The story behind Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe

Bob Marley

In the 1970s I was working for the United Nations in Ethiopia and, together with several colleagues who had a passion for music, we formed a group called The United Nations Jazz Band.

Zimbabweans in that band were (former finance minister) Herbert Murerwa, Cephas Mangwana and myself. There were eight other members from other African countries. Our band used to play at various UN functions to which we had been invited.

Bob Marley used to come to Ethiopia to support the Rastafarian movement tin that country and during one of his visits he made inquiries about people who were involved in music and apparently our group was brought to his attention. This is how we got to be connected.

We became friends and he would come to my house and we would rehearse together. I was not a reggae artiste because I was more inclined to jazz music. But Bob was a patient teacher who taught me the chords and progressions of the genre. He highlighted that Zimbabwe was on the brink of independence and it would be great if we could actually write a song for the country, so we started working on the track.

Bob Marley at Rufaro Stadium (The Herald)
Bob Marley at Rufaro Stadium in Harare where he performed on April 17 and 18 in 1980 (Courtesy of The Herald)

I was not much into reggae music but being an artiste and under the mentorship of the legend himself I found myself throwing in my ideas so as to add the African sound to the song. So while we were practicing the song I would add my ideas both in the instrumentation and lyrical bit of the song until it was complete.

This song was so special in the sense that it was timely as it was sung during the independence celebrations and the fact that it was being performed by an artiste of that calibre who was a sympathiser of the liberation movement was just amazing.

We had become close and at one point he even asked if it was possible for me to join his band whenever he was performing in Africa but I told him that it was not possible because I had a full-time job and music was just a hobby.

Gibson Mandishona. is a Zimbabwean demographer, mathematician and inventor with a Ph. D. from Notts (UK) obtained in 1 974. He has worked as an industrial statician with the UN Economic Commission for Africa until 1980 when he became first post-indepedence Director of Census and Statistics. – This was first published here in the Mail & Guardian