Kevin Macdonald, Rohan Marley & Neville Garrick Interview For ‘Marley’
Directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play), ‘Marley’ is a documentary on the life, music, and legacy of the legendary singer, visionary, champion of freedom, songwriter and musician, Bob Marley. It is the first feature backed by the Marley family as well as the legend’s long-time music label head Chris Blackwell, providing us with the most insightful look at his life yet as it follows “the musician, revolutionary and legend from his earliest days to his rise to international superstardom” using rare footage, archival photos, live performances and interviews with his family, friends and bandmates. ‘Marley’ is set for release April 20th.
How did you get involved with ‘Marley’?
Kevin Macdonald: People had been trying to make this particular documentary for a long time. Two other directors had started work, or were going to start work on it before I did. I was going to make another film about Bob Marley for his sixtieth birthday, which was a few years ago, but it didn’t happen. I had talked to Chris Blackwell about doing it, but for various reasons it didn’t happen. But then they came to me when they needed a director for this film, and I was very very happy that they did because it was a wonderful opportunity, a great experience to make this film about such an important artist. And to me, Bob Marley is one of the greatest cultural figures of the 20th century. I don’t think anyone in popular music has had the same lasting impact he has. Anywhere you go in the world, you find Bob Marley’s image, music, his wisdom, literally anywhere you go. It was nice to be a small part of that, and hopefully to bring to people around the world a sense of who this man was as a human being, not just as the legend, not just as the great icon we all know him as now. But as a human being, a man, and trying to understand him. That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to understand him myself.
Rohan, growing up with your father, is there a particular memory that sticks out in your mind?
Rohan Marley: One afternoon, myself and my brother Stephen, we were playing in the yard. Normally during the week, the guys from off the street, the guys who would wash the windows on the cars, they would always come to Hope Road….they were acrobats, they could do flips, all kinds of things, things that we couldn’t do (laughs). They had nothing, but yet they’re very talented. So my father would give them some money during the week, and food. Then one Sunday, it was myself and Stephen in the yard, the gates were closed, so the guys came to the gates and we told them, “Today it’s not your day, today it’s our day with our father, sorry, you can’t come in,” (laughs). So unfortunately, for us (laughs), our dad was looking at us through the window upstairs, so he opened up the window and said, “Stephen! Rowan! Come up stairs.” So obviously we jumped and ran upstairs (laughs). So, when we got upstairs he gave us some money, and he said, “See those boys outside the gates? Open the gate and let them in.” There was a guy who sells ice-cream, fudgy we call them, our father said, “You buy them fudgy and you watch them eat.” So from that, what we learned was that….my father told us this, “You’re inside the gate, you are ok. I’m here for the ones outside the gate.” Growing up, we learned that with my father, all children belonged to him, he cared about everyone. We may call him Daddy, but we’re just one of the many, you know?
Now you and the family have the Bob Marley Foundation….
Rohan Marley: Yeah. We didn’t grow up thinking about money, we grew up thinking about how we can help each other, how we can help people that are less fortunate. So with the work that we do today, we continue to do what we saw with our eyes what our father did. We know that our father was a man of giving conscience. A caring man that on every Friday at Hope Road, people would come for help, whether they wanted to send their children to school, whether someone needs clothing, food. It’s a bridge, we see it as a way to help our brother man, help people, my father said, “If you’re up, look down, and help your brother man,” you know?
How did you approach your artwork for Bob’s music?
Neville Garrick: I had this fortunate experience where once I started working with Bob, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, I kind of created my job. They didn’t know what an art-director was. People used to just make the records, send it to the record company, then the record company would package it and market it. I came in and said, “Well, this is different, this is Rasta!” So we have our own concept, we can’t allow the record company to determine….and visuals were very important because before you hear the record, you usually look at the cover, and if it’s interesting, especially if it’s a new artist, you will purchase it a lot off the strength of what the cover is. If the cover looks good, well maybe the record is good? And they kind of left it up to me, only on a few occasions Bob would say, “Can you change this, can you change that?” Most of the times I’d just do it, show them, they liked it, then that’s that, it went to press. They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words, but it depends on who’s words you try to picture, you know? And these were very prolific writers, so I would always try to come up with something that would reflect what was in the record.
There’s so many documentaries that feature interviews with people that didn’t really actually spend time with the person it’s focusing on. In ‘Marley’ it’s a lot more intimate?
