Marley’s hits included No Woman No Cry, Exodus and Redemption Song
It is more than 30 years since reggae legend Bob Marley died – but songs like Get Up, Stand Up and Is This Love still sell in their thousands.
There have been countless documentaries and biographies about the singer-songwriter over the years – but a new film, by Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald, is the first to be approved by the singer’s family.
It opend in cinemas on Friday 20th April (4/20), but the premiere was held at Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica, on Thursday.
Outside the venue, a peanut seller sang along to Soul Rebel.
Hundreds of people crowded into Emancipation Park for the premiere
“I’m a capturer, soul adventurer,” he warbled off-key. But the crowd seemed to like his vibes.
Admission was free, a gift to the people of Jamaica from the Marley family, and part of the country’s celebration of 50 years of independence.
Thousands took up the offer. With screens dotted around the park, it resembled a vast open air multiplex for the nation’s favourite son.
A red, green and gold carpet was laid out for the VIPs, but it was quickly replaced. It was viewed as sacrilegious to walk on the colours of Rastafari, even if it would make for great publicity shots.
The film promises unprecedented insight into Marley’s brief life, which was cut short by cancer, when he was aged 36.
“You learn about this man whose music you hear everywhere, you learn how he started the difficult life he had and how he treated people his generosity of spirit just about the man in general,” says Chris Blackwell – the founder of Island Records who signed Bob Marley and the Wailers and produced the new film.
“It has a depth to it and a lot of emotion to it… Even how he was when he got sick. It was amazing how strong he was and his resolve.”
Kevin McDonald’s film includes performances alongside rare interviews with the reggae star and his family
The Marley name now stretches beyond music. It has become a global brand, used to sell products as diverse as coffee and clothing, hotels and headphones.
So does this film add to the legend or to the product line?
“The film doesn’t commodify Marley,” says Kevin Macdonald. “It does the reverse.
Kevin Macdonald and Ziggy Marley talk about the film
“It strips away the poster image, the t-shirt image and says, ‘who was Bob Marley?’
“It’s a very personal and intimate film that’s not airbrushed. It’s trying to be an authentic portrait.”
In Jamaica, there have been calls for Marley to become a national hero; to be given the same recognition as the distinguished number of people who fought for the freedom of the people against slavery and colonialism.
“Bob Marley was one of the greatest human beings who ever walked the earth,” Lisa Hanna, Jamaica’s minister of youth and culture, told the crowd before the premiere.
It is no secret that the musician is widely-respected, but some argue his prominence obscured other great talents.
Marley died of cancer in 1981, aged 36
“There’s no way the achievements of Bob Marley can be diminished. No way,” says Herbie Miller who runs the Jamaica Music Museum.
“But at the same time, by the world just focusing on Marley, it has diminished the role of many who have made major contributions in reggae.”
Earl “Chinna” Smith is one of them. Every day, artists still turn up to jam at his home.
In the 1970s, he worked with as a session guitarist with Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown. More recently, he has recorded with contemporary artists such as Erykah Badu, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse.
“When Bob was doing his work it wasn’t him alone, it was him and others,” says Smith.
“Bob’s great and we can’t take that away… Not he knew that he didn’t do the thing on his own.”
The contribution of Marley’s contemporaries hasn’t just been missed by the wider world, but by Jamaicans themselves. It took decades for great artists like Dennis Brown and Alton Ellis to receive national honours, for example.
But the new movie has amplified calls for Bob to be given the status of a national hero.
As Jamaica prepares to celebrate 50 years of Independence – this film is another reminder of what a tiny nation with fewer than 3 million inhabitants can do.
As the credits rolled, the opening bars of Get Up, Stand Up echoed around the park.
And the audience did, as applause filled the night air.