There were many influential reggae artists such as Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and Jacob Miller that became popular on a large scale. However, Bob Marley was probably the most influential figure in internationalizing reggae, with help from Island Records president, Chris Blackwell. “Marley’s pivotal position as first Caribbean artist to receive large scale financial backing from a western record industry makes assessing his career crucial to an examination of commercial transformation in regional popular music.”
(Alleyne, 93) Marley cut his first recordings in 1962 at the age of sixteen. These songs had a ska feel and were recorded under Leslie Kong’s Beverly’s label. After these recordings were released, Marley’s coach and tutor, Joe Higgs, helped him form a tight knit group with friends Bunny Livingston and Peter Macintosh (later known as Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh). Higgs gave this group the name “The Wailers.”
The Wailers became relatively big around Jamaica and much of their music preached the Rastafarian faith; post the coming of prophet Haile Selassie I. His coming inspired The Wailers to make their lyrics more related to Rastafari and adhere to such customs as the growing of dreadlocks. The Wailers recorded in a number of places around Jamaica including the studio of Lee “Scratch” Perry, a unique producer that resided in the Kingston area.
The Wailers proved to not see enough financial backing from their music in these local record labels. According to Bunny Wailer, Perry actually did not pay the Wailers any of their agreed salary until 25 years past the date. Because of their economic hardships they tried starting their own record label, Tuff Gong Records, but to no avail. They wound up signing to Island Records where president Chris Blackwell paid them $8,000 dollars to record the album “To Catch a Fire”, which they recorded in less than a month.
The government also did not like reggae music's association with Rasta culture such as dreadlocks, an Ethiopian inspired hairstyle, and the colors green, red and gold because these customs aid the worship of Haile Selassie, a living black god, and support the return to Africa and the view of Jamaica as the Babylon which holds them in captivity of the protracted Diaspora. However, Since the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement has been in conflict with Jamaica?s colonialist web of economic exploitation and racial stratification.
(King, 135) It was inevitable that this music associated so closely with the powerful Rastafarian religion would be exploited and commercialized. If reggae could have reached the international scale without changing the core of the music and retaining its Afro-Caribbean roots it would be very beneficial to our society. The spread of the rebellious message that is so fundamental in reggae music and the mass understanding of the powerful religion of Rastafari would make a very positive imprint on western society.
In a sense the commercialization of reggae did lead to this. It did lead to the introduction of the music and culture on an international level. However, the extent to which this took place did change the music from its roots and made the music conform to the constraints of popular music in the west solely for economic reasons.
The major record labels that introduced reggae into the western world were not trying to teach people about the message behind the music, but exploit these rebellious themes for sheer profit. The general commercialization of Rastafari could have been beneficial, but, as Jacob Miller sings, ?there is TOO MUCH commercialization of Rastafari.? The extent of the commercialization is what is detrimental to the Rastafarian faith.