On Monday, London’s “Telegraph” published an interview of British director, Kevin MacDonald by Florence Walters. Kevin MacDonald recently made a film on life of Jamaican musician, Bob Marley. The movie is a masterpiece.
Kevin MacDonald- pic courtsey of University of Aberdeen....
Well to start with in the last 31 years, I have watched many Bob Marley films, read numerous books, wrote several reviews and continue to sing some of his songs in my gigs. In the UK, “Three Little Birds” one of his simplest melodic tunes, is so popular in primary schools that whenever I play it I hear teachers singing along, loudly with pupils:
“Don’t worry about a thing
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”
Positive words that give hope, part of this great songwriter’s amazing skill. I recall the news of Marley’s death in May 1981. Professor Horace Campbell, then lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam had just published a booklet linking Marley’s work to Africa, Rastafarians, Dr Walter Rodney and Marcus Garvey the granddad of Pan Africanism.
The late Professor Walter Rodney who was assassinated by CIA in 1980...pic by Walter Rodney Foundation
This is evident in the song “Who the Cap Fits” which has Garvey's lyricism:
Man to man is so unjust
Children you don’t know who to trust...
Your best friend could be your worst enemy
And your worst enemy your best friend...”
Marcus Garvey - pic from Wikipedia...
I reviewed Professor Campbell's booklet for Daily News. The Jamaican was one of the many progressive lecturers at the University of Dar es Salaam. He organised many events including an all night party in homage to Bob Marley. Those days Reggae music was not that popular let alone known in Tanzania.
Few years later while at the Hallians club in Nairobi I met a local musician who claimed to have met Bob Marley on his way to Zimbabwe in 1980. Bob Marley had also been in Gabon. The Caribbean musician never came to Tanzania which was centre of the anti- colonial and apartheid struggle on the continent in line with Reggae, Rastafarians and Bob Marley’s own moral values.
At the moment I am reading a new book “Bob Marley – The Untold Story” by Chris Salewicz. I have also read Timothy White (The Life of Bob Marley, 1983), and Bob Marley –Songs of Freedom (1995) by photographer Adrian Boot and Chris Salewicz. Two biographies by those who were closest to him, i.e. his widow Rita Marley (No Woman no Cry- My Life with Bob Marley, 2004) and business associate Donald Taylor (My Life as Bob Marley’s Manager- So Much Things To say, 1995) offer interesting insights while several films, e.g. “Legend” issued soon after his death and Bob Marley Story, 2001...looked at his music too.
Subsequently then I can say I have absorbed pretty much therefore can compare all this with “Marley” the new film.
Kevin MacDonald reveals more. In the brief interview with Florence Walters, the director explains that he wanted to portray the real man behind the music.
“Once I learnt about his flaws I liked him more. You can relate to a man with flaws but not a perfect one.”
For example, MacDonald says Bob Marley was politically naive. “He was a very religious man and he didn’t believe that politics was that important.”
For that he did a concert in Gabon. “The man who believed in the return to Africa for all African Diaspora, all African peoples, and his first concert was for President Bongo, the dictator of Gabon. That’s pretty ironic.”
The film has been criticised by Bunny Wailer (childhood pal who worked with Bob Marley during early days) for not representing Rastafarian values properly.
But having watched it I confess it highlights four main issues that made Bob Marley successful, hence, significant.
First he was a mixed race child who suffered rejection by his white side of the family and scorn from blacks. They would call him “the German” just like we tease mixed race people in Tanzania with phrases like “Half-castes”, “Wamanga” or “Mashombe” ... therefore, he decided to express himself in music. His father was a British soldier who impregnated a young black woman (Cedella Booker) but died when the kid was only ten.
Secondly, Bob Marley strongly believed in his music and used it to highlight social misery and problems in Jamaica and globally. The song titles speak for themselves. So Much Trouble in The World, Africans Unite, Work, Them Belly-full But We Are Hungry, Crazy Baldheads, No Woman No Cry, Get up Stand up Stand Up For your Rights, One Love, Rat Race, etc.
Zahra Redwood, Miss Jamaica, 2007 , reported to be a Rastafarian lady by Sydney Morning Herald.
Thirdly, his religious and Rastafarian beliefs cemented his spiritual connection with God and Africa. Rastafarians regard Ethiopia and Haile Selassie as part of that connection. Last is his self discipline and work ethic which included waking up very early, jogging, a healthy diet, exercising and football. That discipline is shown in the film. Marley was generally last to sleep and first to wake up.
Also published in Citizen Tanzania