I’m a 27 year-old girl, with ginger hair and a penchant for Hanson (Come on, who didn’t love MMMbop?!). So when the Empire folk asked me to travel to Jamaica to interview Bob Marley’s family ahead of the DVD release of Kevin Macdonald's Marley I was a little concerned. The only three things I knew, or thought I knew, about Bob Marley were these: he smoked lots of weed, he had dreadlocks, and he sang that song about the woman who couldn't cry.
Although the trip involved three planes and I’m terrified of flying (I also managed to get arrested en route, but that’s another blog), I jumped at the chance and immediately started cramming on Marley's music. Three days (and four valium) later, we touched down in Kingston. Arriving in the dead of night, we drove to the hotel through pitch-black streets that had motifs of Bob Marley adorning their walls.
Thirty-five years after his death he’s still Jamaica’s biggest icon, even with Bolt and Blake making a run for the title. During the trip I meet Rita, his wife; Cedella, one of his daughters; Ziggy Marley, one of his sons and Jimmy Cliff, his ex-music partner. We also visit 56 Hope Road, the house Marley recorded his music in, and Trenchtown, where Marley grew up.
By now I’d seen Macdonald's documentary twice, and had a newfound respect for Bob Marley (and a crush on him). There are many Marley films out there but, as Ziggy explains, “This is the first with the family’s backing - this is the truth.” The film looks at the impact Marley had, not only on the music industry but also in his role as a social and political speaker. It dispels the idea that he smoked joints all day. He grafted, and worked tirelessly for what he wanted. There were failed record deals, awful tours, a period spent in grimy B&Bs in chilly English towns, broken friendships and the disdain of his father. “My father was a perfectionist,” says Cedella, “he didn’t like sloppy. If you had a craft you had to be the best at it. This film humanises him. He’s not just the musician: he’s the father, husband, lover.”
Marley also reveals how committed the musician was to giving back to the community. One man, a cleaner he knew, loaned him the money to buy his first guitar when Bob was starting out and didn’t have a penny to his name. Marley paid him back by signing over the royalty rights to 'No Woman, No Cry', which should have covered the debt - and then some. He also used 56 Hope Road as a musical equivalent of the dole office, handing out money to cash-poor Jamaican friends and family.
There’s one side of Bob Marley that also comes across in the film: the lothario. Although married to singer Rita, Bob had 11 children by nine different women. When I meet Rita, she's soft-spoken and has a regal air. I nervously ask her about Bob’s roving eye, to which she simply says, “You can’t tame a Jamaican man; you quickly get used to the baby mothers and the other women. Part of the film make my tears fall. It’s not been a bed of roses, but in the end I’m proud of it.” Incredibly, when Marley died, Rita adopted all his children in name, so they could all share the Marley name.
Cedella is not so forgiving. “I find the film hard to watch, it’s a real rollercoaster of emotions for me. It was tough to film and hard to talk about. We saw things growing up, and it was confusing. Ultimately we’re please with the end result; Kevin and Ziggy did a great job.”
The film ends as you’d expect, with the death of Bob Marley from cancer. It’s heartbreaking to see his loved ones talk about his decline, especially about cutting off his iconic dreadlocks. After hearing so much about the man from those who knew him, I loved throwing myself in to the world of Bob Marley. Watch the movie, discover more about the man and the music, but as Cedella warns, “You’ll start out laughing, but by the end of the film, man, you’ll be crying.”