It’s January 1978 and Jamaica’s political parties The Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) headed by Edward Seaga, and Michael Manley‘s People’s National Party (PNP) are engaged in a bloody political civil war.
Upon his election as Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1972, Michael Manley pursued a socialist agenda intended to redistribute wealth by nationalizing the country’s major export industries. Ultimately, his agenda proves to be financially unsustainable, as his policies deter foreign investment in Jamaica. Beginning in 1974, he is opposed by the more conservative Edward Seaga of the JLP, and the two politicians hire local gangsters to help them increase their hold on power.
Bucky Marshall walks out of prison on January 9, 1978. Prison has become a second home for this drug dealer and gun runner, but this time it’s different. Marshall, a PNP thug and enforcer was imprisoned with the gangsters from the JLP. He calls Claudie Massop, JLP chief enforcer immediately upon release. The first thing he does when he is released. That evening in West Kingston, both men participate in a candlelight vigil and call for a truce at daybreak.
Marley, still in exile in London, is busy at Island Studios readying his new album Kaya for a late March release date when he is called upon by Marshall and Massop. Their request: Marley must play the One Love Peace Festival on April 22, 1978. Marley is “obliged” to play the show because, as Massop and Marshall explain, it is being organized by the Twelve Tribes of Israel-the Rastafari house unto which Marley is affiliated.
According to the two gangsters, the concert’s purpose is two-fold: It will provide much needed financial assistance and sanitary facilities to the suffering in the West Kingston neighborhoods of Tivoli Gardens, Denham Town, Hannah Town, and Arnett Gardens. It is hoped that it will also quell the political violence terrorizing residents in these same neighborhoods.
Tickets to the show are sold for $2.00 and $8.00 and are selling fast. The concert, scheduled for April 22, 1978, goes off divinely with all sixteen acts performing superbly. The night is capped off by Bob Marley and the Wailers‘ stunning performance, which reaches a climax when Marley joins the hands of political rivals Manley and Seaga during his fiery performance of “Jammin’,” where he exclaims:
“Just let me tell you something (yeah), to make everything come true, we gotta be together. (Yeah, yeah, yeah) and through the spirit of the Most High, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, we’re inviting the two leading people of the slaves to shake hands. . . To show the people that you love them right, to show the people that you gonna unite, show the people that you love ‘em right, show the people that everything is all right. Watch, watch, watch, what you’re doing, because I wanna send a message right out there. I mean, I’m not so good at talking but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. Well, I’m trying to say, could we have, could we have, up here onstage here the presence of Mr. Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga. I just want to shake hands and show the people that we’re gonna make it right, we’re gonna unite, we’re gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite . The moon is right over my head, and I give my love instead. The moon was high above my head, and I give my love instead.”
Even if you are not a fan of Marley or reggae, this most historic moment is something to behold:
Unfortunately, the event does little to quell the political violence. The event’s two organizers, Massop and Marshall are both murdered within two years after the concert. Manley uses his appearance at the concert to demonstrate the bond he shares with the Jamaican sufferahs and Rastafarians. Within a few weeks of his appearance, Manley wins the election with a significant margin, only further escalating the violence between the two major parties.
This does not, however, minimize Marley’s performance as an “historic” event in Jamaican culture and in the history of popular music. Marley leaves the island in December 1976, immediately after giving the the best and bravest performance of his career only to return to the island 14 months later to unite bitter political rivals, whose hatred for each other knows no bounds, in front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 35,000.
According to Earl “Wya” Lindo, who was asked about the performance in a 1998 interview, The Wailers were operating on another plane of existence that night. They had recently become international superstars through the Exodus tour, and they had something to prove to their harshest critics: the Jamaican people.
They proved it.
From the Jamaica Gleaner, 22 April, 2009:
“What happened on the night of April 22, 1978, inside the National Stadium will go down in Jamaica’s history as a milestone for peace. Not only did the King of Reggae and musical ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley call the two leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga on stage to join him in a show of solidarity for peace, but he also gave the performance of a lifetime at the ‘One Love Peace Concert’ which has been billed as the 6th Rock Concert of all time.
A packed stadium with over 32,000 spectators will never forget that night when, in a moment, everything halted and peace was no more an illusion. It was a time when our nation reeled under the violence of political war. It was only two years before that Bob Marley was shot and went into self-exile in Britain (United Kingdom). It was Claudie Massop who was sent by the local Peace Committee to try to encourage Bob to return to the island for the concert and was successful in completing his task.
Marley, who had brought the prime minister and leader of the opposition together on stage before the entire nation, yet again brought both leaders together at his funeral in the National Arena in 1981, and this time around both had switched roles as Edward Seaga became prime minister in 1980.
Bob Marley has left his legacy of ‘ONE LOVE!’ not only to his beloved Jamaica, but to the entire world.”
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Included here is the entire set by Bob Marley and the Wailers. This show has been circulating as incomplete for years. Only recently did I obtain the full show which includes the closing performance of “Jah Live.”
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Bob Marley and the Wailers
One Love Peace Concert
April 22, 1978
01 Lion of Judah
02 Natural Mystic
03 Trenchtown Rock
04 Natty Dread
05 Positive Vibration
08 One Love (cuts from 2:08 to 2:22–tape flip)
09 Jah Live
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I have also included video footage of the entire performance in the form of a You Tube play list:
I also recommend that you take a look at the following press articles, which include reviews of Marley’s performance at the One Love Peace Concert:
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Jamaica Gleaner, 24 April, 1978
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Vivien Goldman, Sounds, 29 April 1978
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Review by Vivien Goldman, 1978
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Black Echoes, May 1978
Ziggy and Stephen in the foreground
Give thanks to friend of the blog Roger Steffens for graciously donating his time to edit and check the historical facts included in this post.