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Why I used to think that Bob Marley hated women and a few words about the new documentary

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As a child I always assumed Bob Marley didn’t like women. Why else would he sing “No Woman No Cry”? The message was obvious. Avoid women in your neighborhood and you’d get fewer worries – less reasons to cry!

For someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s I’ve been strangely unfamiliar with the singer. He was just one hit maker among others and they used to play his songs alongside with Boney M, Abba and Bee Gees at the school dances.

Over the years I learned to associate reggae with red, yellow and green colors, I recognized dreadlocks as the default Rastafari hairstyle and I knew they had some kind of hang-up about the king of Ethiopia, who was claimed to be divine. It sounded a bit crazy for sure, but I attributed it to too much weed smoking.

The political content in Bob Marley’s music was lost on me. I guess I never cared enough for it to listen, I mean really listen. As prejudiced and dismissive as it sounds, I always thought the songs sounded so similar to each other. It was the same thing over and over again with small variations and it wasn’t my kind of music. My heart beat in a different rhythm.

Under influence
Despite my – until this point – lukewarm interest for Bob Marley I decided to watch the new documentary about his life, with the slightly unimaginative name Marley. Since it’s rather long (almost 2,5 hours) it’s relevant to put the question: why? I think part of it was to educate myself. Even if I wasn’t particularly much into reggae, a lot of other people are and I had to assume that he had had a certain influence, and perhaps not just in terms of music. It seemed like something you should know at least a little about, since it was common knowledge.

It was also a case of being under the influence of film critics and more precisely of one of them, namely Mark Kermode at BBC. If it wasn’t for his lyrical acclaim of the film, I doubt I would have bothered about it. But isn’t that what you have critics for – to help you overcome your skepticism, pointing you to films you else would have missed out on?

Enjoyable and balanced
I’m glad I took this advice, because he’s right. The film is well made that you don’t need to be a reggae, Marley or Rastafari devotee to enjoy it.

Since there’s no shortage of running time, and Marley had a pretty short life, the makers of this film can afford to be generous. There’s room for all sorts of perspectives and stories. We see him in the light of his family at Jamaica, we see his way into music and religion. We learn about his wife and his six mistresses, who brought him eleven children all in all, we see him as a charismatic and hardworking musician, as a football player, friend, father and peacemaker and finally as a far too young victim to cancer.

What’s so good about it is that it neither tries to scandalize the singer, nor idolize him. It hits the middle ground – balanced and believable.

And in case you were in doubt: of course there’s music, plenty of songs and concert recordings throughout the film. To my own surprise I found that I enjoyed those parts, far more than I would have imagined and when we finally saw the musical heritage Marley left, school children from all over the world singing his songs, I felt an urge to join the choir.

There’s something catchy about reggae. It’s just a shame it took me so long to discover it.

Marley (Kevin Macdonald, US, 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

October 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Marley