Jamaica | Spreading Ja love from the left wing

We would welcome a correction, but it appears that Marley never addressed football in his music, despite his remark that “football is music.” He also said that “football is freedom,” and freedom appears to have resonated with Marley—who in darker moments, according to biographer Christopher John Farley, worked in an auto plant in Wilmington, Delaware, calling himself “Donald.”

This was during a time of professional disputes in the Jamaican music scene, but Marley returned to sing the tenets of Rastafarianism, of the exodus to Ethiopia, the faith’s spiritual home. “He wanted everything at the same time,” said Bono at Marley’s 1994 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “and was everything at the same time: prophet, soul rebel, Rastaman, herbsman, wild man, a natural mystic man, ladies man, island man, family man, Rita’s man, soccer man, showman, shaman, human, Jamaican.”

Bono refers to Marley’s wife, Rita Marley, who headed the celebrations in Ethiopia. Asking “how can you give up a continent for an island?” Rita Marley has emphasized the lure of Africa to her husband, even suggesting that his body be relocated to Shashemene, where former Ethiopian emperor and Rasta deity Haile Selassie donated property for a Rastafarian settlement. Reggae and the Rastas, according to various researchers, were looked down upon among the authorities in Jamaica.

Marley was born poor in Nine Mile and grew up in a slum in west Kingston, Trenchtown, a housing estate constructed after a 1951 hurricane. According to the Guardian‘s Gary Younge (“Bad Vibes as Tug-of-Love Hits Marley Anniversary,” Feb 5), Marley was far from celebrated at home during much of his life. He survived an assassination attempt in 1976. His legend on the island has been primarily a posthumous phenomenon, encouraged by the embrace in which the world holds Marley’s songs.

Tadele Tessema Tadele Tessema, son of Yidnekatchew Tessema, who joined St. George FC at 14.

And Marley no doubt would be pleased at another comeback: that of the Ethiopian national side, which has risen 20 places in the FIFA rankings after winning the CECAFA (East and Central Africa) Cup last December.

The nation, appropriate to its association with Marley, has a progressive background in football, having established mixed-race sides after a reconciliation match between St. George football club and Italian nationals following liberation in 1942. In 1957, the African football confederation (CAF) formed with Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa (for the time being) as original members. It is believed to have been the first pan-African institution. Ethiopia has hosted the African Cup of Nations twice, winning in 1962, but had been in decline until the recent success. Marley would have been able to soak in this history himself during a planned tour of Africa with Stevie Wonder in 1981, but the tour never took place.

Our lingering image is that of the football-obsessed Marley, as recounted by record-company publicist Rob Partridge, during a string of rehearsals and interviews in the UK in 1978. A World Cup match came on television. “He sat down in front of the TV and after 10 minutes it was obvious he wasn’t going to move,” says Partridge. “That was the end of it.”


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