Posters. Bumper stickers. T-shirts. Ashtrays. Leaflets. 12-foot-high wall murals. A perhaps accidental riff that spawned a new genre of music. Songs that no one can really remember hearing for the first time, but somehow you just know all the words to. An angst-ridden teenager discovering themselves through a cathartic cloud of weed, and the soothing balm of ‘don’t worry be happy’. Generations of drunken karaoke offences. The political reconciliation of a broken nation. Music that conquered the world.
The legacy of Bob Marley is everywhere; the man transcends age, class, nationality, and despite the Rastafarian and Afro-centric foundation of his music, even ethnicity and race. But that was the essential brilliance of Marley; his ‘half caste’ genetics that cast him as an outsider growing up in Nine Mile and Kingston became the springboard upon which he built his strengths, propelled him to the Rastas, and gave us the philosophy behind One Love.
Now I can’t claim to be an expert in the field of Reggae, but I can claim that what originally began as a tentative (and ashamedly last resort) recording on Sky, turned into the delight of discovering a hidden gem; aka Kevin Macdonald’s 2012 documentary ‘Marley‘. Thank god I didn’t resort to 60 Minute Makeover again.
Macdonald provided me with the most worthwhile couple of hours I can remember in a long time. I had never before understood the importance of Bob Marley. In my lazy round-about way I had always just assumed he opportunistically tapped into the hippy vibe of the seventies,and just evolved into another aspect of the jumbled zeitgeist of the era, an icon in a confused age that was screaming to be defined. Another cynical side of me also saw him as abrand alongside Che Guevara, that could easily be sold to tacky tourists in need of a beach towel (and more generally to white people wanting to be seen as ‘liberal’ free spirits).
However, Macdonald’s film on the life of the Jamaican star from birth to death soon corrected my ignorance, and revealed there was more to Bob Marley than the mediocre merchandise that litters beachside stalls. Having grown up in a tin-shed in the remote jungle of Jamaica, Marley’s journey is simply awesome to trace, and Macdonald skilfully peels back the layers of the singer’s life, knitting together the subtle influences upon the man, and the man’s influence upon the world.
The singer’s credentials stretch far beyond being able to bang out a catchy tune. Marley’s spiritual ‘wailings’ touched the hearts of Zimbabwean freedom fighters, who would brave tear gas to get to the concert he funded himself to aid African liberation struggles. After a bullet in the arm Marley still braved potential assassination at the free Smile Jamaica concert, so he could give his music back to the people of his home country. At his 1978 One Love Peace Concert, in the midst of a bloody civil war, Marley managed to get the opposing leaders of the PNP and the JLP to hold hands over his head during ‘Jammin’.
In fear of trivialising the Rastafarian star, and so as not to spoil the documentary to all you salivating Culture Vulture fans out there, I won’t reveal much else. All I can say is that if this enthusiastic, and I’ll admit rather cheesy, post hasn’t convinced you to put your life on hold for a few hours and watch the film immediately, then at least surrender 1 minute and 56 seconds to watch the trailer. That should do the trick.