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Reggae and Revolution Songs: Bob Marley’s Timeless “One Love” Legacy

Photo credit Paramount Pictures

As an African-Caribbean whose father loves playing music in the house, Bob Marley and his music hold a special place in my heart. In honor of Black History Month, American University’s Caribbean Circle, an on-campus organization dedicated to providing space, promoting community, and embracing students of Caribbean heritage, sponsored an outing to see the movie Bob Marley: One Love. I was delighted to be a part of this experience. Even though I have a few thoughts and critiques of the movie, I want to hold space for discussion about Rastafari culture and Bob Marley’s political impact.


 Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, known for his work on King Richard (2022), he takes on the challenge of encapsulating the Rasftifari culture and ideology that Bob Marley represents. Unlike Amazon Prime’s 2012 film, Marley, One Love is not a documentary; instead, it’s a snapshot of Bob Marley’s & The Wailers One Love Peace Concert, a specialized concert that happened at the height of the political conflict in Jamaica. The purpose of this concert was to reconcile the two opposing political parties dividing the island. The cinematography is lush, free and puts the audience at ease while the story unfolds. However, despite the love poured into this film to honor Bob Marley, the plot and pacing drag on. There are storylines that I would have loved for the film to let the tension thicken a bit more before the resolution came or we moved on to the next plot point. For a movie whose runtime is almost two hours, it still left the audience wanting more. The film's central focus was understanding Bob Marley’s philosophy through soft-spoken moments and his songs. The emphasis on understanding who Bob Marley is came at the expense of introducing the other members of  The Wailers and their role in popularizing Rastafari culture and Reggae music in the United States. 


Rastafari, a religious and political movement begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness. The word originates from adding "Ras," meaning king, to “Tafari” Makonne. He appointed himself Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I, claiming traditional titles such as “King of Kings,” “Lord of Lords,'' and “Conquering Lion of the Tribe Judah.” Practitioners of this culture are known for having dreadlocks, honoring the spirit of life and Africa by wearing red, green, gold and black, and engaging in mediation with drumming ceremonies. The importance of dreadlocks is biblical, citing Eziekel 44:20, “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads.”By avoiding cutting their hair, Rastafaris are honoring this aspect of the culture. Others believed that a Rasta’s hair represents the mighty mane of a lion.

This film does a beautiful job of providing the audience with several scenes showing these practices' sacredness. In Rastafari culture, smoking marijuana is meant to make meditation richer, which is different from the casual smoking cultures that exist in the United States. As shown in the film, Bob Marley and his band arrive in London, where there are different regulations towards smoking marijuana. Places outside of Jamaica, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have made smoking marijuana in public spaces illegal. A highly recognized aspect of Rastafari culture  (outside of marijuana usage) is reggae music. Reggae music is a romantic genre known for its slow, percussion-heavy style. As its association with Rastafari grew, the genre began incorporating more rebellious, freedom-focused, anti-government establishment rhetoric.


Despite my minor critiques, the movie is still an enjoyable watch. The AU Carribean Circle and I definitely got our groove on during the end credits. This film reminds us that Bob Marley is not a figurehead or a token of the Caribbean but a person who sought to unite the masses with one message: peace, love and unity. Music serves as a tool to reinsert humanity and care through political struggle, divides and differences. The movie’s soundtrack uses strong anthems such as Exodus, Redemption Song, and Get Up, Stand Up to further push the message that liberation and revolution cannot happen without a united front and standing firm with those around you.

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