‘I’m here as a soldier of love,” reggae star Ziggy Marley proclaimed last Thursday, as he performed at Ra’anna’s municipal park in a suburban-style city in the center of the country, far from the katushyas that are hitting in Israel’s north and from the Qassam rockets falling in the south. It was the same message he had given at a pre-concert press conference: “I have no fear. I believe in what I do, good vibes, love, release of tension, negative energy… love is my religion.”
It wasn’t the first time that the singer, son of legendary Rastafarian icon Bob Marley, has performed in Israel, though his original schedule of two concerts — one at northern Achziv Beach, within shooting range of the Lebanese border, and the other at a Tel Aviv nightclub — was collapsed into one and moved to the relatively safe Ra’anna venue.
Israel has been trying to lure foreign talent to its theaters for some time — both Sting and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters performed here in June — but regular outbursts of violence have kept many of the boldface names away. And now, even locally based cultural performances are sparsely attended. And as Marley performed, audience members could be heard wondering about whether British alternative rock band Depeche Mode still would be coming to perform in Tel Aviv. On August 1, two days before its scheduled performance, the band pulled out. In this context, Marley’s concert provided a much needed, and rare, outlet for those in attendance.
“We are here for the people, not the politics,” he said. And yet, Marley (who is married to an Israeli woman) put on a concert — performed in an open-air amphitheater for 7,000 people — that was actually quite political in its tone.
The crowd was filled with high school and university kids, baby boomers and families pushing infants in strollers. Opening for Marley was the popular Israeli hip-hop singer Muki, who sang of social inequalities in Israeli society and also gave messages of peace. Then Marley came onstage, flanked by a full band, backup singers and a light show (sometimes beaming the colors of the Jamaican flag). He sang a song from his new album, “Shalom, Salaam,” in which he asks: “Who will take the blame for my children dying from tanks and suicide bombers?” referring both to Israeli tanks in Gaza and Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel. “Justice will come for my sons,” he continued.
Marley later introduced his father’s famous song “No Woman, No Cry,” by dedicating “something special to Israel and for Lebanon, too,” to “all the mothers, women, sisters who lost children in this terrible war.” Thousands of Israelis joined in the singing.
Adina Kruger, a university student from Be’ersheva, enjoyed the concert despite the message, which didn’t sit well with her. “I don’t like people from outside making peace for Israel,” she said, before adding, “I came for music, not to talk to [Marley].” Rotem, a female soldier on leave (who wouldn’t give her last name), thought otherwise. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s nice to be at an event for peace,” she sighed.