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In Jamaica, the transition from British colonialism to independence spawned an interest in Pan Africanism that influenced one of the world’s most popular musicians: Bob Marley. The icon’s granddaughter joins Kojo and a documentary filmmaker to explore the evolution of Marley’s devotion to the Rasta spiritual path and his mission to unite the world through music.
- Marilyn Gray Producer, "RasTa: A Soul's Journey"
- Patricia Scarlett Executive Producer, "RasTa: A Soul's Journey"
- Donisha Prendergast granddaughter of Rita & Bob Marley; and star of RasTa: A Soul's Journey
RasTa: A Soul’s Journey
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBob Marley, Rasta man, his name is synonymous with Jamaica, with reggae music and, for some, with marijuana. A revered cultural icon, Bob Marley was an artist's artist, a visionary, a spiritualist and a fighter against injustice. His stated goal: to bring mankind together through the power of music and to unite Africans under the belief system of the Rastafari, a way of life that rejected Western capitalist ideas, embraced love, hope and music.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThirty years after cancer took his life at the age of 36, Marley's legacy is carried on by his 36 million Facebook fans and his complex extended family. Joining us in studio is a member of the aforementioned complex extended family. Donisha Prendergast is an actor and activist. She's also the granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley. She stars in the documentary "RasTa: A Soul's Journey." Donisha, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. DONISHA PRENDERGASTGreetings. Greetings. Kojo, thanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIGreetings to you. And also with us are the filmmakers of "RasTa: A Soul's Journey." Patricia Scarlett, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. PATRICIA SCARLETTThank you for having us.
NNAMDIAnd Marilyn Gray.
MS. MARILYN GRAYHello. Hello.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Patricia, in -- I guess I should begin with full disclosures first...
NNAMDI...because in my own -- I was wondering, what impact did Bob Marley have on my life? And in my own personal email account, I end all of my emails with the word, one love, and my friends will routinely tell you that for, oh, more than 20 years now, I greet all of my friends with the greeting, what happened, Rasta?
NNAMDIAnd so I realize that those are the influences it had on me. But, Patricia, in life, timing seems to be everything, and it seems that the same is true in the case of Bob Marley's birth, his own encounters with poverty, with colonialism, with Emperor Haile Selassie and more. These were fortuitous occurrences.
SCARLETTYes, they were. And we also had a fortuitous occurrence in terms of my having met him in Montreal in my early teens. And at the time, I, you know -- again, I think all of us were too -- certainly, I was too young to understand where the music would take him and also to really have an appreciation of the music. But fast forward 10 years, it became very clear that he was someone special. I remember what was left with me, though. The memory was how tiny he was physically in stature.
SCARLETTBut the fact that despite his, you know, his height, as it were, he had a huge presence. He filled a room. And as I said, that stayed with me. And then having had the opportunity to travel extensively, everywhere I traveled, I encountered not only Marley's music but Rastafarians and not just people wearing dreadlocks but Rastafarians, people living the Rasta lifestyle. And that -- you know, those two things coming together are part of the inspiration for the film.
NNAMDIDonisha, you ever -- you never had the opportunity to actually meet your grandfather. In watching the film "RasTa: A Soul's Journey," I get the impression that, to some extent, you have been in a way in search of him.
PRENDERGASTI would definitely agree with that, and I didn't realize that I was searching for him. I didn't realize that I missed him until those moments that you see in the film, you know? Because the more you travel and you meet people and people share all of these experiences with you and all of these memories, it's like, wow, I wished I had some of those, you know? But meeting them and them sharing those memories and experiences definitely helped me to overstand a little bit more about what he meant to people on a more personal level rather than just the celebrity, the icon.
PRENDERGASTAnd that also helped me to kind of place him within my life because growing up -- because he's a celebrity and a icon to so many people, I guess you kind of have that imagery of him, too. But it's not until these days when I'm actually walking the walk and doing what he's doing I could get to really overstand who he was.
NNAMDIShe's not only walking to walk, she's talking the talk. For those of you who don't understand, when she says overstand, you might say understand. When she will say ital, you may say vital, but that's the language of Rastafarianism. Marilyn Gray, how long has this odyssey of making this documentary been, and how did you get involved?
GRAYWell, Patricia started the project eight years ago. It's been eight years.
GRAYAnd, for me, it's been around five when I came on board to the project, and it was an interesting start. It's -- basically, it's the story of Rasta, the struggle. We started by raising our own funds to take Donisha to the Smithsonian.
NNAMDIYes. That's the favorite thing of independent filmmakers, right, raising your own funds.
GRAYAbsolutely. And it actually continued till we started in and shot at the Smithsonian, and then after a couple years of cobbling again monies, we went to -- we did Israel, Ethiopia and South Africa. We took that turn. We used that footage to create interest that brought on a broadcaster, and that took us towards the end.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments or knowledge about Rasta or Rastafarianism, feel free to call us at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I am glad that Maryland brought up the Smithsonian because, Patricia, it's my understanding that this idea had been kind of percolating in your head for a very long time. And then a exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution here in Washington spoke to you, convinced you that you had to make this movie.
