Credit + Access, a Marley fable (aka access to credit)

There are two memorable moments (among oh-so many) in the 2012 documentary, Marley. The two that my mind/heart/soul has linked are from two very different phases of Bob Marley’s life and career. He certainly lived as a musician, but I was reminded how he was and is a spiritual figure and global icon for love, nonviolence, and freedom. Freedom of nations, of people, and of our souls. Now, for the two moments, which have to do with credit.

#1 — As Bob, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are first embarking as an independent three-man band in Kingston of the early 1960s, the documentary recounts the story, told by a distant cousin, of how Bob went to see some of his extended family asking for some support or a loan. The Wailers wanted/needed the capital to buy a car that they could use to independently distribute to clubs, and radio stations across Kingston. Yet, the white Marleys wanted nothing to do with this mulatto son of one of their deceased members. (note: I had not known that Bob had a white father, nevermind one who was so much older than his mother, until watching the movie) Despite their tremendous wealth and plenty of assets that would have made a car loan an insignificant amount, Bob was turned away from the Marley Construction Company empty-handed. The Wailers had to find other means to distribute their newly recorded singles.

#2 — Years later, Bob is cash rich. So much so, that when a Zimbabwean delegation visit him to ask him to perform at their independence concert and ceremony in 1980, Marley is keen. So eager to do so that he/the band cover all of the $80,000 in 1980 dollars (which is approximately $208,888 in 2010 dollars) to ship their instruments and sound equipment from Kingston to Harare.

The Zimbabwean delegation did not have the cash. But that did not stop the Wailers from being at a national liberation concert on the Mother Continent. It is ironic and tragic to see a much younger Robert Mugabe, circa 1980, proclaiming freedom, independence and democracy; how much can change in three decades.

The ensuing concert and historic occasion — of Zimbabwe’s independence and of a free Bob Marley and the Wailers concert for a newly independent nation, that is no longer colonized, and no longer Rhodesia — is also an instance of spiritual transcendence. At least, that is how it seems to me, witnessing history through the movie’s storytelling.


The trajectory of Bob, who is one of the rare humans who is on a first name (or single names) basis with much of the globe (along with Madiba, Evita or Barack), was marked by his access to capital, and to the other means of production. Those means of production being land, labor and capital. The Wailers’ rise within Jamaica’s domestic music scene took longer because of the bottlenecks and constraints that a young, independent band faced.

Conversely, the people of Zimbabwe would not have had the enduring joy of Bob’s only live performance in 1980, had he been cash poor or debt-strapped.

I am inspired by the story of how even a global phenomenon such as the Wailers faced obstacles such as lacking a car, and the gasoline to distribute their music. The status quo had wanted to control the distribution, release and promotion of Kingston’s musical acts. Much like the 20th Century industry titans who want to impede the innovative people, ideas and companies that nurture the creative destruction today that will hasten the demise of the old ideas of yesteryear, and yester-century.

Ultimately, limited and constrained access to capital is a norm in our economy (and in capitalism). Too few lending dollars provided to small ventures and enterprising individuals. As a result, a bias towards that results in any loans considered being lent to the bigger entities who can either point to previous financial records or who already have the assets that serve as collateral. As a result, those with existing assets have the access to capital. Capital that makes it much easier to grow, or experiment on a new idea. Ideas that can be business or cultural and art ventures such as The Wailers.

Some may suggest that the status quo demands that musicians or entrepreneurs have to show grit, hustle and finesse needed to persevere. Yet, an uneven playing field means that the very subjective nature of lending is not done evenly. It is subjective because lending is, after all, one person making a subjective decision about another person. Instances where a new venture may not have the financial records to demonstrate the return, or safety of such an investment. The current set-up squashes dreams and aspirations when capital is so hard to come by. When the pools of who has access continue to be so dependent on the Old Boy Network.