THE DOCUMENTARY FILM “Africa Unite” isn’t yet another recycled Bob Marley artifact trotted out to celebrate an anniversary and cash more checks.
While the movie covers the giant concert the Marley family held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in 2005 to celebrate what would have been Papa Bob’s 60th birthday, the primary point of the film is much larger, according to eldest son Ziggy Marley.
“I know [my father] would have said, ‘It’s not about my 60th birthday; it’s about the unity of Africa.’ This is the more important message.’”
“Africa Unite,” which makes its D.C. debut on Saturday, documents the coming together of people from around the world to share ideas, cultures and good vibes against the backdrop of a family-and-friends concert that brings the entire Marley clan together.
But the most powerful aspects come from the historical footage that displays the dehumanizing colonialization of Africa and Jamaica.
Director Stephanie Black (”Life and Debt“) shows how those idiotic ideas continue to affect the stability and underlying mentalities of many nations, helping push the countries of Africa apart rather than bringing them together into something resembling the European Union.
While the look at African history alone — not to mention the music — makes “Africa Unite” compelling, the tug-on-the-heartstrings story of 70-something Ras “Bongo” Tawney, who’s making his first visit to the motherland from his home in rural Jamaica, personalizes the documentary.
“We had to make sure that this wasn’t about the Marleys,” Ziggy said. “It had to … have more meaning. So that’s one of the reasons why that [Bongo Tawney] angle is taken. We’re kids; this man is coming from the roots of [Rastafari]. This man is the real, real deal from the roots. We have to show that to delve deeper into this journey. … It’s about the deeper journey of the roots of Rastafari, the connection to Ethiopia, the unity of Africa.”
BONUS Q+A WITH ZIGGY MARLEY
» EXPRESS: Many in the Rastafarian movement see former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I as God incarnate, and he even gave up personal land for those in the faith who emigrated to the country’s Shashamane settlement. But there also have been great tensions between Rastas and the Ethiopian government, especially since Selassie was overthrown in 1974. What accounts for this recent thawing of tensions?
» MARLEY: The understanding that you can’t hide; you can’t run away from that fact. The fact that the Rastafarian movement has made Ethiopia a visible entity in the world. We promote Ethiopia all the time — red, gold and green. I think them just coming around, and the fear that they had of the resurgence of love of the monarchy, I think that fear is gone. That’s not what we’re about; we’re not about anything political. Governments fear when they’re going to lose power, and because we uphold His Majesty Haile Selassie I, they had a fear of that love coming back for the monarchy and there would be political problems in Ethiopia. But once they realize this isn’t a political agenda, then it become more cool. So it’s just a better understanding of what the Rastafarian movement is and it’s not a threat to any political structure.
» EXPRESS: I understand they even screened “Africa Unite” in the royal palace, and Bongo Tawney is shown in the film touring Selassie’s lair and viewing objects of veneration.
» MARLEY: They opened the palace for us during the documentary time. Also, all the belongings and the crown. I think they want to celebrate the history of Ethiopia through His Majesty, not oppress it. After all, England still have a queen — ya know me a say? It’s just colonial mentality, political mentality and the influence of outside forces why Africa, on a whole, doesn’t upload its legacy of kings and queens. Spain still has a queen; Sweden still have a king and queen. But all the kings and queens of Africa, their history is oppressed. Instead of it being something we celebrate, it’s something we hide, while Europe have all the kings and queens that they have, still upholding and loving their legacy. So it’s a whole mental oppression that we have to get over and reconnect with our roots and our traditions and our history.
» EXPRESS: Do you think a film can inspire people to action?
» MARLEY: Go to my Web site, ZiggyMarley.com. There’s a blog there that I wrote that is a message to the African delegation in Jamaica [for the Africa Unite Symposium]. That tells you what we really hope to achieve. What we work for — for anything to become possible, you have to think about it first. Without a thought, it don’t happen. Before man go to the moon, him have to think, “Maybe we can go to the moon.” So the whole idea of what we’re doing here is trying to reignite the spark, to reignite the consciousness of this concept, so it becomes thoughts, then it becomes words, then it becomes action. This is not a political movement; it’s a consciousness movement. And once enough consciousness is raised, then the consciousness pass onto other people until it reach — let’s call them the “leaders” — who can make it possible. We need to raise consciousnesses first before we raise the actual action of it.”
We’re going back there to reignite it among, not on the governmental-political level but among the people level. Because on the governmental-political level, they have their meetings, but there’s not a real agenda out there to say, “Africa unite.” The EU did it — the European Union. The U.S. did it — the United States of America. But our political leaders in Africa have not reached that state of consciousness yet where they can be as selfless as they can, and brave enough, to put this agenda forward to unite Africa.