Bob Marley
A Final Interview

On September 18, 1980, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Bob Marley. He was in New York City for shows at Madison Square Garden, and from there was embarking on a national tour. He was expected to return to New York toward the end of the tour, but fell ill and spent the last months of his life getting treatment in New York and in Europe. As far as I have found, he never sat down again for this sort of a journalistic interview in the remainder of his life.

At the time I was a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University and was researching the relationship between reggae music and politics. I had been a freelance writer for several Caribbean-American magazines as part of my effort to meet and interview reggae artists. I had written publicity articles for many artists by this point, and when Bob Marley's publicist contacted one of those Caribbean magazines, I was sent out along with a photographer to conduct the interview.

We met Bob in his Essex House Hotel room on Central Park South. With him was soccer star Skill Cole, and a staff member from the publicist company.

Anita Waters: Your organization, Tuff Gong, seems to be getting bigger all the time, adding new studios, etc. Where does the name Tuff Gong come from?

Bob Marley: Tuff Gong? It just come up you know, it come up, because Gong is a song, a reggae song, and Tuff is tough.

W: Could you tell me what new things are going on there?

M: Well, new things that's going on, artists have new recording, like, I'm not familiar with them now. I just a man who audition artists and do the recordings.

W: You're still auditioning new artists down there?

M: Yeah

W: Are you doing distribution?

M: We're distributing and we try manufacturing.

W: A pressing plant?

M: Yeah.

W: And Tuff Gong has a record shop in Los Angeles?

M: A brethren down there has a record shop.

W: Any chance of getting one in Brooklyn?

M: I don't know.

W: What is the connection of Tuff Gong with the Twelve Tribes of Israel?

M: Twelve Tribe organization? Make a man like Skill Cole tell you. (To Skill) The-I tell Jah Rasta.

Skill Cole: Well, you know Jacob had twelve children, thirteen, twelve men and one lady. To complete the human body, because the human body got twelve different functions. So Jacob had twelve sons representing the twelve tribes in Israel, the twelve different manners of people. So that's where the twelve tribes originally come from. It's really the promise that was made to Jacob for his children. A very interesting point to note s that being the twelve manner of people, there's no such thing as color and thing like that, because all of us were born of a different tribe according to the month that you were born.

W: And the organization unites all that?

C: Well, you know, we teach those things-things like, try to tell the people that we must look forward to Africa because we're going to have problems in the west. Because of the Bible, you know, we read the Bible, it teaches us that when we see certain things happening, know that these things will happen, and prepare for that. Like how we identified Christ, in his advent as Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie the First. Because the Bible points us that before the closing of the two thousand years, Christ must reveal again, return to earth, as the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elector of God, and him shall be earthright ruler. Because Judah is the lawgiver, that's what the Bible says. Him shall thy brethren praise. You set yourself apart from Judah and the lawgiver between his feet until Shiloh come and unto him shall gather the people we. So Judah now come to gather the people, the descendents of that tribe, the ruler, the Messiah must come. But it's one family, you know, all over the earth, we are families but you have to come to know yourself. Because you know what happen is Rome change up everything from the time of the Roman astrologers, they change everything. Julius Cæsar and Augustus Cæsar come out in July and August, in the history, when the Roman Empire was at its full strength. So they cheated everything, but we learn from the Bible, and that's where everything come from. We identify ourselves from different tribes. The chief in our family is a man named Brother Gad, from the tribe of Gad. It's Rasta, it's Rasta still in you know.

W: Then Twelve Tribes is synonymous with Rasta?

C: Yes

W: (Back to Marley) I heard you say on the radio that reggae musicians should be more organized. What do you mean?

M: Organized. Like for instance if them understand what it is to really get this music out and really don't give it away. The only thing they can do is organize by controlling who get the music and when them get the music, what them do with it. A lot of people get music and all them do is put it inside of them place and keep it. The artists get tie up. Some of them understand the situation of the artist and their culture, and the only thing you can do is organize and get it done.

W: Organize like Tuff Gong is organized?

M: Yeah. Tuff Gong is organized but you still have a lot of artists who outside there you know, who don't know really what goes on. All they can do is get the explanation from people who are exploiting them.

W: Do you see organizations like Tuff Gong fitting in with a Garvey plan for independent economy?

M: Yeah. Marcus Garvey show us to industrialize. He say we are to make something.

C: We must try to get our independence.

W: And keep the control.

M: Yeah.

W: Does reggae still reflect the ideas of sufferers; is it still ghetto music?


W: Does getting control over music help that?

