Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.
Certain songs cut to the core of moments or chapters in one’s life. One song for me is Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, which for me, hearkens to sometime in my mid-20s. This song is about the scars that remain with all humanity years after the African slave trade and the responsibility of later generations to educate themselves and remember the struggles of those who came before.
Redemption Song was one of the first I could strum on guitar. In my mid-20s, I continued to learn about the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora and psyche, and the conditions and forces that created this state – corruption, neo-colonialism and imperialism… I became involved with organizations that used music to spread ideas of social justice. We wrote, rehearsed and performed songs that we hoped would raise people’s political consciousness with regard to the Philippines, Filipinos and all migrant people. One of my favorite memories ever is taking the stage with my bandmates to perform a few of our songs at Chicago’s Wild Hare. For many years, the now-closed music club was the preeminent live reggae venue in the city. It was an otherworldly, very humbling experience. I thought about all the men and women who’d stepped there, whose music echoed well beyond the years and indeed into that very moment. Redemption Song recalls a meaningful time in my life that I remember with fondness and bittersweetness.
Naturally I was very eager to see the new documentary on Bob Marley. In this age of celebrity tabloids and over-exposure, rarely are we able to – with care and respect – peer deeply into the historical, spiritual and private and personal contexts of great, influential musicians from the past. It’s rare that documentaries of those deceased respect and honor both the memories of those gone and of the living who loved them.
Marley is the new documentary by Academy-award winning director Kevin MacDonald detailing the life and art of the iconic musician, Bob Marley, or as he was known to others, Rob, Robbie or Robert. His homeland was never portrayed as idyllic Jamaica, but Kingston’s Trench Town and St. Anne’s depicted beautiful in its struggle and resilience. Marley examines how he endured his childhood and youth as a biracial outcast, his own story starting with the African slave trade and British imperialism. The film explores ideals of the Rastafarian faith, key to Marley’s world views, and never dismisses, exoticizes or reduces it to weed-smoking, unhygienic voodoo. His personal life was not judged, only left open for the audience to interpret. I left the theatre feeling like I knew more about Robert Nesta Marley the man, faults and all, virtues to vices. He was a revolutionary, a philosopher and poet; not a saint but a man.
My heart can be hard as a stone, and yet soft as water.
The movie placed precedence on and gave great context to his music: how reggae was a nationalist artistic movement for Jamaica as it gained its independence from Britain in 1962. Marley placed high importance on telling the story of how reggae evolved as the melanged sound of poverty, American ’50s teen bop, calypso, soul and other genres. Marley, as a public figure, took a hand in writing the history of Jamaica and its healing, as well as other pro-people movements like in Zimbabwe. Best of all, hearing the Wailers pump through the theatre’s sound system and seeing Marley’s electric, charismatic performances on the big screen made it well worth the price of admission.
I am too young to have known Bob Marley’s music in his lifetime. But his art and message endures such that mine and generations beyond will know the name Bob Marley. And truly the stone that the builders cast away still stands as the head Cornerstone.
Marley is currently playing in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue.