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Marley: The man behind the music

Legend: Bob Marley’s life story is told in the new documentary

THINK BOB Marley and no doubt your mind will conjure up the usual thoughts: legendary musician, revolutionary thinker, deeply spiritual Rasta.

Or maybe you’ll see a more visual image of the dreadlocked reggae icon: performing on stage, enjoying a game of football or indulging his penchant for herbs.

But with Marley bearing such huge international standing, even now, almost 31 years after his death, it’s probably harder to picture him as a child who enjoyed riding donkeys; a shy young man who struggled to approach women; a sensitive soul who struggled with his identity as a mixed race man; or a tough father who showed no mercy, even to his own children in competition.

New film Marley aims to show these lesser-known sides to the late Jamaican icon. The insightful documentary from British director Kevin Macdonald features over 40 contributors who knew Marley, and who all speak candidly about their relationship with the star.

“I think this film will help people to feel an emotional connection to Bob, because it tells his story, not just as a legend, but as a man – as a human being,” says Marley’s eldest son Ziggy, who is amongst the many people featured in the film. “For me, the biggest thing [about the film] is not so much the facts that audiences will learn, but the way the film will make them feel. Bob went through a lot, both in his early years and in the latter days and it’s a very emotional piece. So we want people to feel that connection to him, beyond that image of him as an untouchable star.”

The film certainly succeeds in painting a picture of the man behind the legend. But how audiences with feel about Marley the man after watching this film remains to be seen.

Digging beneath the surface of his legendary status, Marley takes an almost uncomfortable look at the numerous relationships with women the star had, despite his marriage to wife Rita.

THE MARLEYS: Bob and wife Rita

More touchingly, it examines the upset he caused his daughter Cedella (one of Marley’s children with Rita), who expresses her hurt, not only over the fact that she felt her father wasn’t always there for her, but also over the way her father openly cheated on her mother with so many women.
The film even features interviews with two of the women Marley had romances with: Cindy Breakspeare, with whom Marley had the son Damian, and Pat Williams, mother of Marley’s son Robbie. (Williams is actually credited in the film as ‘baby mother’.)

Perhaps even more cringe-worthy is the revelation from Rita that she would frequently “usher women out of his [Marley’s] room” when it was time for her husband to get back to work.
Isn’t there a chance that this image of Marley could mar his legendary reputation?

“No, not at all,” Ziggy insists. “My father is bigger than that. He goes beyond all the women. That was one part of his life but it’s not the side that defines him. What defines him is the impact he’s had on people’s lives throughout the world, through his music. That is what defines him – not the women.”

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON: Rita with son Ziggy

And what of the sentiments of Marley’s daughter Cedella? Does Ziggy (also born to Marley and Rita) agree with his sister that their father wasn’t always around for them enough as children?
“It was always different for the boys, because we were allowed to be around our father,” Ziggy reasons. “But my mother wouldn’t let the girls go around his environment, which I think was wise. It was mainly men that were around him, so as boys, we were free to be around him and all the activity that went on around him. So we had much more experience with him than his daughters did.”

Also reflecting on Marley the man, Kevin Macdonald says he now likes the star even more than he did before he began working on his film.

“I was a big fan of his music when I was a teenager,” Macdonald says of the legend who fronted the iconic band The Wailers alongside fellow members Bunny Wailer and the late Peter Tosh. “But now, I like him more now than I did before.

STORYTELLERS: Marley director Kevin Macdonald with Ziggy Marley

“When someone is just an icon, somehow you don’t quite believe it. But now... Bob had his flaws and the film doesn’t hide that; it explores the perhaps less attractive aspects of his character. But at the end of the day, I think he was a pure man and I think he practiced what he preached.”

I couldn’t help but wonder just how hard it was for Macdonald to bring this film to life. After all, it has long been rumoured in reggae circles that the Marley estate is fiercely protective of their late patriarch’s reputation.

And with Marley’s death in 1981 sparking a huge fallout over royalties (Wailers member Bunny Wailer filed a lawsuit against the Marley family and the Wailers’ record label Universal Music Group in 1992 over non-payment of royalties), did Macdonald get warned by those in the know that he may struggle to get some people to take part in the film?

“I did a bit; I’d heard all those stories,” he says. “But because all of [Marley’s] kids had decided that they really wanted the film to happen, it made it easier. They provided lots of photographs and film footage they own, and they also helped with getting hold of some of the contributors – but of course, some people are enemies of the estate, and that was not helpful!”

FAMILY: Bob and Rita with their children (clockwise from left) Sharon, Ziggy, Cedella and Stephen in pram

Macdonald continues: “Many people associated with Bob think the Marley estate is making millions and that they should make some of that too. And there are arguments for that... I’m not gonna go into that; it’s not really what my job is about. But because of that, it was quite a struggle to get some people to talk because they were like, ‘why should the Marley family make any more money?’

Perhaps surprisingly, Wailer is amongst the film’s contributors, despite his turbulent relationship with the Marley estate. Macdonald believes that it is time and growth that made some contributors who once would have been reluctant to take part in such a film, agree to get involved.

“In the end, everyone did agree to talk or to share their photos, because I think they felt that what they were a part of when they were with Bob was perhaps the most important part of their lives. It’s an important part of history and they wanted to talk about that.”

SAYING GOODBYE: Rita with sons Ziggy (left) and Stephen at Marley’s funeral in Jamaica in 1981

Amongst the many other issues the film highlights is Marley’s sense of alienation due to being a mixed race man. Born to a black Jamaican mother and a white English father, Marley – according to both Rita and Wailer – was like an outcast because he was neither black or white.

Another of Rita’s interesting revelations is that Marley was very shy when it came to approaching her for the first time. She recalled how he would just “cotch and look,” rather than coming over to talk to her.

Ziggy admits he was shocked to hear this description of his father.

“I wouldn’t have had my father down as a shy man, but it turns out that he was. My mother talked about it; how he was kind of stand off-ish, and I’m like that too. So I learned that I’m naturally more like my father than I knew. That was cool.”

BLOOD BROTHERS: Marley’s sons (l-r) Ziggy, Julian, Ky-Mani, Stephen and Damian performing on stage

However, Ziggy says he hasn’t inherited another of his father’s traits – his fiercely competitive streak. One of the film’s funny and light-hearted moments is a scene where Ziggy discusses his father’s love for competition – so much so that he wouldn’t even let his own children win races! Back then, did Ziggy ever wish his dad would show a bit of compassion in competition?

“Me never really t’ink bout it at the time,” he laughs heartily. “All I knew is that he would run the fastest he could. Not one time did he let us win!

“But you know, his generation of parents was a lot different to my generation of parents,” continues the married father. “We’re much softer now. We’re much more like ‘ooh, my baby.’ I didn’t grow up with that. I grew up with the tough and rough!

“So I’m not like my father in that way. I try and give a little with my kids – I won’t run as fast as he did!”

Marley is in cinemas from April 20 through Universal. The soundtrack from the film, also titled Marley is out now on Island Records

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