RASTA TIMES - When Bob Marley caused Riot inna Africa
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When Bob Marley caused Riot inna Africa
Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

Submitted By: Ras T. Henry

Ree Ngwenya

It was April 1980, the end of a hard week, around 4pm, on a Friday afternoon. Mick Carter was in his office, thinking about maybe leaving early for the weekend. Then the phone rang.

Bob Marley was calling from the Tuff Gong International offices in Kingston. Could Mick organise a crew and all the necessary equipment and fly to Salisbury in Rhodesia over the weekend? On Tuesday, 18 April, the country was changing its name to Zimbabwe, and the city would be renamed Harare.

Bob had two officials from Zimbabwe's government in his office with him, and they had asked him to perform at the independence ceremonies. Cost was to be no barrier: Bob, whose tune Zimbabwe had proved inspirational to the ZANLA freedom fighters, was paying for it all out of his pocket. He would be playing amidst the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

At the Islands Record offices in West London, Denise Mills received a similar call: "Bob said he was flying into London over the weekend and wanted to continue straight on to Africa. Could we arrange it?"

Within two hours, Carter had booked his crew and PA equipment. More importantly, he had also chartered a 707 waiting on the tarmac at Gatwick airport.

The next day the plane took off at Gatwick, carrying the agent, the lighting, the soundmen and the sound equipment.

The advance party for this Bob Marley expedition to Africa caused much bewilderment when it arrived at Salisbury airport, as it was then still known.

"The import people hadn't a clue what to do, how to deal with us," Carter said.

"What got us and everyone through was a huge bag of Bob Marley T- shirts that I had sensibly persuaded Island to give me before I left. These were liberally dispensed all around. And it also helped enormously that I was wearing an Exodus tour jacket, which was my passport to everything."

The only contact Carter had been given was an address in Harare- Job's Nite Spot, a club run by one Job Kadengu, a second-hand car dealer who worked for Zanu PF, who had somehow become the promoter.

Kadengu passed Carter to a certain Edgar Tekere, the minister for planning and development. At 3:30 am, on Sunday morning, Carter was driven in a taxi to Tekere's bungalow to wake him up and receive instructions.

A bleary-eyed Tekere directed Carter to the Rufaro Stadium on the edge of Harare where the independence ceremony was to be held. When he and his crew arrived there, a team of night watchmen loomed out of the darkness, trying to chase them off.

Within hours, Carter had secured the services of a squad of soldiers and a scaffolding company to build the stage.

"But the wood we were given was green and came from a damp warehouse. As the sun came and dried it, the planks turned rotten. We laid down tarpaulin, but we kept having to make chalk-marks where the holes were. I saw two wooden gates, and had them taken down and they became the PA stage."

But there was still no electrical power and there seemed little hope of the promised generator arriving to provide it.

"However," Carter remembers, "we found a cable running underneath the pitch. It provided electricity to a nearby village (township). So this guy jumped in and cut it for us to tap into it and as he did so, you could see the lights go out in the village."

There were no hotels booked for the Marley party. Everywhere was full, booked up weeks before, to accommodate visiting dignitaries who were coming from all over the world for the independence ceremony. Although he temporarily managed to secure a hotel room, Carter was kicked out of it at gunpoint by several soldiers.

Bob and the Wailers were taken to a guest-house 20 miles out of town; even so, there were not enough rooms for the group and Bob shared his room with Neville Garrick, Family Man, Gillie and Dennis Thomson, the engineer.

Bob took a commercial flight to Nairobi. As he waited in the transit lounge for his plane, he received an unexpected message from a royal enquerry: Prince Charles was waiting in the VIP suite; would Bob care to come and join him and pay his respects?

Bob's reply was immediate:

If Prince Charles wanted to meet him, he should come out there and check him with all the people. Needless to say, Bob's invitation was not accepted.

Some time later, as Bob and the Wailers sat by the window of the departure lounge, they saw the royal party crossing the tarmac in the direction of the royal jet. When Prince Charles had walked only a few yards, however, he turned and looked up at the window where Bob was sitting. Looking directly into Bob Marley's eyes, Prince Charles smiled broadly. Then he continued on his way.

Bob and his party flew into Harare in the early evening of Sunday, 16 April.

With him were Denise Mills, Robert Partridge, and Phil Cooper, respectively the heads of press and international affairs at Island Records in London.

"The most amazing thing," Denis remembers, "was the arrival at the airport.

