KINGSTON (Reuters) - Jamaicans celebrate the 70th anniversary of the birth of late reggae legend Bob Marley on Friday with a jamming session at his former home and a free concert as the Caribbean island continues to wrestle over his place in its pantheon of heroes.
Marley, who was born in Nine Miles, northwest Jamaica, died on May 11, 1981, in a Florida hospital from cancer age 36.
A “mini-jam session” is scheduled at Marley’s former home at Hope Road, north of Kingston, as well as discussions on reggae, a popular genre that began in Jamaica in the 1960s with strong influences from calypso and jazz and lyrics of social protest.
A free concert on the Kingston waterfront on Saturday is expected to draw crowds, and local reggae artists, including one of Marley’s sons, Ky-Mani, are set to perform. Police have announced traffic detours and street closures in anticipation of the throngs.
“I was not around when Bob was alive ... but people are still excited about his music,” said Marcia Facey, 32, a fashion designer who lives in Kingston.
Jamaica has debated for years adding Marley to its Order of National Hero, its highest honor. Jamaica’s current seven heroes are dominated by political figures.
No new heroes have been added since the 1980s and a committee has been examining nominations for the last three years, with Marley and former Prime Minister Michael Manley among a list of 10 names mentioned.
“It is high time that the government makes him our eighth national hero,” said Errol Campbell, 57, a mechanic, also of Kingston.
“Bob was a reggae genius who has done more for Jamaica than most others by popularizing our music,” he added.
Some committee members are believed to oppose Marley because he smoked marijuana and sometimes disrespected authority as part of his Rastafarian faith which rejects materialism.
A new live album called “Easy Skanking in Boston ‘78” will also be released next week, according to The Bob Marley Group of Companies, featuring two live shows from Boston’s Music Hall in June 1978.
The Marley family is celebrating the birthday by launching a “feel good social video movement” titled #Share1Love to honor Marley’s vision of a better world.
An annual “One Love” charity soccer match will be played in Marley’s honor on Feb 18 including celebrities such as Olympic sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.
Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman