Bob Marley is considered a god in the history of music. His classic songs have inspired generations, but his untimely death at 36 years old exalted the native of Jamaica to mythical proportions. In the upcoming documentary Marley, directed by Kevin McDonald, we travel to the roots of Bob Marley, revealing why his accolades are well-deserved over 30 years since his passing from cancer on May 11, 1981.
In the revelatory doc, McDonald sits down with key figures in the life of Robert Nesta Marley, including his daughter Cedella Marley. BET.com sits down with a candid Cedella to talk about the documentary, her father’s iconic legacy, hate speech in reggae music and why she sees no one playing her father on the big screen.
Marley is an excellent documentary but it's also extremely emotional, especially towards the end. As his daughter, was it hard to relive those moments of your father's life?
It’s hard to have been there, it’s hard to watch. I must say, Kevin McDonald really did a good job of getting that out of me. I really didn’t want to go there on an emotional level. To be honest, I haven’t watch that one clip where we talk about the hospital visit. My brothers have told me, “Don’t watch it,” so I haven’t watched it. But it’s hard to see people coming out of it and looking at you saying, “You made me cry!” That was the first time in many years I talked about that.
As the movie explains, Bob Marley never crossed over to Black American audiences, although he has gained popularity since his passing. How do you think the movie will deepen Black Americans’ appreciation for his music and message?
The message is clear. We are living in a world now where everybody is more aware of what’s happening. It did hurt dad that his people were not receptive to him at the time. Everything happens for a reason, every moment has its time. Just from seeing R&B to rap artists who have been really engaging the spirit and music of dad in this generation is a blessing. Everything is supposed to happen when it happens.
There is one moment in the film where your father's infidelity is discussed. You've said that your mother dealt with that, and you wouldn't. Although it has been years, as his daughter, is there any pain or frustration in regards to his infidelity?
I have to come from two different places. One as a big sister and the other as a woman. It might sound weird, but as a big sister I love and adore every single one of my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t find my life without them. But, as a woman now, you would think mom would’ve just said, “I'm not going to tour with him because I don’t want to see that.” You know what I’m saying? But she stuck with him all the way through. Maybe it comes from falling in love when you are 18, you have each other and going through the struggles as a young couple. She never got the divorce, he never got the divorce — but in his head he wasn’t married! [Laughs] It’s young and in love. For me, personally, as a woman, I wouldn’t have put up with that. However, as a sister, again it might sound weird, but I couldn’t see my life without my brothers and sisters.
Bob Marley is worshiped like a deity. However, he was your father. Is it ever uncomfortable for you, as his daughter, to see how people look up to him like a god?
Not uncomfortable. The most important person in dad’s life was God, we call him Jah. It would be difficult for dad for anybody to think that he is God. He tried to be as Christ-like as possible, as we all try to do in our everyday lives. I just keep reminding people of the human side of dad — very human. He made mistakes just like we all do. And the number-one mistake was, you get a hit on your toe and somebody says, “Go to the doctor,” go to the doctor.
That was shocking.
Yeah, my brothers have the same thing now. If they are not feeling good, I say, “Go to the doctor.” They say, “No, man, I’m all right!” I find myself driving to their house, putting them in the car and taking them myself. Because I’m like, you have to learn from dad’s own experience. You can’t take things for granted.
So many contemporary artists have been compared to your father: Lenny Kravitz, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill. Which artist, outside of your family, do you feel deserves the honor of being compared to Bob Marley?
Compared? In what way?
They say musically. You hear it with Lauryn Hill all the time, Wyclef and Lenny Kravitz. So many are really copying your father in a very respectful way.
Exactly! That’s what I was going to say. If you’re influenced by the man then you can’t be compared to him. It’s because of him that you are the artist that you are. You know what I’m saying? I can’t really compare anyone to dad when he has influenced their whole lifestyle so much. To know that he has been a positive inspiration to these artists and they are following in his footsteps musically — not culturally, but musically — there’s no comparison.
There is all this talk of a Bob Marley biopic. Is there anyone you could see playing your father?
No. [Laughs] I don’t want to see anybody do that. As a matter of fact, that story is still manifesting itself. His spiritual presence is so strong that sometimes when we see things happen in our lives we say, “That must’ve been daddy doing that.” None of my brothers are really good actors, except for Ky-Mani, he is a good actor. But, no…
Over the years, reggae music has gotten a lot of attention for what some perceive to be sexist and homophobic lyrics. What do you think your father would've thought of this new era of reggae that some argue is less revolutionary and more hate speech?
Well, you know, freedom of speech — you are free to express yourself in which ever way. Dad though, was always a people person. He just loved people. It wasn’t in his DNA to judge. Therefore, you have songs like “Judge Not.” What’s going on in reggae, a part from my brothers and a few other artists, is a cultural thing. We have a lot of bullies. They’re probably not even real bullies, but they believe if they sing what is something tough, they will get across. It just doesn’t happen in our world, the Marley world. It’s time for that stop. Like daddy say, you can sing love songs and still be a revolutionary because it’s all about your passion. Hate speech and all of that — why? Enough of that.
What do you think your father would've thought about having a Black president in America?
Man! I'm in my office and I'm looking at a picture signed by the President and Mrs. Obama with Ziggy, mommy, my sister-in-law, my niece and nephew and the president’s kids. Every time I look at it, I get chills. Daddy would’ve just loved it. However, he has to do some great, great things! [Laughs] He has to do some great things or daddy’s not going to love that. You know? [Laughs] You can be as Black as you want, but if you can’t make some changes then the color doesn’t really matter.
Some reggae artists, specifically Buju Banton, have expressed frustration that reggae music revolves around one artist — Bob Marley. What are your thoughts on other artists critiquing the way your father is praised within reggae music?
Something weird always happens to the ones who have that kind of criticism. [Laughs] Yeah man, I don’t mean to sound crazy or nothing, but it’s true — why would you deny that? Instead of you embracing it, why would you hate on that? It’s not his fault he’s the greatest 30 years after. When you have that discussion with him — buck him up and see how that goes! [Laughs]
Why do you think it’s important for the BET.com audience to go see Marley on April 20?
BET! When I was growing up BET was my thing. No MTV, no nothing. But BET — this way dad can finally realize that part of his dream. Where people of all races, but his own people, will be able to see him and see this story.
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(Photo: Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images)