When Bob Marley moved into new house at 56 Hope Road, a lot of his neighbours were decidedly sniffy. His music may have put Jamaica on the map, but that didn't mean they wanted him and his entourage spoiling their neat, moneyed neighbourhood. In the decades since the reggae icon's untimely death, however, things have changed, and Marley's house has been transformed into a fabulous museum of his life.
Guarded by high gates with wrought-iron lions painted in the Rastafari colours of red, gold and green, the Bob Marley Museum is Kingston's most popular tourist site. It's a slightly creaky colonial-era mansion, set amid huge murals of the man and slightly endearing signs warning visitors to beware falling mangoes from the surrounding trees
The entrance to the house is guarded by a life-sized statue of the man himself, lost in his music and raising a triumphant fist. Tours gather here — the house is relatively small, so all visits are as part of a small group — where a guide gives you the basic outline of Marley's life and career. This continues into the first main room, which is festooned with framed gold and platinum discs that trace his recording career. It's at this early point in the tour that the guide sizes up your group to lead you all in a rendition of One Love.
Some of the most fascinating snippets from Bob Marley's life are literally stuck to the walls of another room, which is wallpapered with newspaper and magazine clippings of interviews, reviews, and news stories. The song you'll have just sung takes on a deeper resonance here, where you'll find the poster for the April 1978 One Love Peace Concert, headlined by Bob Marley, when Jamaica faced one of its greatest post-independent crises and the bloody rivalry between political parties threatened to tear the country apart. Just two years earlier, unknown criminals had tried to kill Marley at Hope Road, and your tour guide will point out the bullet holes in the room where the shooting took place.
The museum offers plenty of glimpses at Marley-as-superstar, so it's a pleasant change when you come across one of the few rooms that's kept as it was when he lived there. In his bedroom, a framed picture of the Rastafari icon Haile Selassie sits above the bed, while at its foot a beautiful star-shaped guitar — painted with birds and flowers — leans casually, as if its owner has just popped into the kitchen. Only the knitted hat in a glass case on the shelf suggests a scene frozen for posterity.
If you've got time at the end of your tour, its possible to arrange a trip to the still-working Tuff Gong Studios, where many of Marley's classic tracks were recorded. But a trip to the museum at 56 Hope Road remains a fitting tribute to the man who made reggae a world soundtrack. After all, even his old neighbours ended up rather pleased with having him put their address on the map.
Ready to experience Jamaica? Consider visiting for Reggae Sumfest, the island's largest music festival. Check out our Reggae Sumfest tour here.