Marcia Forbes: Marley, Belafonte, Blake-Hannah and Jamaica at 50

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By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

Redemption Song

On Thursday, April 19, the highly-anticipated Marley Movie (it is really a documentary) premiered in Jamaica. It was appropriately hosted at the Emancipation Park, a beautiful space that only 10 years ago was a virtual dust bowl. Now the Park, famous (some say infamous) for its Laura Facey-inspired and executed 11-foot bronze sculpture, “Redemption Song,” stands proud like the statues in that piece.

Had he lived to see that sculpture, Bob may have been pleased with its naming. He no doubt would have been pleased with the choice of venue for the premiere of MARLEY. Emancipation Park boasts Adinkra symbols originally designed by Ashanti craftsmen and women from Ghana, West Africa, land of the ancestors of many Jamaicans.

No Sensational Salacious Secrets

MARLEY the documentary is balanced and sensitive. It delivers without sensationalizing or dwelling on salacious “secrets” that have long been revealed. Rita and Cindy were treated with respect. There are some great segments of cinematography. That drive through the mountains of Germany to the hospital where Marley was treated in the final stages of his illness forced me to close my eyes so as not to get dizzy. The camera, as it meandered the tree-lined road, brought back vivid memories of Irish Town in the old days and daily drives to school in Kingston, as well as of me almost “barfing” in Sylvia Wynter’s lap.

The jam-packed park, permeated with positive vibrations and the smell of weed, watched and listened in reverence as the life-story of the Jamaican who almost single-handedly “put Jamaica Reggae pon top” unfolded on screen. To see people like Bono singing Marley’s songs to the strains of violins and to hear artistes across the vast African continent paying tribute to this man by performing his music was something special.

Director MacDonald, a youthful-looking, seemingly charismatic white man, told the crowd, “Bob Marley is your man, he’s not my man.” Ibo Cooper’s (formerly of Third World and the evening’s compere), sharp retort, “Bob Marley is the Man for the World” was apropos. Indeed, Bob, like Harry Belafonte, whose “Sing Your Song” I had watched the evening before, are men whose stories need to be told and need to be told now. Especially in this, Jamaica’s 50th year as an independent nation, when so much seems so hopeless, these stories help to put our journey in perspective.

The Jamaica Reggae Film Festival

It is her fifth year of struggle to host an annual Jamaica Reggae Film Festival, but Barbara Blake-Hannah has hit a winning formula, even if many are still unaware of this. Her premiere of Belafonte’s movie (again a documentary), “Sing Your Song” riveted me to my chair with eyes clued on the screen. It seems Blake-Hannah has pulled off somewhat of a coup to get this shown. The documentary opened my eyes, and the eyes of all whose comments I later heard, to the measure of Harry Belafonte as an activist humanitarian of international reach.

Who knew Belafonte’s deep links to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, President Clinton and President Obama’s father? Who knew that Obama (the father) was one of several students Belafonte brought to America from Kenya? Who knew how Harry and a small band of close friends faced down the KKK in Alabama? Or rather, I should say, escaped the KKK. Most of us know that Belafonte internationalized Jamaica’s folksongs like “Day O” and “Jamaica Farewell.” In the latter, he had to “leave a little girl in Kingston town.” But we knew little more. In the documentary, Belafonte spoke with passion about efforts to “overthrow this relentless racist oppression” and of “the power of art as an instrument of resistance and rebellion”.

Barbara Blake-Hannah

The winning formula of which I earlier spoke is not her skill at getting “Sing Your Song” aired, but an interesting feature of Blake-Hannah’s Jamaica Reggae Film Festival, making a movie in 24 hours.

Here, within that space of time, entrants develop and execute a story told via video. The theme of this year’s was, unsurprisingly, Jamaica 50, stories to depict this milestone in the island’s history.

One entrant used a cell phone to capture images supported by incantations of “Come Jagado, come,” to encourage the ancestral sprit to leave the mountains and venture a look at Kingston and to see how Jamaica has developed. It was fuzzy, but the message came through. Another, by Basil Jones Jr, shot at Emancipation Park and titled “Surface Love,” depicted the ever-present prejudice and shadism so prevalent in Jamaica. This was something Bob wrestled with throughout his life, as we learnt from MARLEY.

Jamaica 50

These documentaries of Bob Marley and Harry Belafonte are shot on or repurposed into high-quality images with impressive sound tracks. They are produced and directed by professional crews with ample financial support and we are happy for that. Blake-Hannah’s “make a movie in 24 hours” has no such support.

Yet still, persons like Craig “Amaziyah the Great” Kirkland has not allowed that to stand in his way as he too takes to telling stories of struggles and survival in Jamaica. We need more of these stories, whether big, small or no-budget, captured on a wide variety of formats and available for a wide variety of audiences. You never know who will see what, when they’ll see it or how what is seen/heard may resonate and touch their lives in important ways.

Let’s use Jamaica 50 to tell more stories and to make more documentaries, even if they are shot via mobile devices like cell phones. “Come Jagado, come.”. Come see and hear of the great Bob Marley and the inimitable Harry Belafonte. “Come Jagado, come.” Come see and hear what young Jamaicans like ‘‘Amaziyah the Great” have to say about life in this island at this time of Jamaica 50. And remember, art can not only be used to rebel and resist but equally to refresh and renew ONE LOVE.

Dr Marcia Forbes is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and former Permanent Secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications and later the Ministry of Energy and Mining. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the upcoming Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.

Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes

 

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