Happy Birthday Bob Marley! A 'Little Gift' from a bar in Panama

Today is the birthday of Robert Nesta Marley. He would have been 70 years old today, but cancer cut his life far too short at the age of 36. If he were alive today, his music would have evolved, aged, and mellowed over the years. But in his relatively short life, he was one of those gifted and iconic artists who left such an indelible mark on the world through his music. He influenced religion, pop culture, politics and the collective conscience of us all. Reggae fan or not, we listened to reggae music because of him. Some of us may have enjoyed a dose of reggae and rastafarian culture because of him. And if you're lucky, you've seen the promise of what his song-writing has meant for the future of this world.

So this story is about "Little Gifts", those moments in life that happen spontaneously, when all the stars align, and a perfect memory is made, and remembered, for a lifetime. Try as we might later on, there's no recreating it. There's just remembering it, in all its glory.

I was in Bocas del Toro, Panama, the chain of islands and tropical outposts on the Caribbean coast of the country. We finished dinner at 9 Degrees, a local restaurant on the water, and were about to make our exit before the house band started their first set. I couldn't bear the thought of bad reggae as the finishing touch to this night. The bar had filled with the regular assorted locals and live-aboard cruisers and their children. We downed a few more beers and decided to stay awhile as the band started in on 'Redemption Song', one of Bob's most classic and prophetic songs. As it turned out, they weren't too bad.

"Old pirates, yes, they rob I....Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I...From the bottomless pit.

But my hand was made strong...By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation...Triumphantly."

And as the cruiser's kids, looking like they needed a bath or good hair-brushing, gathered around the lead singer, he sat with them on the floor, and offered them the microphone. One by one, he went to each of them to invite them to sing.  Surely, this song - one of my favorites - would be torn to shreds by these precocious kids who didn't know, didn't care about the music. But they knew the words. They sung along with him, so willing and sure of themselves. To 'Redemption Song'. They knew the words like they were old hat, and had been singing them for years. Maybe they'd been sung to them many times before. They knew them by heart, as if they'd been imprinted on their soul. Every. Last. Kid... Every. Last. Word.

"Won't you help to sing...These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have, Redemption songs...Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery...None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy...'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets...While we stand aside and look?
Some say it's just a part of it...We've got to fulfill de book."

And as we all stopped our conversation and stared in amazement, stopped thinking and just listened, everyone witnessed the magic in the moment. I think we all felt, in this small but stunning way, that there was hope for the future. The words of Bob Marley lived in our hearts, and now in the hearts of our children and a new generation to come.

Not a dry eye in the house - just a moment of bliss.

Happy Birthday, Bob!


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Sailboat, Bocas del Toro, Panama