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FUV Essentials: Carmel Holt on Bob Marley

Carmel Holt on 'FUV Essentials' artist Bob Marley

Carmel Holt on 'FUV Essentials' artist Bob Marley

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I no longer recall the name of the college course; probably “The History of Bob Marley” or something along those lines. I was at Bard College in the early '90s and already a longtime fan of Bob Marley’s music and reggae in general. But aside from loving the vibe and the music, it wasn’t until I became a curious college student  that I went any deeper than that.

That all changed when I met Wadada Leo Smith. A jazz trumpeter and composer with a pretty serious résumé—he was later a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in music—Wadada was my music professor and college advisor for a time. He was also Rastafari, like Marley. As you might imagine, when he decided to offer up a college course on Marley, the line to register was long. I recall it being one of the most popular music courses, also offered to non-majors, that year.

Required reading included Timothy White's now-classic tome, Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. While some saw the class as an easy way to get a couple of credits, I was entranced by the opportunity to learn about Marley through Wadada’s eyes. What I learned was astounding and moving.

How powerful a figure Marley had become in his short 36 years, rising from rural Nine Mile, Jamaica, to global superstar. In particular, I learned how that happened: not by greed or trends, but by Marley's spiritual beliefs, his political importance, and the consciousness-raising effect of his lyrics. It was through studying Marley that I learned the concept of making music for this purpose. It became clear, for the first time, how effective it is. So effective that it could be dangerous: there was even an assassination attempt on Marley’s life.

The global impact and love of his music is still unparalleled to this day. He was a true spiritual warrior whose work continued long after his death. Since my illuminating experience of spending a semester soaking up Marley's inspiring story, I’ve learned about many others who have used their songs for positive change. But it is the simplicity of this reggae legend's words and the heartfelt nature of his message that soothes, uplifts, motivates, and urges us forward. He compels us to find freedom, to love, and to open our minds and hearts. It is those universal truths, wrapped in irresistible melody and rhythms, that continues to remind us of all the good that music can do.

In my mind, there isn’t anything more essential than that.