Joshua Nkomo, who was minister of home affairs in Robert Mugabe's new government, and various cabinet officials had to line up and shake our hands. I couldn't believe it: there were about 26 of us and I'm sure none if the people had a clue who we were.

When we went to tea at the palace with these drunken soldiers and the president, it was so English and colonial: cucumber sandwiches and lemonade-all considered a bit off by the Wailers.

However, Bob sang No Woman No Cry at the piano for the president's family."

What no one had thought to inform Bob and his team was the precise nature of the first show they would be playing: it was scheduled for the slot immediately following the ceremony in which Zimbabwe would receive its independence and was to be performed in front of only the assembled dignitaries and the media as well as the party faithful, the international luminaries included Britain's Prince Charles and India's Indira Gandhi.

Such a scheduling implied that the events would have an exact order. But instead, Carter said: "It was complete anarchy. Bob went on immediately after the flag-raising ceremony. We had arrived at 8:30 in the evening, and were leisurely getting ready. We hadn't realised just how suddenly they expected us on stage. When they announced us, we weren't ready at all."

In fact, the first official words uttered in Zimbabwe, following the raising of the new flag, were: "Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers."

Twenty minutes later, Bob and The Wailers started their set. As soon as the first notes rang out, pandemonium broke loose in the enormous crowd gathered by the entrance to the sports stadium: the gates shook and began to break apart as the crush increased, the citizens of Harare, both excited and angry at being excluded from seeing these inspirational musicians.

As clouds of teargas drifted almost immediately into the stadium itself, the audience on the pitch fell on their feet in an attempt to protect themselves. The group members tasted their first whiffs of the gas and left the stage. "All of a sudden," said Judy Mowatt, "you smell this thing taking over your whole body, going in your throat until you want to choke, burning your eyes. I looked at Rita (Marley) and Marcia and they were feeling the same thing."

"I feel my eyes and nose," remembered Family Man, "and think, from when I was born, I have to come all the way to Africa to experience teargas."

Bob, however seemed to have moved to a transcendent state. His eyes were shut, and for a while the gas didn't seem to have an effect at all. Then he opened his eyes and left the stage.

Backstage, the group had taken refuge in a truck. Outside they could see small children fainting and women collapsing. It looked like death personified to Mowatt, who briefly wondered whether they had been brought to Zimbabwe to meet their ends.

She persuaded someone to drive her and the other I-Threes back to the hotel, only to discover on the television that the show had resumed. After about half an hour Bob and the Wailers had gone back on stage. They ended their set with Zimbabwe, a song Bob had worked on during his pilgrimage to Ethiopia late in 1978, and which became arguably his most important single composition.

Bob was just coming offstage as Mowatt and her fellow women singers returned to the stadium. "Hah," he looked at them with a half-grin, "now I know who the real revolutionaries are."

It was decided that the group would play another concert the following day, to give the ordinary people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to see Bob Marley.

Over 100 000 people-an audience that was almost entirely black- watched this show by Bob Marley and The Wailers. The group performed for an hour and a half, the musicians fired up to a point of ecstasy. But Bob, who uncharacteristically hadn't bothered to turn up for the sound check, was strangely lacklustre in his performance; a mood of disillusionment had set in around him following the tear-gassing the previous day.

After the day's performance, the Bob Marley team was invited to spend the evening at the home of Tekere. This was not the most relaxed of social occasions.

As the henchmen strutted around with their Kalashnikovs, Mills was informed by Tekere that he wanted Bob to stay in Zimbabwe and tour the country. "Bob told me to say he wasn't going to, but the guy didn't want to hear me."

While Bob remained in the house, Rob Partridge and Phil Cooper sat out in the garden. "I could hear," said Cooper, head of international affairs, "Tekere saying to Bob, 'I want this man Cooper. He's been going around putting your image everywhere. He's trying to portray you as a bigger man than our President.' I could hear all this.

"Then Bob came out and said to us, in hushed, perfect Queen's English; 'I think it's a good idea for you to leave'."

"Partridge and I went and packed, and took the first international flight out, which was to Nairobi. About five months later Tekere was arrested and put in jail; he had been involved in the murder of some white settler.

The next day Carter found himself being cajoled in the way Mills had been.

"Job Kadengu told me that there was a show in Bulawayo we had to do. But I was signing for trucks on behalf of the minister of development, Tekere, in other words. So we drove out to the airport with all the gear, loaded up the plane we'd chartered and left the country."-From the book: Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom by Adrian Boot and Chris Salewicz, Bloomsbury Publishing, plc, 1995

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