The heart at the heart of Bob Marley's art

A fully-formed musician by his early 20s, Bob Marley helped pioneer a new genre, reggae.  Reggae sprang forth from a throbbing Afro-Jamaican liberation rhythm that literally mimics the pulse of a healthy human heart.  As reggae evolved, Bob preferred to keep his reggae "roots," or played at the easygoing tempo of 60-77 beats per minute, the range in which a healthy human heart at rest beats.  He knew such music had the power to entrain the listener's heart to sync up with it, to make the listener feel as easygoing and all right as the music.  He remained steadfast to this rootsy tempo until the very last song he ever recorded, Redemption Song, in which he suddenly started galloping at 116 beats per minute.  Why the sudden acceleration?  Read our book for the higher knowledge. 

Reggae was not just some random, eccentric sound.  At the same time Marley and his Kingston contemporaries were inventing the new genre, Marley was embracing a new faith, Rastafari.  Rastas highly value all that is "heartical,” or capable of expressing African culture and consciousness.  Bob's use of heartical African roots rhythms coincided with his expression of "heart" concepts in his lyrics ("One Love / One Heart.") and in his interviews ("God blow breath into a man so why the people watch the bank account? Why they no watch the heart that beat?")

By translating heart through his music and directly into listeners' hearts, Marley prepped his audience to hear and absorb the message in his lyrics, to hear and absorb the calls for justice, equality, harmony, vitality and -- through it all -- freedom. However you reckon the man's music, words and conduct, his remarkable consistency on this point can free you to take him at his word about who he was: "Really, I am just a man of the heart.”

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