M: They're getting control, more control, but they're getting control that the people that are sending the message feel like them have a place them control to send the message from. Because a lot of people have control over what them say, because even the people's studio that you go in and you can't just say what you want to say, because they won't agree. Just like Tuff Gong, you know, is like a place where your voice is free. You make a record, you sell the record, and you're telling the truth without any interference.

W: Where will you be after this weekend?

M: Well, all over the country after that.

W: To the West coast?

M: Yeah. And we might come back soon.

W: And play the Beacon?

M: Yeah, true.

W: Why aren't you playing the Apollo again?

M: Well, no reason.

W: It just worked out that way?

M: Yeah.

W: You're not touring with the Commodores, are you?

M: No, only this weekend thing.

W: Is there a specific audience you want to reach in the U.S.?

M: To tell you the truth, people. Plain people. All people, Black people, Chinese. All people.

W: Do you think the Philosophy behind reggae is catching on in the U.S.?

M: I don't think it "catch on." I think people have the spirit, then it is there. You don't "turn" a Rasta. You can accept the truth. Everyday it happens. This thing here is not like "more and more' people, because the people that people think of, there's a lot of people, but there are a lot of children, even more than people, so everything have a future. Cause when people talk, they talk only of people, as them see people walk, them no remember children that can't walk yet. There's a lot more of them that can't walk. This is development.

W: Do you think reggae is a good way of getting the truth across?

M: Reggae is one of the ways, if the lyrics deal with the truth. The music is one way to communicate. The people can communicate. Communication go on, you know. Someone hear the truth, and tell it to someone, next one tell it to the next one. There is not no one man who really tell everyone cause each one a go teach the next one. Like you hear a good advice, you tell someone else. And it go on, you know. As soon as you know I was living in Jamaica a long time, before I did even know. Then, it was there.

W: How long?

M: Maybe about eighteen years, before I really come to the reality of the truth.

W: Did you know it by talking to other people?

M: Well, the advice was always like in me like, so when you see a vision and meet people and talk to them and find like for instance suppose I was talking to a man like Skill Cole, long time that I talked to him, I find that I have the same kind of communication in life, so you become like a family. You become one cause you have the same belief. So Rasta go. Rasta is exactly, is plenty, like me. We just have the same beliefs and we become family.

W: Has the message you are trying to get across changed over the years? Is there more on Africa than before?

M: Never change. That was only one album. That was just "Survival." That was one album dealing with like Africa. That was the result of my personal experience. Like from Jamaica, to America and all the places that I saw.

W: How was the independence celebration concert in Zimbabwe?

M: That one was good. Well, it was so good that you know it was one of the best I ever enjoyed. Really meeting the people that fought in the war, sit down with the generals, talk to the generals. One general say to me say I hear you are going, you really going back to Jamaica? I said yes. Him say Why? I say I got a lot of work over there to do. Him say Work, what, you are at home! Him say I tell him that I have work to do in Jamaica. Him tell me Foolishness. This is Africa, you are in Africa, stay in Africa! You know what I mean? And this is a big general.

W: Would you like to accept that invitation?

M: That was good. That was the best invitation you could get. Man who fight for the land tell you stay it's your home. Him risk him life, him was fighting. Plenty people shoot after him and him still live. Come tell me stay. In Zimbabwe. It's the best.

W: You were in Ethiopia recently too. Are there Rastas there?

M: Yeah, just a visit. Is the land of Rastas. That's where the first named Rasta come from.

W: Aren't the Rastas having trouble there?

M: Ah, you mean the Russians are coming? (laughs)

W: Do you see a bigger role for Rasta and reggae internationally?

M: You know this is a thing that grow. I don't think anyone can predict, like say, so much time a man predict and can make mistakes and the best thing is go and tighten it up. Because all you know you're on a positive road. You have some type of direction where you're going, so you have to just keep on going. You have some type of direction where you're going, so you have to just keep on going. It's like a ship at sea. You don't really see the land but you know it's over east, so you just keep going east. So reggae music will go on. There's five hundred million people in Africa say Yeah! Reggae music have its biggest audiences in Africa. I mean it's big in Europe too but it have the biggest audience in Africa. And that is no boast nor show-off nor anything. Is just the truth. You go to a place like Nigeria, man, go to a place like Senegal. Any one of them country there. Is a big thing man. Big.

W: Would you ever go to South Africa?

M: Nearest I ever get to that place is Zimbabwe. No. I'll go to South Africa, yeah, because by 1983 Africa must be free. South Africa got a man named Botha, and Botha soon drop off.

W: did you get any resistance from the music industry or government in Jamaica when making your music? Like banning your songs?

