Mortimer Planno In The Life Of Bob Marley
Thirty-four years ago, Bob Marley, the undisputed King of Reggae passed on in Miami Beach Florida, USA. Nevertheless, Marley’s post humus fame has continued to grow and blossom, defying the effect of the passage of time and changes in artistic taste that usually erodes the relevance of other artistes after their time alive. In this tribute, BAYO DARAMOLA identifies Marley’s devotion to Rastafarian doctrine as championed by Mortimer Planno as a reason for Marley’s uniqueness.
WHEN objective scorecards on lifetime achievements are measured and assessed, none would ever be able to push aside Robert Nesta Marley’s lifetime success as a fluke, not to talk of treating the Black Jamaican singer and song writer’s enduring post humus fame and socio-psychological impact like a tiny matter.
Both in historical and in socio-cultural terms, Marley succeeded in life by flexibly warming his way into the heart of the global human family by being a subtle but persistent, outspoken and difficult to ignore champion of the defeated and down trodden victims of modern urban existence.
For as long as social inequalities, which are the price that humanity is paying for modern economic progress continue to exist, the popularity of Bob Marley’s music and the evangelistic gospel contained in it would never wane but remain ever relevant and compelling.
All the same, transcendental success in the arts never occurs by chance; whenever it happens, it is usually possible and common to identify a clear cut combination of factors that triggered the occurrence. Therefore, part of the explanation for Robert Nesta’s magnificent triumph in the musical arts is to be found in the quality of persons that influenced him in the separate but interrelated spheres of the enigmatic life of art he lived so admirably.
Peter Tosh and Bonny Wailer, his early period band mates who later embarked on successful solo careers, were great creative sparks for Marley’s intellect. The same is true of Joe Higgs, their music tutor who was also the mentor of many other Jamaican born artistes.
Correspondingly powerful influences were the producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and the record label owner, Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Perry initiated the process that took Marley’s song writing and sound production skills to glorious heights while Blackwell is the entertainment business mogul who orchestrated Marley’s ascension to the zenith of worldwide fame and global stardom.
But for my own money’s worth, apart from Bob’s mum and other home influences, it was the influence of the Rastafarian Spiritual leader, Mortimer Planno that had the most positive, the most supernatural, the most dramatic and the most far reaching impact on the life and art of Robert Nesta Marley.
Music was obviously the mainstay of Marley’s iconographic personality. Yet, the subjects he addressed in his forceful lyrical works are so deep and diverse that it is reasonable to conclude that he was a universally important philosopher in all aspects of the social drama that modern urban living is known to be. Planno’s influence was a major driving force within the sub-cultural dynamics that sustained Marley’s reputation as a universally acclaimed hero.
More to the point, Mortimer Planno’s influence carries main responsibility for the infusion of Rastafarian doctrine as well as Rastafarian inspired spiritual insights into Marley’s vocal compositions, culminating in the final analysis to remarkable recordings like Crazy Baldhead, Rastaman Vibration of 1976 and Natty Dread of 1974, the latter being an album title track for the first recorded work under the fresh tag of Bob Marley and the Wailers when three artistic giants went their separate ways and Marley had to inaugurate The I-threes as female backup voices competently filling the slots vacated by his two friends.
Due to complications from a thyroid condition, in 2006 Mortimer Planno died aged 77. Yet, everyone is aware that his teachings, his poetry, his Rastafarian chants and his drum sequences were major influences on the lifestyle and lyrical works of Bob Marley. Among other things, in 1967 when Marley was still a youthful singer and guitarist, Planno introduced him to the American record producer, Danny Sims. The end result was the Wailers’ first recording contract. It was five years before they would be signed on by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and rise to worldwide fame and recognition.
Marley would later record several of Planno’s songs, notably Haile Selassie is the Chapel, a 1968 composition. Also, Marley’s initiation to the positive use of cannabis as a lifetime habit is credited to Planno and his close associates. Quite insightfully, it is known that their coded name for the mood altering substance was “wisdom weed.” In combination with innate giftedness Marley’s artistry would acquire the indefatigable mark beginning from 1975.
Generally speaking, Planno was a key figure in the ascendency of Rastafarianism in Jamaica. He was an elder in the Nyahbinghi mansion (or branch) of the movement when Marley and the Wailers visited his Rastafarian encampment on 5th Street in Trench Town, Kingston Jamaica, near Marley’s own home, in the mid-1960s. There Planno, with dreadlocks and flowing white robes, proclaimed himself a Thoughtist and ministered in the role of a spiritual guru catering to the needs of practicing Rastafarians or to anyone else who sought advice.
Under Mortimer Planno’s influence, Trench Town which was Bob Marley’s neck of the woods in Kingston would become the spiritual power junction of the worldwide Rastafarian Movement which worshipped Ras Tafari – i.e. Prince Tafari – the original name of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I before his coronation as Negussa Negast, the power of the trinity and earth rightful ruler, being the elect of the Most High Himself.
A call was made for the repatriation of the descendants of black slaves from the New World to the promised land of Ethiopia and Planno is credited with bringing official recognition, social rights, organizational structure and communal respectability to the Movement from the 1950s onwards.
It is on record that Planno was born in Cuba on September 6, 1929. His mother is said to have brought him back with her to Jamaica when he was just a three-year-old youngster in 1932. It is to Planno’s eternal credit that whereas virtually all of the early period Rastafarian ideas had been passed on only by word of mouth, he was the one who took the responsible step of persuading the University of the West Indies that it was essential to get the wisdom encapsulated in the top quality thinking down on paper.
In 1960, Planno hand-wrote a report on the Ras Tafari Movement, which he had self righteously co-founded as a formal association. His autobiographical essay The Earth’s Strangest Man: the Rastafarian (1970), also written by hand, often in patois and including coloured drawings, established Mortimer Planno for good as an icon of the Rastafarian system of faith and worship.
Planno became a good friend of Haile Selassie and, when the Ethiopian Emperor visited Jamaica on April 21 1966, it was Planno who greeted him on the aircraft steps and cleared a way through the 100,000-strong crowd. He also played a key role in organizing the 1978 One Love concert in Kingston, when Bob Marley came back from self imposed exile in England to bring together the country’s political archrivals, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.
Nothing happens physically unless its occurrence has been sealed already in the spirit realm. Bob Marley’s artistic success is certainly rooted in his deeply seated spiritual experiences. Those experiences were direct consequences of close association with Mortimer Planno. Bob’s studio and stage success attained a peak in the 70s but his life was cut short at his prime.
In her attempt to place a mark on the heady feeling that stardom must have bestowed, Jody Mowatt, one of the I-Threes said from 200-seater platforms we got to a thousand. Then I saw 80,000 and I saw 100, 000.
According to Neville Garrick, Bob’s graphic artistic director, they were a band that at its peak, during the Babylon by Bus tour of continental Europe in support of the Kaya album of 1978, audiences in excess of 2 million came to see them in concert during a 6-week period.
They broke all records and were an irresistible sensation. Bob Marley’s incubation in Rastafarian doctrine facilitated the translation of his humanity to the glorious heights of divinity in human flesh.