Ziggy Marley insists that African unity was a central and conscious theme to his father’s music—one that continues to inspire and uplift scores of reggae fans and Rastafarians alike. And although Bob Marley didn’t get to see the completeunifi cation of Africa that he’d worked so hard to help realize before his untimely death in 1981, he’d probably be content to know that his songs are just as important as ever, and that his message is still being spread by his committed and proud family.
Africa Unite, a new DVD documentary released by Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures, chronicles the work that the Marley family has done to fulfill Bob’s hopes for a unified motherland. The film focuses on the 2005 Africa Unite symposium and conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in honor of Bob’s 60th birthday. The conference was organized by Rita Marley’s Africa Unite Foundation, which aims to spark dialogue among Africa’s youth, with the ultimate goal of ending strife, oppression and corruption by bringing African nations together. The event also brought the entire Marley family, including Bob’s mother, Cedella Booker, to Ethiopia for the first time. Africa Unite is interspersed with various segments from the conference—among them speeches by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and actor Danny Glover, as well as Princess Mary, the granddaughter of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. Of course, the musical element is well-represented, with performances by three generations of Marleys in a 12-hour concert that was attended by more than 300,000 people from around the world.
“Going to Ethiopia for the first time together as a family to celebrate my father’s birthday is about carrying on the vision of African unity,” Ziggy explains. “He was singing about the unification of Africa for so long that it became a part of his consciousness and legacy.”
Bob Marley left behind more than just an overflowing cachet of freedom songs. He imparted an incredible vocabulary of righteous philosophies—some of them, like the concept of African unity, loosely based on the ideas of Marcus Garvey. Beyond the message, Africa Unite also shines a light on the most spiritual places in Ethiopia (and by extension, the most significant monuments of the Rastafarian faith), including Addis Ababa’s Trinity Cathedral, where the body of Haile Selassie and his wife are entombed. The DVD also chronicles a journey to the outlying Rastafarian enclave of Shashamane, where the Marleys and Bongo Tawney, a 71-year-old Rasta elder from Jamaica, are graciously welcomed.
“The whole experience was really good,” Ziggy says. “Ethiopia is such a part of Rasta culture— it’s a really special place and a spiritual place. And there’s a long history of Ethiopians defending themselves against colonialism, especially when they defeated the Italian army, who invaded Ethiopia with their superior technology, but the Ethiopians beat them barefoot.”
Although Africa Unite is more of a humanitarian statement than a traditional biopic, it’s clear from the concert footage alone that Bob’s impact and influence can still be felt all around Ethiopia. (Ziggy says the definitive Bob Marley documentary is in the works and due out soon for those who can’t wait, 1992’s Time Will Tell and 2000’s Rebel Music are strong contenders.) Angélique Kidjo and Spragga Benz deliver electric live performances, while Julian and Stephen Marley each rock their own amazingly spot-on versions of “Natty Dread” and the classic rude boy anthem “I Shot the Sheriff.” Bonus features include another 45 minutes of the complete concert, an interview with the Marley brothers, and archival footage of Robert Nesta himself in New York City circa 1980.