M: Of course! Our songs got banned all the while. "Rastaman Vibration" was one of the first record ever banned for me. Yeah, because it carry the speech of Haile Selassie, and because the country trying to go communist or socialist, they never want to hear what Selassie have to say. So them just ban it. When Rastaman song get banned in Jamaica man it was war at the radio stations that play our music. War! A literal going to fight fe get your music played. Cause you know them figure say Rasta is changing society. But that is what we come to do. And people get quarrelsome and weak. We come to change things and when them see changes them quarrel and say it's changing. And that's what we come fi do, and them know it.

W: What about music industry people?

M: Well we started out fi do our own business, and that was the time when the record industry start squeeze we out. Them pay out the radio station not to play our music. Yeah we couldn't understand why no one no play our music. Them come and say somebody go in there and thief the record and carry it home. Not that them love the record so much but the act of sabotage. Yeah we have fi go down find out what was happening. And then when you start shake up some couple guys, guys tremble and talk. That's what them do. The big radio, the big industry, them was the one gave us the most sabotage down there. Because you know there was a time when them find that the radio ease up and start play the songs then, because they realize if we come in, it going to be like what it is today. Everyone in Jamaica can go and do a record. It not like America where people don't know how it happen. In Jamaica you can just go ask any man pon the street how fi make a record. They all do it. No more secret. Well before that now you couldn't know. It look like these things come, is God must have bring these down here. It spoiled now everyone can do it so they never really want to unite against the strong. That's the way we can do. We run a studio, too, look how far that reach. Is like taking a step too far as far as all them see.
W: Who is your favorite reggae singer?

M: My favorite reggae singer is Bunny Wailer. He's the only singer who sing things all the while. All the rest of them people are pure jokers. Yeah! Well, them a joker. Bunny Wailer is the only many you can take up him song and realize that he's dealing with something all the while. Most people skank it out.

W: Do you ever play together with Bunny?

M: Long time no play together.

W: He's still making good music.

M: Yeah.

W: Is there some reggae that you don't like?

M: I don't say that I don't like it because there's something in it that if you don't like this. There's something in it that you might like, something in it that you must like. Because of suppressed feelings, feelings bubbling over, bubbling over. I might not like this four bars but the next four bars got something I like. Serious, you know, seriousness what deal with real serious cultural music. After while plenty people run from the road. Slip off the road. Go up on the sidewalk. Cause it's not all the while but every artist I think today popular they have fi come again. And if you can't come again, then you can't stay. If you can't come again, ta-ta.

W: What do you think of the reggae that's being produced in Brooklyn and Britain?

M: Well, it's like anywhere it produced I think the people would like it. I feel, reggae music is like an effort. Any man who's doing it. It's an effort because him know exactly what him doing.

W: Do you have another record coming out soon?

M: Well, I just have one out named Uprising, so we don't have no plan right now.

W: Before reggae came ska. Do you see another form of music emerging in Jamaican music?

M: Another form emerging? Well, you never can tell you know. Because what really happen is that music can just play over, over again. Create new things, new music. But with the ability that reggae music really have I don't think anybody can really go above it, not right now. Especially now, the type of music, you stay with reggae or you gonna be disco or you gonna be funk. But this feeling is a real early feeling.

W: What's "rockers"?

M: Well, rockers is the same dub music you know, and maybe music that doesn't deal with the culture, maybe just deal with dance, like some people do now.

W: What and who influenced you toward Rasta?

M: Well the bible you know. The bible and Haile Selassie. Never have no influence in that same sense. You know a brethren named Dago? Him used to live in America, him was a draftsman. Him say boy, I'm here and I sight it and come on to Jamaican. That was the same time my mother want me to come to America. I talked to him plenty before I leave. Him show me things. Some of the things when I asked him I said show it to me in the bible, and he looked in the bible and show me. I say Ah, this is not really a wrong.
W: Any connection with Mortimer Planner?

M: I know Mortimer Planner long time, still but Mortimer Planner you know, an influence, but I don't think him have an influence pon me. I still talk to him but not big influence.

W: Besides the bible, what are some other readings that are important?

M: Utterance of His Majesty, that is like bible. You have books of Marcus Garvey. Good book but none like some like Marcus Garvey books Haile Selassie book, is something that is dealing with the Christian tradition.

W: I've never seen a book called "Utterances"

M: It's not popular. Plenty books them stop books you know there's a lot of books we must get that I don't know that I don't think we're going to get like because them lock them up. The public must not get them. There was a time in Jamaica when you couldn't have the bible. I didn't know that time. Yeah, but them tell me that therer was a time in Jamaica whne they see you with a bible you go to jail. Because you know the bible, it got too much truth. And people read and people clean. A man read some and whole heap of things happen right wasy. You know people eat so much pork and get so upside down.

