Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Bob Marley's Legacy: Africa Unite

By David Luhrssen
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In the U.S. footage from Haile Selassie�s coronation as Emperor of Ethiopia (1930), captured by Hearst Movietone cameras and shown in movie theaters, was seen as a curiosity. In Jamaica, it was accepted as a revelation. The sight of a regal black man, ermine robed, crowned amid a swirl of incense by Ethiopian Orthodox priests before being installed in a horse drawn carriage, gave hope to a black population down at heel and underfoot of colonial masters. For many viewers Selassie was a symbol of African culture and independence as ruler of the world�s only truly independent black nation. Others interpreted Selassie�s coronation as nothing less than a divine epiphany.

The Rastafarian movement born around that Hearst newsreel found its greatest exponent in Bob Marley, who brought reggae and Rastafarianism to the world in the 1970s and �80s. To honor what would have been his 60th birthday in 2005, Marley�s widow Rita, son Ziggy and other Marleys embarked on a pilgrimage to Ethiopia for a stadium concert in the country's capital, Addis Ababa, and a series of academic conferences and activist workshops. Africans from across the continent and the Diaspora took part, including Danny Glover, Afro-pop singer Angelique Kidjo and over 300,000 other participants.

The event was recorded by filmmaker Stephanie Black and will be released in February on a DVD called Africa Unite. Along with excerpts from the concert and glimpses of Ethiopia, the documentary includes pocket histories of Rastafarianism and European colonialism and interesting archival footage. Also heard are the hopeful words of participants pursuing Marley�s vision of one Africa without boundaries, a self-sustaining continent free of World Bank shackles and crackbrained, poverty-causing economics imported from the U.S. Marley�s legacy can be measured by considering that many of the fans gathered in Ethiopia were born after the singer�s death in 1981.

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