A Look at Marley’s One Love, Many Talents


Bob Marley would have turned 56 last week. It has been nearly two decades since his death of melanoma cancer in 1981, but, remarkably, the power of his music has only increased during the intervening years.

He has been identified by the New York Times as the most influential artist of the second half of the 20th century; his “One Love” was selected as the BBC’s anthem for the millennium; and Time magazine named his “Exodus” as the best album of the 20th century.

Striking achievements for a relatively brief but spectacularly productive life that began in the shantytowns of Jamaica. And most of the high points in that eventful transit have been captured in the PBS “American Masters” profile “Bob Marley: Rebel Music.”


Marley’s career took place during a turbulent period in Jamaica’s history. Independence came in 1962; “Simmer Down,” his reaction to the street violence accompanying the political jockeying for power, was released in 1964. A visit by Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie in 1968 triggered the immersion in Rastafarian beliefs that would play a central role in his music.

Perhaps most important, Marley’s use of songs as a vehicle for the expression of social and political ideas--always an essential part of Jamaican music--surfaced internationally at the most propitious time: the period in the ‘70s when disco was taking over the pop markets and rock was becoming detached from its mission of revolution and transformation.

Producer-director Jeremy Marre has assembled an impressive array of interviews, performance segments and historic film clips, skillfully stitching them together to assemble the most significant points in the Marley story. Among those interviewed are Marley himself, in a number of especially effective passages in which he addresses both his music and his beliefs. The only flaw here--as in several other interview segments--is the difficulty in understanding the precise language of the Jamaican dialect; subtitles (which are, in fact, used in one or two spots) would have helped throughout.

Other interviewees include original members of Marley’s Wailers--Bunny Wailer and the late Peter Tosh (who was shot to death six years after Marley’s death), wife Rita Marley, record producer Coxsone Dodd and a number of other associates and female companions.

But the real strength of the documentary rests--where it should--in the performance segments. Although the dates of the various concert appearances are not made clear, chronology doesn’t really matter with an artist who seemed to be perpetually at the height of his powers. Watching and listening to the sheer emotional intensity of Marley’s dynamic songs--”Stir It Up,” “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Redemption Song” among them--with their gripping believability and fiery emotive powers, provide the best evidence of his continuing impact.


* PBS’ “American Masters” documentary, “Bob Marley: Rebel Music,” can be seen tonight at 9 on KCET-TV, and at 9:30 on KVCR-TV.