Fri | Apr 19, 2024

Tamara Belinfanti | Valentine’s Day meditation on life and lyrics of Bob Marley

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2024 | 12:10 AM
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Kingsley Ben-Adir in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’.
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Kingsley Ben-Adir in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’.
Tamara Belinfanti
Tamara Belinfanti
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On February 14, the musical biopic Bob Marley: One Love, was released in the United States. The film, which premièred last month at Carib 5 Cinemas in Kingston, is billed as a tribute to Marley’s legacy and “the journey behind his music”.

I grew up with Bob’s songs and his memory all around. My father was a resident on duty in the emergency room at the University Hospital, on December 3, 1976, the night of the attempted assassination, and he was one of the doctors who attended to Bob and his manager, Don Taylor, when the ambulance brought them in. From that night, a casual friendship developed between them and, on one occasion while Bob was staying in the Bahamas (where my father was from), my parents met up with him and his manager.

I am told that Bob made several attempts to pick me up and play with me, but I would have none of it. I was not quite two at the time and do not remember this, but what I do remember is how Bob’s music remained a presence in our house, sending positive vibrations all around. I can still feel and smell the burlap-covered Rastaman Vibration LP, which sat on my family’s whatnot, in between the likes of Al Green and Roberta Flack. While these other album covers were sleek and flashy and foreign, the Rastaman Vibration cover felt authentic, it felt raw, it felt like home. This is my hope for this new biopic, yet I wonder whether it will live up to the substance of its promise.

MULTIPLE COMPLICATIONS

Part of my hesitation is that there are no Jamaican actors in a lead role or in a director’s seat, which leads to multiple complications, or, as Bob would say, there are so many things to say right now, but I will refrain. On the other hand, I am optimistic because several Jamaican artistes and actors are involved in the film, Ziggy and Cedella Marley, as well as Tuff Gong, are among the producers, and veteran broadcaster Fae Ellington was the dialect coach, so one would hope that the film captures the essence of Marley. From his humility to his lyricism, to his rude boy ways, his pride of place, his cosmology, his understanding of the nature of humanity, his interrogation of the oppressive tendencies of systems and their related isms and schisms, and his world view of love. Thus, I am going to lean into the one love vibe and, in the spirit of this Valentine’s Day week, share five attributes that I love about Bob.

First, Bob’s songs read like a book, starting with his first big hit Simmer Down (opening chapter, if you will), which deals with the reality of warring political factions in Kingston and calls for an end to the violence, and closing with Redemption Song (his last song released in June 1980, eleven months before his death), which paints a future vision of what it takes to “move forward in this generation, triumphantly”. In-between, you get the rebel, the revolutionary, the romancer.

WAY WITH WORDS

Second, Bob had a way with words. He created his own lexicon and semantic field, drawn heavily from his Rastafarian beliefs, which subverted, disrupted, and reimagined inherited hierarchies and assumptions. In Bob’s songs and interviews, words sit opposite, stand in contrast, get turned on their heads, become transposed, transmuted, reinterpreted, which invites new insights, meaning, and a firing of the collective imagination for those who hear them. Bob could paint a scene, conjure an image, impart a small drop of wisdom, like no other. For example, in Bob’s lyrical landscape, “oppressors” become “downpressors”, and aphoristic statements, such as “playing smart and not being clever” or “dem belly full but dem hungry”, invite contemplation and succinctly capture universal truths.

Third, Bob provided, and continues to provide, an underlying rhythm to my world. I do rock so and dip so; I do play I some music; I am quick to spot a “bad card” situation; and yes, living in New York, I constantly think about notions of concrete jungles and wonder how to avoid the rat race.

Fourth, Bob was never just an “I”; most times he was an “I-Man” or an “I and I,” a constant indicator, reminder, signal of his knowing that he was a vessel of a larger universal message and that universal message lived within him.

Finally, Bob defaulted to one universal message – through the struggles, through the roadblocks, through the winepress – this was the message of one love.

So yes, despite my hesitations, it is fitting that this biopic was released to the wider world on Valentine’s Day, because, at base, Bob was about love.

Relatedly, in terms of a Top 5 Bob Marley Valentine’s Day playlist? One would have to play, Could You Be Loved, No Woman No Cry, Turn Your Lights Down Low, Stir It Up, and of course … One Love.

Bob shifted the gaze, expanded the heart, and dreamed forward a future.

Tamara Belinfanti is a Jamaican writer and professor of law at New York Law School. Find her at https://www.tamarabelinfanti.com. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com