Getting to know Bob Marley
Marley, the first family sanctioned documentary on Bob Marley, had its North American premiere at SXSW, and we were fortunate enough to attend it.
With a running time of 144 minutes, the film was certainly long but well worth it, especially if you’re a fan. The film gives audiences a peek into the private life of Bob Marley, with footage, photos, and song recordings people have never seen or heard before. Interviews with family members, close friends and associates gave the film authenticity as they remembered and honored his memory. Watching the film really made us feel like we got to know Bob Marley more as a person.
The Q and A at the North American premiere of Marley.
The day following the premiere, we sat down for an intimate conversation with siblings Ziggy and Karen Marley, to talk about the film and the Marley name.
L-R: Siblings Karen Marley and Ziggy Marley
Could you tell us about your experience making the film?
Z: We started talking about doing a definitive film on Bob 6 years ago. We had spoken to a few directors and then Kevin (MacDonald) came up after that. I met with Kevin and we talked about what the film could be, something that covers Bob’s life, exposing the truth. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the happy stuff, the sad stuff—hoping we can have audiences feel a stronger connection to him. Like a person you actually knew, instead of just this iconic figure that smokes weed and plays reggae music. So this was the idea of the film, and I think it achieves that because of the content and the emotional responses I’ve had from it, the family has had from it, and people have had from it. It’s been good working on the film. It taught us a lot, and I think people dig it, you know?
L-R: Director Kevin MacDonald and Ziggy Marley
Now that you’ve made the film, do you feel that you know Bob Marley more as a person?
K: I feel like I gotta a little bit more educated about him, his process, his life. Like the story about Zimbabwe and the tear gas, and how he was the only man on stage and everybody left. I didn’t know all that stuff. I definitely feel like I got to know him a little bit more.
Have you always known you were going to be a musician?
Z: No, I didn’t know I was going to be a musician until I started writing songs—that’s the only reason why I’m a musician is because I write songs. Writing songs is a pretty spiritual experience and I thought if I’m writing songs, if I’m getting these ideas and they serve a purpose then there must be a reason why I’m here. There must be a reason why I’m getting this. But before, I wanted to become a doctor.
K: Or a pilot. (laughs)
Z: Yeah I still wanna be a pilot. (laughs) Be the singing pilot, you know? But I think my whole family is into music. When I say that, I’m talking about before Bob. My grandmother on his side, my grandfather on my mother’s side. There’s a lot of elements in there that is in me that is music, actually, so it’s kind of natural. I was trying to run away from it but it caught up with me because the songs started coming, and what you gonna do, you know? Bob said that, “You can’t run away from yourself…” that’s one of his songs. (laughs)
You have a very successful music career, and now this film. In your music career, having the Marley name, how much of that has helped you push your career forward or how much has it held you back?
Z: In the beginning, especially when I wasn’t fully developed as an artist, as a musician, as a man… because I started very young, so I wasn’t a man yet. I think it helped. It opened doors.
Do you feel that you struggled under the shadow of Bob Marley’s name?
Z: I think that I struggled but I was naïve to a lot of things because we grew up in Jamaica. We never understood media scrutiny. We don’t have that in Jamaica when I was growing up. It was never part of our life. So even when I started in America, I was naïve to it. I wasn’t too understanding to it but when I did get to understand it, I was like “Oh yeah, I feel the pressure.” (laughs) After the fact! Like after “Oh yeah, that was the pressure everybody was asking me about. Ok, I got it now, I got it!” I finally figured out what everyone was talking about… after the fact! But you know, as an artist and as a true artist because I’m very confident because what I’m doing is as sincere as what my father did—I’m not pretending anything, I’m not acting anything. I’m sincere with it just as he had done. I’m very comfortable with my father’s legacy now and I would never run away from it. I would never hide from it. I would never do anything to separate myself from him and his music. I’m a part of it and he’s a part of what I do also. It’s all good with me.
Obviously in the film, it also shows that kind of struggle he went through, with people getting at him, the media and all that stuff. Apart from that, what other part of the film did you relate to, emotionally, the first time you saw it? What hit you?
K: I think for me, I remember being in Miami when he was in the hospital. I remember the whole journey, but the whole Germany side, I knew nothing about. It was pretty emotional so that part was heavy. And then you know, his whole process, how he came up with songs.
Z: I think for all of us, it was the illness that was the most emotional. We were sheltered from that and didn’t know.
And so seeing that up on the screen must have been…
Z: Oh yeah, man. It was… oof… and then I thought, “I wished we could have done something if I knew… “ but we were so young.
How old were you during that period?
Z: I was about 12.
K: I was about 8.
Since you were pretty young when all of this happened, what were some of the original perceptions you had about Bob Marley that the film change? Did it change anything?
K: Not really, but the film humanized him a little bit more instead of him as this icon. And that’s how the family wanted it. That’s definitely how Ziggy wanted it. That’s what he wanted to present.
Z: Yeah, I wouldn’t say my perception changed but it did give me a fuller understanding of our father because the people who were speaking about it were people who knew him intimately. And that’s what we wanted to do with the film because there’s been a lot of things about Bob but it’s been done by writers and authorities who never even knew Bob. These people who spoke in the film who knew Bob… like everyday I see Neville Garrick, and he tells me stories everyday! Like he’s known us ever since we were little kids and he tells us stories everyday about all this. And sometimes he repeats himself, and I have to tell him, “Hey Neville, you told me about that already.” I think we just got a fuller understand of Bob from the adults who experienced him as an adult, while we experienced him as children. It’s a different experience.
Definitely, the film makes people feel that they knew Bob Marley but it seems there’s also that sense from audiences who have seen him perform live, and I guess when people see you perform live, they feel that connection. How do you feel about your art, knowing how much it impacts people and how much it influences them?
Z: We hear that…. But we accept these things with a lot of humility because it’s not really us. It’s something else. It’s not really me. It’s like a tree giving a fruit and being very happy that it gave you the fruit but not understanding that if it didn’t rain, this food wouldn’t grow. If the sun didn’t shine on it… you understand what I mean? It’s not just about the tree and the fruit it gave but it’s about the sun that shone on it to make it grow, and the rain, and the soil and the worms underneath that oxygenate the earth. There’s a lot more things to it… and that’s how we feel about it. There’s so much more about it than what we do. There are other things involved.
So what do you want audiences to take away from the film?
K: I guess, the essence of him (Bob Marley). The real him, not just as a musical icon but him as a human being.