On April 22nd 1978, Bob Marley returned to Kingston, Jamaica from exile in London to perform at the One Love Peace Concert. He famously joined the hands of political adversaries Michael Manley and Edward Seaga during his performance of ‘Jammin”, a symbolic gesture in a country in the midst of a civil war.
Michael Manley’s reformist agenda he had pursued since being elected President in 1972, involving heavily nationalisation and redistribution of wealth, had deterred foreign investment and the economy was challenged (this is not to dismiss his raft of domestic accomplishments which has given him legendary status in Jamaica). The American CIA and business interests were in turn taking aggressive stances against socialist governments across the Americas, including Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. US opposition intensified owing to Manley’s willingness to align with Fidel Castro’s Cuba and his support for the imperialist-resistant Non-Aligned Movement. The conservative opposition the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), headed by Edward Seaga, was dubbed a ‘CIA-ga’ due to its ties to US interests. Manley first organised a free concert in 1976 to ease growing political tensions, between political groups, two days beforehand Bob Marley was shot by an unknown assailant who wanted to stop this perceived Manley rally. Marley proceeded with the concert in front of 80,000 despite The Wailers being in hiding and being forced to use Zap Pow as his back up band.
‘You have to share. I don’t care if it sounds political or whatever it is, but people have to share.’ – Humanist Bob Marley backs the People’s National Party (PNP), days before an assassination attempt in 1976 which caused him to flee Britain
Since 1974, warring politicians Manley and Seaga had hired local gangsters to increase their authority in Jamaica. Supporters armed by both parties fought for control of urban constituencies with hundreds of Jamaicans caught in the crossfire. Gangsters Claudius ‘Claudie’ Massop (JLP) and Aston ‘Bucky’ Marshall (PNP) concocted the idea of a concert from a jail cell as the way to reunite the people and alleviate the ensuing violence. Convincing Bob Marley to return would be the determinant of the concerts success, and he was glad to accept the invitation after Massop flew to Britain on his release. One Love Peace gained much excitement over Marley’s return, with Rastafari culture now abundant in Jamaica, and 32,000 spectated Jamaica’s 16 biggest reggae acts with the proceeds went to sanitary and housing facilities for the poor. Popular artists such as Jacob Miller, who offered a lighted spliff to a policeman and donned his helmet, and Peter Tosh, who berated the two political leaders for their positions on marijuana criminalization and highlighted societal problems, gave memorable performances. The show finished with Marley’s set, which climatised with him holding up the arms of the political leaders in unity.
Although symbolic, the concert failed to unite the country and the violence only intensified, with Massop and Marshall both killed within two years . Nonetheless, this event was extraordinary and the only really way to grasp this is to watch the video.
Seaga won the 1980 election and pursued privatisation with the support of the US government. Manley and the PNP returned to power in 1988, after widespread agitation and riots from 1987 and JLP incompetence over the devastating Hurricane Gilbert.