How Bob Marley Came to Make Exodus, His Transcendent Album, After Surviving an Assassination Attempt in 1976

“The peo­ple who are try­ing to make this world worse aren’t tak­ing a day off. How can I?,” said Bob Mar­ley after a 1976 assas­si­na­tion attempt at his home in Jamaica in which Mar­ley, his wife Rita, man­ag­er Don Tay­lor, and employ­ee Louis Grif­fiths were all shot and, incred­i­bly, all sur­vived. Which peo­ple, exact­ly, did he mean? Was it Edward Seaga’s Jamaican Labour Par­ty, whose hired gun­men sup­pos­ed­ly car­ried out the attack? Was it, as some even con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly alleged, Michael Man­ley’s People’s Nation­al Par­ty, attempt­ing to turn Mar­ley into a mar­tyr?

Mar­ley had, despite his efforts to the con­trary, been close­ly iden­ti­fied with the PNP, and his per­for­mance at the Smile Jamaica Con­cert, sched­uled for two days lat­er, was wide­ly seen as an endorse­ment of Manley’s pol­i­tics. When he made his now-famous­ly defi­ant state­ment from Island Records’ chief Chris Blackwell’s heav­i­ly guard­ed home, he had just decid­ed to play the concert–this despite the con­tin­ued risk of being gunned down in front of 80,000 peo­ple by the still-at-large killers, or some­one else paid by the CIA, whom Tay­lor and Mar­ley biog­ra­ph­er Tim­o­thy White claim were ulti­mate­ly behind the attack.

Mar­ley doesn’t just show up at the con­cert, he “gives the per­for­mance of his life­time,” notes a brief his­to­ry of the event, and “clos­es the show by lift­ing his shirt, expos­ing his ban­daged bul­let wounds to the crowd.” Erro­neous­ly report­ed dead in the press after the shoot­ing, Mar­ley emerged Lazarus-like, a Rasta­far­i­an folk-hero. Then he left Jamaica to make his career state­ment, Exo­dus, in Lon­don — as much a fusion of his right­eous polit­i­cal fury, reli­gious devo­tion, erot­ic cel­e­bra­tion, and peace, love & uni­ty vibes as it is a fusion of blues, rock, soul, funk, and even punk.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent album than what had come before in 1976’s Ras­ta­man Vibra­tions, which was an album of “hard, direct pol­i­tics” and right­eous, “macho” anger, wrote Vivien Gold­man, “with sur­pris­ing specifics like ‘Ras­ta don’t work for no C.I.A.’” The apoth­e­o­sis that was 1977’s Exo­dus begins, how­ev­er, not with Mar­ley’s pre­vi­ous album but with the Smile Jamaica con­cert. What was meant to be a brief, one-song, non-aligned appear­ance became after the shoot­ing “a tran­scen­den­tal 90-minute set for a coun­try being torn apart by inter­nal strife and exter­nal med­dling,” says Noah Lefevre in the Poly­phon­ic video his­to­ry at the top. “It was the last show Bob Mar­ley would play in Jamaica for more than a year.”

See the full Smile Jamaica con­cert above and learn in the Poly­phon­ic video how “six months to the day” lat­er, on June 3, 1977, Mar­ley left on his own exo­dus and came to record and release what Time mag­a­zine named the “album of the cen­tu­ry” — the record that would “trans­form him from a nation­al icon to a glob­al prophet.” On Exo­dus, he achieves a syn­the­sis of glob­al sounds in a defin­ing cre­ative state­ment of his major themes. Mar­ley was “real­ly try­ing to give the African Dias­po­ra a sense of its strength and… uni­ty,” Gold­man told NPR on the album’s 30th anniver­sary, while at the same time, “real­ly embrac­ing, you know, white peo­ple, to an extent; doing his best to make a mul­ti­cul­tur­al world work.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Bob Marley’s Redemp­tion Song Final­ly Gets an Offi­cial Video: Watch the Ani­mat­ed Video Made Up of 2747 Draw­ings

Watch a Young Bob Mar­ley and The Wail­ers Per­form Live in Eng­land (1973): For His 70th Birth­day Today

30 Fans Joy­ous­ly Sing the Entire­ty of Bob Marley’s Leg­end Album in Uni­son

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • WW says:

    I attend­ed the wide­ly-adver­tised Smile Jamaica Con­cert, and it was AMAZING. Nev­er before, or since, have I been to a con­cert where there was elec­tric­i­ty in-the-air, and the singer sang with such sin­cere con­vic­tion! Bob, though a Rasta­far­i­an, sung of peace and love, and told us dur­ing the con­cert, to be more Christ­like in our love towards one-anoth­er, espe­cial­ly our ene­mies. The con­cert itself, was a love-let­ter, and his per­son­al sub­mis­sion to God, who adores his chil­dren equal­ly.

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