The mere suggestion incited war in the usually quiet operating theatre and the verbal battle raged on for half an hour after the initial query. A lone “small islander” defended his point valiantly whilst his Jamaican colleagues threw blow after blow. One even suggested that Deon Burton might be the Jamaican equivalent of Argentina’s Messi. All this after the simple question…
“Is Rihanna to Barbados what Bob Marley is to Jamaica?”
Comparing Bob Marley and Rihanna may seem like the proverbial comparison of chalk and cheese even though they both originated within the English speaking Caribbean and are each arguably the most popular musical artistes from their respective countries. The influence of the Honourable Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley is phenomenal and his music is wide-reaching but Rihanna is definitely well renowned. Let us objectively examine both artistes.
Bob Marley introduced reggae music to a worldwide audience. The audacious rhythm hit them, they felt no pain and they loved it. Furthermore, after his death, Marley’s popularity hasn’t stopped climbing. One Love was named BBC’s song of the millennium in 1999. His posthumous Legend album, which is also his most successful, finally entered Billboard’s Top 10 in 2014, 30 years after its release. His global following remains immense.[Read: Black: The Root of All Music]
In the popularity department Miss Fenty is no slouch either. I didn’t realise how massive she was until I looked at the stats. They painted an impressive picture. She’s not only the best-selling black female artist of all time but the best-selling digital artist of all time. She also has the 3rd most number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 and has won 8 Grammy awards.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
— Bob Marley
Is it unfair to compare ambassadors when one is dead and one is alive? Maybe, but we’ll do it anyways.
Bob Marley single-handedly placed Jamaica on the map for many people and his name continues to be synonymous with Jamaica even now, 35 years after his passing. His unique grooves were infused with elements of Jamaica and Rastafarianism. Through the rugged, talented Rastafarian, Jamaican culture reached the forefront of global consciousness and few have even come close to being as significant an ambassador for the island though Marcus Garvey and, more recently, the powerhouse that is Usain Bolt come to mind.
On the other hand, Rihanna’s music often sounds like the usual undistinctive, overproduced American pop music with some notable exceptions being Pon de Replay and Man Down which dive into Jamaican dancehall and reggae genres. Work, which has been hailed as the start of a Dancehall Revolution by Esquire also features dancehall and has traces of Riri’s native Bajan accent. Other Barbadian styles of music like calypso, soca and spouge are conspicuously absent from her influences even though she is known to frequent Crop Over.
Rihanna has also been made an ambassador of Barbados more than once, an Ambassador for Youth and Culture in 2008 and by the Barbados Tourist Board in 2011. The latter saw her featured in advertising campaigns for Barbados’ tourism including this one which shows her dancing, playing dominoes and horse-riding by the Bajan seaside, riding a bicycle through picturesque Barbadian scenery and genuinely enjoying herself while her song Diamonds plays in the background.
Message and Impact
This is where Bob Marley shines in particular. Bob inspired the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, attempted to quell political violence in Jamaica and in general encouraged oppressed people. His revolutionary, inspirational lyrical content transcended boundaries and is what allows anthems like One Love, Get Up, Stand Up and Redemption Song to remain in demand amongst a younger generation. Bob Marley’s message of unity and love is universal and resonates with people of every gender, race and country.
The possible message of empowerment for young women in Rihanna’s music becomes diluted by her emphasized sex appeal, if there’s even a message there at all. While searching Rihanna’s music it is difficult to find a theme but this isn’t particularly surprising. Rihanna is a practitioner of modern pop music which is notorious for being superficial apart from the occasional uplifting song. Outside of music, her Believe Foundation and other charitable efforts assist those in need.
Bob Marley is undoubtedly a legend in my mind and the minds of countless others. His music is timeless and his fan base continues to grow. Will Rihanna’s music also withstand the test of time?
Please comment below. Do you think Rihanna is to Barbados what Bob Marley is to Jamaica?