(Davis, 93) This relationship with Blackwell is what truly internationalized reggae music and the wailers and changed it from its original roots. “From the outset of “To Catch a Fire” (1972), Blackwell was determined to culturally and commercially recontextualize The Wailers’ music and image.” (Ayelle 95) Blackwell’s goal was to make reggae music appealing to a western audience. He changed their image, displaying them as “rock stars” instead of reggae artists and exploited their rebellious message for sheer profit.
He made album covers displaying the Rastafarian use of ganja as a sacrament, as a rebellious act that further led to a misunderstanding of Rastafarian culture. “The transformation brought about by Blackwell was not merely a minor cosmetic modification, but a reformation of the text of reggae in which elements considered most appealing to the western rock audience were fore grounded at the expense of its primary Afro-Caribbean characteristics.”
(Ayelle, 95-96) Obviously, Marley did not have solely bad intentions, but there is evidence to believe he knew the change of his music was solely to receive financial and commercial benefits. Marley’s “reported presence during the overall reshaping of “To Catch a Fire” suggests he understood the inevitability of record company intervention and the probable commercial benefits brought through wider dissemination.”
(Ayelle 96) Blackwell changed the name of The Wailers 1974 album, Knotty Dread to Natty Dread. Although this does not seem like a big deal, the change in name “diluted the dreadness” of the album and made it more culturally compatible with norms of western society. This diluted “dreadness” is not only found in titles but also the music itself, taking away from the strong, essential drum and bass rhythms of primary reggae and adding lead guitar and keyboards to the mix, veering away from the Rasta Afro-Caribbean roots.
Furthermore, with his album “Rastaman Vibration,” he seemed to give in to commercialization to a greater extent. Many argue that his main intent for the album was to spread his message to a greater audience, which would truly be a good thing. Songs like “War” in which the lyrics were the words from a speech given by the Rastafarian prophet, Haile Selassi I, would justify the spread of the message. However, songs like “Roots, Rock Reggae” have lyrics that admit his commercial status such as, “We’re bubbling on the top one hundred like a mighty dread”.
In essence his intentions could have been to spread the message of JAH, however, at this point it is evident that he was aware of his commercial status and the change of his music that resulted from this. Many people such as Paul Gilroy defend Marley’s international status saying, “His primary objective was cross cultural outreach aimed especially at uniting the threads of the black Diaspora.”
This is true, but it is evident in his work that he only analyzed the situation in part. “Capitalist bases of the record industry and the economic fruits reaped by both Island and Marley in consequence of the music’s assimilability are deemphasized in Gilroy’s critique.”(Ayelle, 100) Even after Marley’s death, the commercialization did not stop. Marley became a legend, and a figure that epitomized reggae music as opposed to the reality, which is that there are many other influential reggae artists with a stronger message and more ties to the Rastafarian faith.