W: I read somewhere you said something about the MOVE organization in Philadelphia. Are they Rastafarians?

M: MOVE organization? Them say them is Rasta so them must have a connection.

W: Has reggae influenced the uptown, non-sufferer types in Jamaica?

M: I don't think that suffereing come through because they like fuptown, because that don't stop this from go so [furrows brow]. Because I don't think because I live uptown is any better off than anyone else. The man live uptown, you can go to bed early because you have a bed, you know, and your place around you might clean, which is good for you, but that don't stop your spiritual awareness from knowing sufferation. If the spirit don't right the flesh suffer regardless of where you live. I mean you couldn't tell me the Prime Ministers or the Presidents is living that good. You might have all everything and go live in a big which house but take up any sufferer and put him there, see if him no suffer the same. There's no big life anywhere man everybody suffering today. True, cho. Tension, tension come you know. Toothpaste make people fight, toothpaste. It's like Richie Havens say, biggest of man will have to cry, or something like that, you know what I mean?

W: My questions seem to be based on wrong assumptions.

M: Say it same way. Say it same way. Don't change them.

W: Hasn't there been some change in people who didn't know anything about Rasta before, since reggae is so big?

M: Change toward Rasta? Yes because what is happening is there's a lot of things to see. You know words, words have great meaning. One of the words say you can't put new wine in old bottles. One of the words say what has been hidden from the wise and the prudent revealed to the babe and the suckling. Next word say a little child shall lead them. So all of this is well. The youth you know, they granny, they - is not say they don't love Rasta, them love Rasta, them really love Rasta. But the pressure come from when shall Rasta in our house you understand? Anytime the policeman can kick in the door and come in. Because them society, don't want Rasta, so society try and wipe out Rasta say find out say be great. Even when me know what a man who them know. Him was a minister of finance in Jamaica. One man named Coore. And him son is a dreadlocks, a pure reggae music say Jah-Jah. Yeah. So him can't hate him son, you know what I mean? Maybe him try, but it can't work. So all them thing it can't work. People have them one son that them love, them check them son, come back in with all these dreadlocks, look like going through whole heap of tribulation and thing, you know, what should a look? Best time of his life. She might feel vex or the father might feel, you know what I mean, but that is not the thing. The only thing what them fret for is because he is a Rasta. And they have to feel him gone to prison some. Him cannot - even the first time they used to lock you up for herb. They just hold you and carry you down and say they find herb pon you. Cause you a Rasta, there's no way nobody ever say no. And you can't accept that so easy. So you people fret for you under them circumstances there, so them say that, you know what I mean? No come here Jah Rastafari, the policeman come too. You understand? But over the time it change because even David Coore's son have fi go turn, you know what I mean, so the whole society mash down on t he truth because we up front that even the Prime Minister have fi use Rasta, and every one of them in Jamaica if them no use Rasta, no go. Them have fi try and associate themselves with Rasta some way. They have to do it. Because Rasta have the conscience of the people. Them try all sort of propaganda, to discourage Rasta, but it can't work.

W: If you can't beat them, join them.

M: That's what them say. But we couldn't beat them til them have fi join we now. There was a time we couldn't beat them cause them a say anywhere you see two or three Rasta, shoot, ask question later, you understand? That mean I can imagine now today you can see a baby with dreadlocks. A baby! You know what I mean? Dreadlocks! This baby you know, you can never change this baby. This baby a come with the truth. So you know, it grow. The Rasta is in no haste you know. That's why reggae music is no gonna be just a music which just come and just come like a thing and is hot and then no see it. As long as there is truth, there is music. And the only music that tell the truth man, in a real way, with no cost no whole heap of humbug to the spirit is dum-be-be-dum-be-be-dum That inside feel.

W: Anything else you want to tell your public?

M: Well, I did know that this year is the fiftieth year - pass them back to Rasta.
Cole: the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie the First.

M: Is the Golden Jubilee, that's it. November 2nd. Been 50 years now since Christ government set upon earth, returned to earth. The Russians can't take guns and destroy it you know. Bad man.

W: The Russians are trying?

M: Of course them try it in Ethiopia. Mengistu is not a Ethiopian. Mengistu is a Russian.

W: What do you think about the Cubans there?

M: Well them a idiot them is Russians Too. Yeah. Them say there is no god. And me, I know that there is a god. Cause I know who god is. And the guys stick me with a gun and say there is no god. I say yes, there is a god. And them fire it! And it miss. And fire it again and it miss you know. And them fire plenty time and it miss because there is a god.