Who isn't a fan of Bob Marley? He is one of the most universally loved musicians to have ever lived. Songs like "Get Up, Stand Up," "Judge Not" and "No Woman No Cry" helped make his message of "one love" a global phenomenon. Now, fans will get a fresh look at the life of Robert Nesta Marley in the long-awaited documentary Marley, which is in theaters today.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, who was behind The Last King of Scotland, which won Forest Whitaker his overdue Oscar, the film tells the story you don’t know of Bob Marley. With the blessing from the Marley family and Ziggy Marley as co-executive producer, Marley is arguably one of the best music documentaries in the history of cinema.
Just returning from touring in Australia, BET.com nabbed a one-on-one with Ziggy Marley, the eldest son of Bob Marley who has carried on his father’s legacy for over thirty years. The four-time Grammy winner and fearless activist discussed the new film, needed progress in the African-American community and his love for — how can we say this? — herbal plants!
There was talk of Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese directing Marley. What made you and the family feel like Kevin Macdonald was the best choice?
We were in a situation where we needed to make sure this decision would be the right decision. So I met with Kevin and he has a history of doing great documentaries. The reason why we thought he was a good choice was who he was as a person and then his credentials were good. Finally, he understood what the mission was — to create something definitive. And he wasn’t a fanatic of Bob; he wasn't Bob-crazy, so he could do it from a good perspective. He wasn't too close to it so that was good. When we saw the first cut, it sealed that Kevin was going to be the right person.
Speaking of fanatic, your father is looked at as this larger-than-life person, like a god. As his son, is that ever uncomfortable?
[Laughs] I am humbled by that — so much love. We take it with a grain of salt. We are a very grounded people. We grew up grounded. We grew up in Jamaica. We grew up in a society where everyone is equal. It’s a respect thing, you give respect and you get respect. This is how we are. We deal with it. But we're humbled by the love and affection that is given to our father.
The movie explains how your father did tons of recording and touring even when he was ill. Do you think he had a sense that his time on earth, in the flesh, wasn't going to be long?
Remember now, the history of the world, they crucify Jesus Christ. They sold out Marcus Garvey. They killed Martin Luther King. It's a very trendy thing for these great personalities, especially for those who are trying to change the world, to pass away pretty young. It's a reality that we face and my father probably knew that after the first assassination attempt that you can never tell what might happen next. But I don’t think it was something that he was so concerned with that he would shy away from doing what he did.
One thing we learn in Marley is that your father was big on having a full artistic business, which was revolutionary for the time. What do you think Black artists of today can learn from that model?
Well, it depends on the motive. My father's motive was not to hustle. It's not in the movie but he said he's not here to hustle the music. His motive was higher than making a living — giving a living instead of making it. He said if his life is just for him, he doesn't want it. His life is for everybody. The motive behind that lends to a different mode of operation than someone who wants to get out of poverty — it's a different thing.
The film is released on 4/20, which is slang for marijuana. What do you think of how your father's legacy is so associated with marijuana?
I think it's great because this plant has been demonized and criminalized for too long — while alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs are glorified. You have a pharmaceutical drug for every damn thing. The herb is something we glorify because it's of nature. Our culture depends on nature for all different types of things. We're not sophisticated enough to depend on the pharmaceutical, money-function of things to help us or to cure us. We depend on nature: plants, herbs, trees, and seeds. This is what the Bible tells you. We glorify plants, we glorify nature and marijuana is a part of that. We don't back down from that. This plant is a great plant for many different uses. Not just to smoke it but for more uses than people even know. We glorify the plant, we glorify nature, we glorify God — it's all one.
We asked your sister this: Do you ever see this Bob Marley biopic happening?
It's a possibility; I don't see it happening right now. I wouldn't mind watching it, I wouldn't mind seeing it. But it has been done so perfectly that right now I am not even thinking about it.
The documentary talks about Bob Marley not being embraced by Black American audiences when he was alive. As a musician, have you faced the same issues with Black American audiences, or has it changed?
No, I face the same thing. We are talking about America because Black audiences in Africa love reggae music. It has something to do with what the youths are exposed to. Why is it they are not exposed to more of their own culture and history? Why is the exposure limited to a certain type of music with a certain type of message? What is the purpose of not having the people be aware? Be conscious? Be rebellious? Be revolutionary? Who benefits from keeping the people in a mindset that does not cause the growth of consciousness? That has a lot to do with the music people hear and the message in the music. We have a problem getting the music to the people because of what the media is pushing to the people. We want the people to get the right message, especially the Black people in America. We need more consciousness within the African-American community. We really need that.
We have a Black President in America and a female Prime Minister in Jamaica. There has been progress, but then you have the Trayvon Martin tragedy. What would your father think of the state of Jamaica and Black America?
Well, we're very happy about the progress America has made to elect a Black President. But politics is still politics. Black, white, Chinese — it's politics and that is a problem. People still need to stand up! Even after all these years, people need to stand up and make their voices heard. The African-American community still needs to come together as one and stand up for rights of the people and of what’s happening in their culture, their community.
Marley is in theaters today.
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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)