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Bob Marley symposium looks deeper into reggae king’s vision, talent and ‘universality’

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Members of the audience, locals and tourists alike, listen intently at the ‘Business of Bob’ symposium on the 75th anniversary of the reggae legend’s birth on Thursday (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

There’s no denying that Robert Nesta Marley put Jamaica and reggae music on the map.

He dominated the charts, influenced generations, and transcended language and cultural barriers across the world. However, it turns out there was a method that has kept his legendary stature intact decades after his passing.

These were the sentiments from a panel of experts breaking down the ‘Business of Bob’ on the 75th anniversary of the late Jamaican icon’s birth, on Thursday, February 6.

Members of the ‘Business of Bob’ panel: (from left) columnist/analyst Kevin O’Brien Chang, singer/producer Tommy Cowan, moderator Elaine Wint and marketing guru Zachary Harding. (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

Led by moderator Elaine Wint at the Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road, the panel consisted of marketing guru Zachary Harding, columnist/analyst Kevin O’Brien Chang and renowned singer/producer Tommy Cowan.

The panel posited that Marley seamlessly combined raw talent, Jamaican folklore, politics, marketing and vision – inspired by the Bible and Marcus Garvey – to create a universal sound many other reggae acts have not fully grasped or fine-tuned.

Branding is everything, even in music and no one understood this better than Bob Marley, Harding argued, as the monetisation of the late musician and his work created the snowball effect in cementing his legacy.

Zachary Harding (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

“It’s the actual persona and character of Bob, and one of the things that was done better for him is that he created a mega-brand. All the things that went into creating that brand had been critical in the monetisation of the business of Bob Marley,” he opined.

“The team, led by Bob, would have done a great job in codifying what the product is: in how he lived, how he carried himself, the interviews he did – all of that, in my opinion, [the] creation of the brand, has been the underpinning of the business of Bob Marley,” Harding analysed.

Wint reasoned that with any successful business, even when you have a good product and clear vision, if you lack an operating team behind it, the message falls short of its full potential – something Marley took into great consideration.

“What was it that made him different? Bob hand-picked people who believed his vision and would pass it on. As you look at the empire today, you have to include his wife, his children and look at what they’re doing today,” Tommy Cowan, who toured extensively with the reggae superstar in the 1970s, said in response.

Tommy Cowan, delivering a point during the ‘Business of Bob’ symposium (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

In the eyes on many, including Cowan, if you look at the business of Bob Marley, in some ways Tuff Gong operated a kingdom.

“Bob operated [with] a kingdom mentality and philosophy. If you look at how he walked, his head [was] held high,” Cowan said.

What Bob did, and continues to do, is create an emotional experience that has, in turn, fostered a fellowship between himself and his fans. That musical communion was embodied in Tuff Gong’s message.

“There is something in Bob’s actual message that was different,” Harding contended.

“The packaging is important in music and has to do with how you look, how you represent and, in the context of our time now, how you are packaged has a lot to do with how you’re accessed,” Wint interjected.

The matter of how much (or little) Jamaica has done to recognise Bob Marley was also a concern raised, as Kevin O’Brien Chang believes the issue of bestowing the late musician and iconic folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley as national heroes is mired in politics.

Kevin O’Brien Chang (left) speaks as Tommy Cowan tunes in to his reasoning (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

He suggested creating a new honour altogether, the Order of Jamaican Icon, with which the two cultural stalwarts could be invested, as opposed to the current distinction, Order of Merit.

“Bob Marley and Miss Lou, those two, in particular, they belong way above this Order of Merit category [with] hundreds of other people. The National Hero [honour] has come up, but it’s kind of political,” Chang said.

“Since 1962, what has Jamaica excelled at? We’re not rich, we’re not powerful but we’re the world’s youngest and smallest cultural superpower. Culture is what makes Jamaica special and the two most critical cultural figures [the island] has ever produced, unquestionably, are Miss Lou and Bob Marley,” he further remarked.

A rigorous, disciplined mindset also contributed heavily to Bob Marley’s success, Cowan explained, as the late superstar would write for days on end, and still be the first in the studio and the last to leave.

Continuing the conversation of the Marley’s business strategy and continued success, Wint noted that operational excellence, customer service and communication, and financial management are the three pillars that underpin any product or brand.

Panel moderator Elaine Wint (Photo: Chris Lewinson/BUZZ)

“Because he had a clear vision and a message, he’s saying the message was always paramount to him and not his personality,” she argued.

“Bob was a prophet; he was not a normal human being. He recognised that here was a market and that he had a product that he needed to refine to sell to that market,” Harding offered in response.