Thursday, February 15, 2024

One Love: The Rastafari Encore

The Bob Marley: One Love movie offers me a thread to tie together some ideas I’ve had for some time now. The late professor Rex Nettleford once remarked that every Jamaican is a rasta, and that quote has stuck with me since I heard it. 

I watched the movie and I will say it was artfully done. I enjoyed it. There were definitely some emotional moments that tugged at your humanity, and I think this will become a classic. There were many moments of pride as a Jamaican, although at this point that shouldn’t be a thing, because Jamaica and Jamaicans have long had their share of the spotlight. I will not go here into the details of a film critique, but I will share this Deadline critique, ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Review: Biopic Of The Reggae Icon Doesn’t Catch A Fire if you’re interested in a perspective. I find this critique harsh, but I share it because ultimately the writer latches on to a point worth mentioning.  They write, 

"The problem with One Love is that, just like the music industry, its makers still don’t quite know how to deal with Bob Marley, a genuine original, a true rebel poet, a Che Guevara on the downbeat. But his music still sounds amazing and his almost mythical stature has not diminished a jot in the last half century. One Love may not catch a fire, but if it keeps the flame alive, well, maybe that’ll be enough."

Truly, I think so many really have yet to understand Bob Marley, and can we really say we understand his commitment to rastafari and what motivated him? It is these things that we really do not know that ironically allow all who come to confidently profess what they know as their truth to be the one and only truth of Bob Marley and rastafari. At no point does this film profess to be an authoritative account of all the facts of Marley's life or his participation in the development of Jamaica's music industry. The film portrays to the audience some developments that took place in Bob's life between 1976 and 1978, with flashbacks and a few other liberties with time to capture relevant contextual moments outside this period of focus. I don't believe it is fair to ask that one film deal with matters not necessary for that film's story. For that, I'd advocate that other films be made. Therefore, on one level we do need to step back and accept this work as entertainment delivered within a cultural milieu that allows for audience empowerment and change. At the time of this writing the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for this film is 95% positive which I imagine signifies something about how the film is being received by its audience. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch carried the story well so I have no complaints about them, and I think the Jamaican supporting cast represented, so I am pleased. I think this movie has raised the stakes again for Jamaica, and for rastafari. Rastafari’s message through Bob, the messenger, lives on. Rastafari, Marcus Garvey, and Africa were given their respect and prominence, and I expect that the world will become even more curious about the role of Jamaica in global music culture, entertainment, and African and African diaspora aesthetics and politics. This movie is no small development.

As I reflect deeper on the movie and its significance I am drawn closer to the conclusion that the film in effect positions Bob Marley as our muse, with rastafari being Bob’s own personal muse, thereby positioning rastafari as the actual star of the film, and the connecting thread - Ras Tafari is the father that welcomes all.  I think this film will once more center rastafari and its ethos and force a new set of questions in this era that dig deeper into what is rastafari, what's its purpose, and how does it fit within the contemporary world of spirituality, hyper-capitalism, and the world of entertainment and commerce? And, what is its role going forward with the rise of Africa culturally and economically? This is one of the conversations that Bob Marley: One Love the movie will place us in, front and center. There will remain bickering about who was represented and who was not, as we saw before the film was even seen by those caught up in these arguments, but if you remain stuck in this noise, then you will have missed a larger message and the significance of this moment.  

On the question of spirituality, when one delves into rastafari reasoning and philosophy which has as its core the defense of truth, human rights, and justice, and captured in the very Jamaican phrase “one love”, we discover a wealth of ancient knowledge paralleling the wisdom of older eastern civilizations. We now throw around terms such as “sustainable development”, but we shouldn’t fail to recognize that sustainable development was the base of rastafari before sustainable development was a thing. Jamaica’s 2003 culture policy noted in its preamble that Rastafari was the only new religion to emerge in the 20th century. One could argue over the use of the term religion, and I would not propose to defend it, but what I would defend is that as a developed spiritual system, it is one crafted in the crucible of modernity in Jamaica uniquely for our modern times. Rastafari is a Jamaican transcendental philosophy and spiritual system gifted to the world. I don’t think Jamaicans quite grasp what this means. Increasingly, as I learn more about scientific discoveries in our universe and those within the human body none other than the field of quantum physics shows up to confirm truths that I have heard rastafari intuitively utter again and again in my lifetime. Rastafari speaks to the (brain in our) heart and our common humanity, and it acknowledges that all creation is pure energy of which we as (physically manifested) beings are all a part. This is the direction of mankind’s understanding of what we call god, nature, and the spirit, and rastafari has always been there as a unique expression of humanity’s direction. There is little doubt in my mind that this is one of the major reasons for rastafari’s appeal to the heart of humanity.

On the question of hyper-capitalism, business, and commerce, I posited in 2020 in the post titled, Entertainment Demands a Bold Transformative Economic Agendathat had Bob Marley been alive then he would likely be one of the wealthiest among us, sitting on a perch somewhere at the commanding heights of our local economy, because Bob had invested in his own studio, record manufacturing, and music distribution businesses well before the millionaire turned billionaire entertainer-entrepreneur of today was in vogue. Had Bob not died when he did, how differently would the world have looked at rastafari as a big business player and a real powerbroker? Being a participant in big business and commerce is not something we can simply dismiss, and the film forces you to consider what this means. In the film, this is no longer imagined, but we get to see glimpses of this. The film's message of not lamenting a lack of resources should not be lost on this generation, because as we saw when presented with an excuse about the lack of infrastructure to do what needs to be done, Bob's response was, let's build it. Excuses, therefore, are unacceptable. This is both agency and empowerment and a gift of the film's power.

One Love is not just a movie, it is a platform, a new platform presented to rastafari, Jamaica, and the Jamaican people yet again. On this platform can ride new initiatives for our spiritual culture, the Jamaican language, music, food, fashion, sound technology, our broad entertainment offerings, and their strands of Jamaican commercial offerings. What we choose to do with this platform at this time will depend upon our capacity to focus on what matters and our ability to have confidence in ourselves and our identity, and then to skillfully maneuver in the worlds of global commerce and politics. None but ourselves can or will save us.

Some years ago when branding became a buzz Jamaica adopted the notion of Brand Jamaica. If Brand Jamaica comprises all Jamaicans, and if as professor Nettleford suggested that every Jamaican is a rasta, perhaps one could argue that rastafari is a premier expression of Brand Jamaica, not its only representation lest I be misunderstood, but a premier representation.

Big respect and congratulations to the Marley family. Given the minefield of issues that surround this subject, I think they have pulled off something really remarkable. This should start a movement to tell all these globally impacting stories now buried in the Jamaican experience. They among others have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world that perhaps rastafari is necessary for the healing of the nations. The stone that the builder refuses will become the head cornerstone. As Mutabruka has been known to say, "wat a ting, iin!"