New film about Bob Marley reveals reggae star’s religious side

Jamaica in the mid-1970s was a powder keg: political factions fought in the streets, with a macabre outcome. Then famous on the Caribbean island, but unknown outside his country, singer Bob Marley decided to put on a show for peace amid a wave of attacks in the capital Kingston, in 1976. Counting on the sympathy of a leftist prime minister, Marley ignored threats from members of the rival right-wing party – who were against Rastafarians, devotees of the religion made famous by the artist. Two days before the show, Marley’s house was invaded by a group who shot the musician and his wife, Rita. He was grazed in the chest and had his forearm pierced, while Rita was shot in the head — the projectile stopped centimeters from her brain, cushioned by her turban.

Bob Marley

Even after surviving the dramatic attack, recreated in Bob Marley: One Love, which premieres in the country on Thursday the 15th, the musician did not give up on the element that drove his music and spread reggae across the globe: faith in Jah, or Haile Selassié I (1892-1975), Rás Tafari, last emperor of Ethiopia, worshiped by Jamaicans as a reincarnated Jesus. Despite the warnings, Marley and his wife, despite being injured, did not back down: they took to the stage to sing the anthological War, whose lyrics contain excerpts from a speech by Selassié about peace and love.

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It is this messianic idol, more than the author of hits that have been rocking beach ballads for decades, that emerges from One Love. “There is spirituality in what they did at that show,” his son Ziggy Marley told VEJA (read below), one of the film’s producers. Embodied in a notable way by the British Kingsley Ben-Adir, Marley’s trajectory is recounted based on the political raids – which forced him, shortly after the famous show for peace, to self-exile in London. There, Marley immersed himself in books about Selassié and Marcus Garvey, a Rastafarian theorist, and composed Exodus (1977), an album whose lyrics deal with the diaspora of enslaved black people in Africa and preach their return to the continent. Against all predictions, the album, recorded in partnership with the band The Wailers, had hits such as Waiting in Vain e Three Little Birdsselling 1.6 million copies.

IN ACTION - Leading The Wailers: the band's original lineup marked an era
IN ACTION – Leading The Wailers: the band’s original lineup marked an era (Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty Images)

If the religious issue is a constant presence in the film, music permeates each scene, with Marley always reinforcing the feeling behind each composition. “The beat is good, but the feeling is missing,” he says in one scene, after disapproving the rhythm of the drums. Through brief flashbacks, we are introduced to the singer’s youth, when he becomes aware of Rastafarians and the music played in the country’s ghettos, such as calypso and ska, both with a faster and happier tempo. When Marley inserts his so-called “feeling” into the songs, reducing the cadence to a hypnotic tempo and composing lyrics about peace, love and faith in Jah, reggae takes on the form we know today.

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From then on, Marley transformed reggae into a worldwide fever with effects still felt today, from jazz to rap and electronic music. With repercussions, of course, in Brazil. Although the film does not show Marley’s visit to the country in 1980, the musician’s sympathy for our culture is present in several scenes, with mentions including Pelé. Marley loved and played football and, when he came here, he felt at home. home: he revealed that he supported Santos and played ball with Chico Buarque.

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His habit of smoking marijuana is shown naturally in the film. Marley is always burning an herb, as it is part of the Rastafarian ritual — despite being prohibited in Jamaica. “All laws are illegal, all governments are illegal,” he preached. Obedience to the precepts of faith cost him his life. Upon learning that a wound on his big toe was cancer, he chose not to amputate it because of his religion — which led to his death, at the age of 36, in 1981. What stands out in the film is his proselytism for peace. At the end of his life, Marley returned to Jamaica for another show. At the historic concert One Love, made two rival leaders reconcile and forgave the shooters who tried to kill him. It’s proof that he remained true to his convictions, as he sings in the song that gives the film its title: “Let’s be together and feel good”.

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“He would continue smoking”
At 55 years old, Ziggy, Bob Marley’s eldest son, talks about the idol’s biopic and his appreciation for marijuana:

HEIR - Ziggy Marley (in blue) and director Reinaldo Marcus Green: “Reggae is about peace and unity of people”
HEIR – Ziggy Marley (in blue) and director Reinaldo Marcus Green: “Reggae is about peace and unity of people” (Neil Hall/EPA/EFE)

How to explain the influence that reggae has to this day?It’s not the rhythm, it’s the message. Anyone can sing to the reggae beat. But as my father showed, there is a spirituality that makes it special.

Why is religion so prominent in the film?The objective is to convey Bob Marley’s message. Reggae is about peace, love and unity of people.

What would your father say when he saw marijuana legalized in several countries?He did not believe in laws or governments. He would continue smoking, legally or not. His wish was for governments to work to unite people. It didn’t matter to him how authorities treated marijuana.

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Published in VEJA on February 9, 2024, issue no. 2879

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