Kevin Macdonald: Yeah. I wanted the film to be as intimate as possible because when I’ve seen other things that have been made or written about Bob Marley, it does feel like there’s so much just talking about him as an icon, the legend he was….but then not much about the human being. I’m the kind of director or person who’s interested in, “Why was somebody like that? What made them like that?” And obviously, with genius’, sometimes you can’t understand, you can’t understand completely where this brilliance, this musical brilliance, this philosophical brilliance came from. But I hope the audience, by the time they get to the end of the movie, that they feel like, “OK, I can listen to the music in a different way now. I understand it in a way that I maybe didn’t before.” That I think is the ultimate value of any documentary about an artist, making the audience appreciate the music more.
What was your own background with Bob Marley and his music?
Kevin Macdonald: One of the first three albums I bought was ‘Uprising,’ when I was 13. It had a big impact on me, but I was never a crazy rabid fan, I didn’t collect everything (laughs). But I liked the music, almost the whole world loves Bob’s music (laughs). I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. But I think what sparked me was making ‘The Last King of Scotland’ in Uganda.’ I went with some of my crew across into the slum areas of Kampala, the capital, and I realised there was huge numbers of people there listening to Bob’s music, there were Rasta’s, there were murals on the wall of Bob Marley, quotes from his songs. I thought, “This is amazing, nobody else has had this impact internationally, nobody else in the music world has touched people like this, and continues to touch people. And also has a political and philosophical relevance all around the world.” That was my spark, I kept thinking, “What was it about him that means he’s got this great resonance.”
The Zimbabwe independence day story was fascinating….
Neville Garrick: To me, that was one of Bob’s most important concerts. We had two emissaries who came to Hope Road from the Mugabe government to be installed, inviting Bob to come to the independence celebration. First of all, the letter said, “Come Red, Bob Marley.” Bob was not a communist so he said, “I come Red, Gold and Green.” (Laughs) For Ethiopia. They sent two tickets, Bob said, “Two tickets won‘t work it, I can’t just come with a guitar and play.” The government said, “It’s our independence celebration, we don’t have enough money to bring the whole band.” So Bob said, “If I’m coming I have to bring my band.” So, Bob called Island records, mentioned it to Chris Blackwell, hoping that the record company would sponsor it. Chris didn’t really see the promotional value at the time, so Bob said, “Tell me something Chris, how much money do I have?” Chris told him, so Bob said, “OK, rent a plane, rent the equipment, band gear.“ He spent 90,000 dollars of his own money to take us to Zimbabwe to perform for the independence. I think he would be upset now with the conditions of Zimbabwe. When we went there the Zimbabwe dollar was worth 2 US dollars, now you have to have like a 1000 Zimbabwe dollars to get 1 US dollar.
When they had the concert, he thought all the people would be invited, little did he know that when you have an independence celebration you have to have a ticket invited by the government. So when we were performing, Rufaro Stadium is in the middle of a ghetto. When the gorillas were coming in, the people decided to join in with the gorillas and come in. The police didn’t like that, they fired tear gas at the crowd, but Gods willing it took the tear gas and took it up to the royal box (laughs), where Prince Charles was, where Mugabe was – they got the tear gas. The concert got suspended for maybe 20 minutes. Some of the backup singers, they ran off, and Bob said, “Soon we’ll find out who’s a real revolutionary.” But then he performed, and the next night he gave a free concert for all the people of Zimbabwe. We had the equipment there for it, everything. This is the kind of philanthropy Bob had, he was for the people, not for himself. Also, not many artists view their crowd or support the way Bob did. Every concert he did he always did his best, he always acted like it was the first time these people had seen him. Whether they had seen him 20 times or 30 times. He truly appreciated his audience. I learnt so much from him, I’m truly grateful to him, if it weren’t for Bob Marley I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.
Rohan Marley: Me too (laughs).
I can imagine there’s been a number of people who’ve approached your family about a feature film on your father?
Rohan Marley: Yeah. What it is with my father, you see. My father is a spiritual man, you know? He’s a spirit dancer. So you’d have to connect with the vibration. It’s not something you can ‘act.’ It’s something you have to be, you know? Through his upbringing, being from 9 Mile, coming to Kingston – because in Jamaica, when you’re light-skin, you were the outcast. Coming through that struggle and becoming Tuff Gong, you have to really….it’s difficult (laughs), unless you know the struggle. To us as a family, for someone to represent our father, you’ve got to be able to bring tears to our eyes. It’s difficult to find. It’s not that we don’t want to do a feature film, it’s just who is going to be that man? Who can? It has to be one of his sons [winks] (laughs). But we’re not in Hollywood so it’s hard (laughs).
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