For reggae fans, the Bob Marley Museum is the whole point of a visit to Kingston and, even if you’re not a serious devotee, it’s well worth an hour of your time – though don’t expect a Disney-type theme-park ambience. Hidden from the street by a red-, gold- and green-painted wall and marked by fluttering Rasta banners, this beautiful colonial-era wooden building was Marley’s Kingston home from 1975 until his death from cancer in 1981, and was designated a National Heritage site in 2006. It’s been kept much as it looked when he lived here, and is a gentle monument to Jamaica’s greatest musical legend. The hour-long tour starts as soon as you pass through the gates (no photography, filming or taping is allowed inside the house), with the guide pointing out photographs of the singer and his family mounted on the walls, a battered jeep formerly owned by Marley, and Pierre Rouzier’s fine sculpture of the man himself. You’re then led around the back of the house to the room where Marley was almost assassinated during the 1976 election campaign. Blown-up newspaper reports from the time cover the walls, with space left for the bullet holes that riddle the brickwork. After the shooting, Marley left Jamaica for a two-year exile in Britain.
Inside, the house is decorated with gold and platinum discs depicting sales of the albums Exodus (1977), Uprising (1980) and Legend (1984), as well as the covers of all of his LPs, a commemoration of Marley’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, posthumously presented in 2001, and his Order of Merit from the Jamaican government. Upstairs, there is a re-creation of Wail ‘n’ Soul, Marley’s tiny, shack-like Trench Town record shop, where he once hung out with band members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, while the walls of another room are entirely covered with yellowing newspaper articles from home and abroad, which make fascinating reading. There’s also a chart of all the cities the Wailers played in worldwide – prominence is given to shows in Africa, particularly the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe in 1980, but the band clearly worked hard, notching up performances in places as far-flung as the Mediterranean party island of Ibiza. You can peek into Marley’s bedroom and kitchen, the latter complete with the blender in which he made his natural juices.
The tour ends behind the house in the air-conditioned movie theatre that once housed Marley’s Tuff Gong recording studio. There’s moving footage of the “One Love” concert held during the bloody election year of 1980, at which Marley brought together rival party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, and interviews with the great man cut together with appropriate music videos – the return to Africa and Exodus, celebration of “herb” and Easy Skanking.