When Bob Marley died in 1981, by then the holy trinity of Marley, Tosh and Livingston, the original gang of three Wailers had been broken. Island Records knew that despite the laterrivalry Tosh and Marley had been inseparably close friends. An Island official rang Tosh to tell him the sad news about Marley's death. There was an interminably long pause before Tosh answered: "Well, if it so, then it so; perhaps it leave a little room for the rest of us to come through."
Peter Tosh alluded to the notion that though Bob Marley was a generous man, his star was so bright that he had eclipsed the rest of Reggae's musicians, no matter how great. In some regard Tosh was right. At the height of Marley's fame, record producers flooded the island looking for others who fit the bill - they preferably had to be dreadlocked and spouting Rasta. Still later, with Marley's death, the hunt was on to find the new King of Reggae. It has proved an impossible task.
Fifty years on from Jamaica's independence from Britain, in Wheel and Come Again, my documentary on BBC 6 Music, I pose the question: "What has Jamaica given the world." Never mind the supremacy of its athletes, epitomised by Usain Bolt, Jamaica's greatest gift to the world is its music, especially Reggae, and its musicians who stretch back from Marley to such greats as Don Drummond and forward to Sizzla. Jamaica is a poor country and yet this small island - the loudest place on the planet - is brim full of extraordinarily creative people who fashioned a music out of nothing.
At heart Reggae is dirt music: it has emerged from the dirt and grinding poverty of the country. A simple way of charting its evolution is to look at the changing dress sense of a band like the Wailers. In the course of ten years they went from looking like prototype Rhythm and Blues harmony singers dressed in two-tones suits and Brylcreamed hair to sporting fearsome dreadlocks and battle fatigues.
The music evolved just as the country did after independence. Jamaica, the pearl of the Antilles and the most beautiful places in the world, was born in bloodshed. Its music has long reflected and transcended the violence of its slave past. For four centuries its fortunes were yoked to the so-called motherland. The African ancestry of the majority of its population was barely mentioned. It was taboo. The national newspaper, The Gleaner, had long trumpeted the attractions of silence and forgetting. Its stance was unequivocally summed up with the editorial dictum: "Questions of colour will not feature on our pages."
After independence, Jamaica tried to forge an identity of its own. Previously, Jamaica had looked to England, for validation in all aspects of life. The island and its people went through a crisis of identity with independence. Into that vacuum, Marcus Garvey emerged. In 1964, his remains were brought back from England where he had died ignominiously in 1940; and Garvey, who had once been such a divisive figure, now became a unifying one. Garvey was paid tribute to in song by my many Reggae stars, most notably Burning Spear, primarily because he had played the role of John the Baptist to Haile Selassie's Jesus Christ. Garvey was venerated as was Selassie. And ultimately, a cultural coup that took place in Jamaica with the ascendancy of Rastafari.
In the 1950s and early 60s the Rastas were outcasts, dirty barefoot, rank-smelling pariahs that no respectable person would have anything to do with. Yet in the course of twenty years they came, internationally, to define Jamaican culture.The music also reflected the political temperature of the times. Niney the Observer's Blood and Fire , for example, was born out of the near civil war that Jamaica descended into in the mid1970s, largely as a result of the sharp divisions of patronage politics, often described as: "When your party is in you eat; when the other man's party is in you starve."
Jamaican music has always illuminated the darkness. In 1978, the "One Love Peace" concert showed how music could also be redemptive and acts as an instrument of healing. For Reggae lovers the golden period passed with the rise of Dancehall and the punany lyricists whose accent was on sex and violence: slackness.
Nothing more brutally showed that there had been another cultural coup in Jamaica in the late 80s and 90s than the sting festival of 1990, when the crowd expecting a lyrical clash between Ninja Man and Shabba Ranks, turned their displeasure on Bunny wailer who had begun his set with old school conscious lyric -writing Reggae. Bunny Wailer was bottled off the stage.
For decades many have waited for the singers to come back and reclaim the music. But, in truth, the singers never really went away. Extraordinarily, at festivals like Glastonbury, the stars most associated with the golden period of Reggae (groups like Toots and the Maytals) have found a new young audience eager for their timeless sound.
The most important facet of Jamaican music is that it re-introduced the world to the sufferer - the poor downtrodden masses who bear their daily defeats with dignity. Even in the midst of their travails it lifts the people with the notion that better must come. But whether it speaks of the here-today or the here-after, at some level, Jamaican music speaks to us all.