Lively up yourself and gwan down to see KevinMcDonald’s irie documentary, “Marley”. It immerses you into the life and music of probably the greatest pop musician. Ever. The movie interweaves interviews of family, friends, fellow musicians and the famous man himself with lots of live footage of performances to create a portrait of the performer. Robert Nestor Marley was the progeny of the coupling of a sixteen year old Black child and a sixty plus year old White man. The skinny half-cast, Bob, recast reggae from his Trenchtown base to rise above the violence and poverty of his surroundings.
“A hungry man is an angry man.”
The overriding focus of McDonald’s film (he also gave us the memorable “The Last King of Scotland” and the forgettable “State of Play”) centers on Marley’s Rasta-inspired world philosophy of inclusiveness and peace.
“One love, one heart,
Let’s get together and feel alright”
But Marley’s peace and love was no mere pop musician’s channeling of the zeitgeist of the time. He lived his music totally, and brought to the – usually anodyne – simpleness of pop a clear-eyed articulation of the Black experience.
“He was taken from Africa.
Brought to America.
Buffalo soldier, in the heart of America.”
You think the Temptations or Lionel Ritchie would have had the guts to have sung that?
Marley rallied (and continues to rally) a generation to, “Get up, stand up/Stand up for your rights.”
And his one love vision (the movie shows the extent to which, as a political neutral, he worked to forge a rapprochement between the warring Jamaican armies of Michael Manley’s PNP and Edward Seaga’s JLP) was always grounded in reality.
“Until the philosophy which
Holds one race superior
And another inferior
Is finally and permanently
Descredited and abandoned,
Everywhere is war.”
But unlike Dylan’s down-beat protest songs and today’s venomous hip-hop, Marley’s music is never angry. Always uplifting.
And joyful. He had a lot to be joyful about, for he was a man of great, let’s say, fecundity. Women everywhere seemed to find him irresistible. By the time he’d died of cancer at thirty-six, he’d squired eleven children from seven of his multiple lovers.
“We’ll share the shelter
Of my single bed…
Is this love that I’m feeing?”
Yeah, baby. Clearly you were feeling a lot of love.
And it’s not too far a stretch to understand his need to pen a number like, “No woman no cry.”
McDonald keeps the interviews with Marley to a minimum. His music spoke the volumes his sound-bite seeking interviewers could never get. One interviewer, incredulous that this skinny Black Jamaican could have achieved so much, let slip the core of his own jealousy. “Are you a rich man?” he asks. “Do you have a lot of possessions?”
“Is possessions make you rich?” Marley responds, shutting him down.
For in the end, it wasn’t about the money, the fame, the women, the ganja. It was always just about the music and the way it defined the man.
“These sounds of freedom
Is all I ever have…”
OK. So the movie was a bit hagiographic (after all it was produced by Ziggy Marley and Chris Blackwell. The latter created Island Records; his mother was for years a ‘close friend’ of Ian Flemming when he lived at Goldeneye. Which I guess makes Bob Marley two degrees of separation away from James Bond.) But who cares. Bob Marley is Jah!