Book: Bob Marley blacked his hair with shoe polish in order to fit in

The book I&I: The Natural Mystics of Colin Grant has revealed that Bob Marley was so angst-ridden over his race that he used shoe polish to blacken his hair.

I&I: The Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh and Wailer, highlights the insecurities the Jamaican-born reggae legend - who had a white father and a black mother - faced during his teenage years.

In the book, his widow Rita Marley recalls how her husband was so aware of bullying for being mixed-race that he asked her to 'rub shoe polish in his hair to make it more black, make it more African.'

"When Marley moved to Trench Town in Kingston aged 13 he was thought of as a white man and would have got a lot of grief for that," Grant told The Guardian.

Grant added that while this part of Marley's life was well known in Jamaica, it is the first time that the extent of his insecurities and prejudices he faced has been revealed.

The author, Colin Grant, interviewed some of the singer's relatives and those close to him for the book, which is published in January (released on the 27the).

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About the book

Over one dramatic decade, a trio of Trench Town R&B crooners, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, swapped their 1960s Brylcreem hairdos and two-tone suits for 1970s battle fatigues and dreadlocks to become the Wailers—one of the most influential groups in popular music

From youth to early adulthood, they had been inseparable; united in their ambition, through musical harmony and financial reward, to escape Jamaica’s Trench Town ghetto.

On the cusp of success however, they’d been pulled apart by the elevation of Marley as first among equals and by the razor sharp instincts of Chris Blackwell, the shrewd and charming boss of Island Records.

I & I: The Natural Mystics examines for the first time the story of the Wailers, arguing that these musicians offered a model for black men in the second half of the twentieth century: accommodate and succeed (Marley), fight and die (Tosh) or retreat and live (Wailer).

It charts their complex relationship, their fluctuating fortunes, musical peak, and the politics and ideologies that provoked their split.

Following their trail from Jamaica through Europe, America, and back to the vibrant and volatile world of Trench Town, Grant travels in search of the last surviving Wailer. He unravels the roots of their charisma, their adoption of Rastafari, their suspicion of race pimps and Obeah men (witch doctors), and their quest to become not just extraordinary musicians but also natural mystics.

I & I is a remarkable story of creativity, squandered talent and fierce ambitious rivalry – a mix of reportage and revelatory history by one of our best and brightest non-fiction writers.

Colin Grant is an independent historian and BBC radio producer. The son of Jamaican emigrants, his first book, a biography of Marcus Garvey, Negro with a Hat is also published by Jonathan Cape.

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