I just say to them f…. off and go away. So I just decide and take a rest. And when you make a check, man collect money from all about and I don’t know. Is in a Jamaica I am and a Jamaican tell me “Bob, I know this business and you and I can do a little thing”. And I say, well let’s go. And him is the same one who turn round and going on with some little things.
Q. Is Don Taylor still your personal manager?
A. Don Taylor is still a bretheren and I personally don’t like certain little things but we still work together.
Q. What is your new album Kaya about?
A. You have to play it and get your own inspiration. For every song have a different meaning to a man. Sometimes I sing a song and when people explain it to me I am astonished by their interpretation.
Q. If you compare Exodus & Kaya to your earlier L.P’s, you don’t have as much protest lyrics.
A. How long must I protest for the same thing? I sing, ‘Get up,Stand Up” and up to now the people still don’t get up. So must I still sing ‘Get Up, Stand Up’? When I say, ‘Get up, Stand up’ I mean we must get up and stand up. I am not going to sing the same song again. The thing is I do not want to be a prisoner. I don’t want to hustle off suffering. I don’t want to see people suffer and sing as if I am glad to see people suffer and to make money off of that. I want people to live big and have enough. I am not glad to see people suffer to sing about it all the time. It means if nobody is suffering, you can’t sing a good tune.
Q. This album seems to indicate that your music is moving in a new direction.
A. You see you have to try to please you own people and you have to try to please people here (Americans) and you have to compete with the music here.
Q. How would you reply to the criticism that your music is now too diluted?
A. They can’t judge me.
Q. How do you see the peace movement in Jamaica?
A. I have to support it. We know unity is the best thing that ever happen in Jamaica. I am a man who has been shot at. Two top ranking Tony Welch and Jack Massop came to London and I see to it that them live like bretheren. We spent a good time together. Now we are defending black people rather than killing each other.
Q. Do you think the coming together will lead to greater black consciousness?
A. The political leaders never told them to make peace. Is the spirit come and tell them to make peace. That spirit is the spirit of God.
Q. Do you think this black consciousness will eventually become political?
A. Let me tell you something once and for all. You see me, if my freedom depend on politics, then I wouldn’t tell you I would not go into politics. But I do not deal with politics. The Prince (son of Haile Selassie) tell me that he is higher than politics.
Q. Are you saying that the emphasis should be on religion?
A. It must come through religion. Is not the people make the war, is other send them to fight it. Why when Ethiopia was starving, America and Russia never sent food but now they give Ethiopia billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weapons. In Jamaica, when the youth go down into the ghetto and kill off each other, who feel it? The same people in the ghetto. Why didn’t the politicians say they wanted peace?
Q. There was a rumour that started after the attempt on your life that you were a supporter of the ruling party (PNP).
A. Propaganda is a wicked thing. One day everybody must know the truth. I beat down politics. I am a Rasta man. I will chat with Michael Manley or Eddie Seaga. People must move free and talk to whom they want. When white people have political elections all they will throw is a salad. Down in Jamaica, we fire gun, I can talk for gun fire off of me and is only Rastafari save me. So I have proof.
Q. What is the reason why there was an attempt on your life?
A. I am a man who grow up in Darling Street, Trench Town. When I left Ghost Town I went to live in Bull Bay and then I left Bull Bay to go and live at Hope Road. You see when Michael Manley and Eddie Seaga leave downtown they call each other and say, “What a nice one you throw down on me today. I have to buy you a drink for that”. Here downtown any differences a man want to fire his gun. Well, the peace in Western Kingston reveal that the youth sight that now and understand the runnings better.
Q. Do you wish to speak of the attempt on your life?
A. When they came for me, they came for blood. I am in a corner and right away the gunshots came blazing through the door. In the meantime another assassin coming around the other side. The gunshots that were meant for me caught Don Taylor. Is four gun shot penetrate Don Taylor and all of those were made for me. Is a whole heap of gunshot was a fire that night.
Q. Did Don Taylor jump in front of you?
A. Not really. When Don Taylor hear the gunshot he was startled. They fire in the corner where I was and when I do so and move, I hear gunshot like dirt against the wall and when I move again I hear more gunshot pass me.
Q. So unquestionably, they came to kill you?
A. You better believe it. They came to kill me.