Kaya at 40

A potent classic still informs Bob Marley’s mantra four decades on

Kaya 40

Sandwiched between two of his most iconic albums, Exodus and Babylon By Bus, Kaya — originally released in March 1978 — affirmed the fact that Bob Marley was not only one of reggae’s most prominent personalities, but also that his genius wasn’t limited to any particular genre.

Many of the album’s tracks were recorded at the same time as those that appeared on Exodus the year before, but they could hardly be considered simply as cast-offs. To the contrary, a couple of the offerings are actually re-recordings of songs that originally appeared on the Wailers’ seminal album Soul Revolution. Another two tracks now rank among Marley’s masterpieces —  “Is This Love,” a veritable anthem that affirms the need for peace and love, and smoothly sedate “Satisfy My Soul.”

In truth, both those songs marked a decided change of tone in Marley’s mantra, pulling back on the militancy and rebellion that characterized his early work with the Wailers and settling instead for a sound and style that was noticeably more content than contemptuous. While critics complained that Marley has seemingly “gone soft,” Bob’s affection for ganja was as apparent as ever, not only in the title of the album — which references a particularly potent strain of marijuana — but in the blissful sway of the songs themselves. That ambiance has been further emphasized through his son Stephen’s remixes for this 40th anniversary two CD edition released at the end of August, a treatment the young Marley also applied to last year’s reissue of Exodus as well.

The quieter approach reflected Marley’s genial disposition in general. I had an opportunity to see him at a record wholesalers gathering in Miami Beach very early in his career. Most of those in attendance were record biz types who tended to dress in polyester suits and puff on Cuban cigars, still illegal at the time, but not as verboten as pot. The reaction they gave Marley and company was indifferent at best, and it was likely the most passive audience he had ever encountered. He was a curious sight with his dreadlocks and generally laid back attitude, but for me, sitting in back of the room, it was an opportunity to see an artist that I knew was destined for legendary stature. “Play ‘No Woman, No Cry,’” I shouted, hoping he would oblige me with a song that I still consider a classic.

Bob glanced in my direction, showing little emotion, but, I suspect, still happy to have at least one person in the audience that knew his music. “Dis is fah da boy in da back,” he said in his distinctly Jamaican accent before launching into the tune I had requested.

It remains a magical moment, and one I’ll never forget.

Three years after Kaya’s release, Marley was dead, felled by a malignant melanoma initially found under his toe. He refused to have the digit amputated due to his Rastafarian religious beliefs and while the toe nail and skin surrounding it were removed, the cancer eventually spread throughout his body and into his brain. He died at a hospital in Miami on May 11, 1981 after a flight from Germany that was en route to his home in Jamaica. He was only 36 years old.

Like every other album he produced during his lifetime, Kaya still stands as a tribute to Marley’s remarkable prowess and ability to engage the masses through his music. When historians compile their list of the great singers, songwriters and musical mentors of the 20th century, there’s little doubt that Marley’s name will be prominent among them.

 

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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