SCARLETTWell, yes, there is some truth to that.
NNAMDIWell, my words.
SCARLETTThere is some truth to that. No. The idea had been percolating and quite by chance, but it's not chance. As Donisha would say, all things are divinely ordered by Jah. I came across some information about the exhibit discovering Rastafari that was mounted by the Smithsonian, and I thought -- in fact, the words that came to mind were words from one of Bob Marley's songs, "We're coming in from the cold."
SCARLETTBecause if a cultural institution like the Smithsonian can mount an exhibit about Rastafari, then it tells of its importance and its impact. And, sure enough, we got together and contacted the curator and said, this is the film I'm trying to make. Would it be possible for us to come and shoot, bring Donisha? He'd give her a personal tour of the exhibit, and that's what we did. And once we completed that particular -- well, it became the first location. I was then totally committed.
SCARLETTIt's like, by hook or by crook, we're going to find a way to get to the finish line. And it's been like that. It's not gotten easier. It's just, you know, been a challenge from start to finish. And as Marilyn alluded to, really, in many ways, it parallels some of the struggle of the Rastafari to come into their own and to also, you know, gain a place of not only acceptance but recognition for what they've contributed to culture, not just -- you know, it's not limited to Jamaica. Right now, it's worldwide. Mutabaruka, who we interviewed...
SCARLETTYes, the poet. We interviewed him some time ago, and, you know, he made the comment very, you know, very casual. He says, everybody making money off of the red, green and gold, you know? And it's time that Rastafari kind of claim that, embrace it and figure out how they, too, can benefit from it.
NNAMDIMutabaruka was a famous Rastafarian poet. The colors of red, green and gold are the colors of Rastafari. And one cannot diminish the influence that Bob Marley had on the spread of Rastafarianism around the world. But people should know, and this documentary will tell you, that it began long before that...
NNAMDI...and that it has a history of connection to Ethiopia, all of which you can find on the film. It's called "RasTa: A Soul's Journey." And we're talking with the filmmakers and producers, Patricia Scarlett and Marilyn Gray, and Donisha Prendergast, who is the granddaughter of Bob Marley. She is the, I guess, star, if you will, of "RasTa: A Soul's Journey."
PRENDERGASTNo. No, not that.
NNAMDIShe wouldn't use the word star, but she is, in a way, the presenter...
PRENDERGASTI would say guide.
NNAMDI...the guide in this documentary. She is an actor and artist. And it's my understanding that if it wasn't for a serious car accident that you had, you might not be involved with this production today. What happened?
NNAMDIThe intervention of Jah.
PRENDERGASTYeah, you know, just always right on time. Always right on time. In 2003 January, I had a horrible car accident. This is just -- I feel like I'm repeating right out of the film, but this is what it is. It's a few months after I started to lock my hair, and, growing up in the Marley family, I mean, everybody automatically assumes that you're growing to grow locks. So I wanted to grow locks, but my mother always said to me, not until you're ready.
PRENDERGASTYou're not ready yet. Well, at 18, she was like, all right, now you can. But understand this: it draws both positive and negative energy. And a few months after that, I ended up in this car accident. I was acting at that time. I'm very popular on stage, just started making some money, just bought my first car, you know, red car, big rims, big sound, you know, young, energetic, just, you know, on top of the world.
PRENDERGASTAnd then Jah was like, all right, hold on, little girl. There are greater works to be done than this physical world, you know? And that's the lesson that that car accident taught me because everybody thought I was dead. People walked over to car and looked in and saw me slumped over. Nobody tried to take me out.
PRENDERGASTAnd when I got to the hospital, I realized that I had no scratches, no blood. I mean, you just have to smile on that and say, all right, Father. I understand there is a greater work to be done.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, when Donisha says locks, she means dreadlocks. But let's go to the telephones and talk with Ryan in Darnestown, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANHi, Kojo, thanks for taking my call. I was just curious as to the role that marijuana might and does play in Rastafarianism. And I understand that Haile Selassie, I think, brought that to Jamaica, if I'm not mistaken. And I wondered, what exactly do you do in this country? Although they say that there's religious freedom, how do you deal with that -- the fact that it's illegal here?
NNAMDIThe movie answer -- the documentary answers several of your questions, the first having to do with the fact that Haile actually visited Jamaica in 1966 for the first time and was, I think, pleasantly surprised by the greeting he got from the Jamaican community in general and the Rastafarian community in particular. After this, Donisha and Patricia and Marilyn can pick up the story from there.
PRENDERGASTWell, first of all, his majesty did not bring marijuana to Jamaica. Marijuana came to Jamaica in the late 1800s after slavery was abolished. They brought in Indian indentured laborers. And the Indian indentured laborers brought things like curry. They brought practices like Hinduism. And they also brought the meditational herb called ganja sativa, marijuana. Now, marijuana did not become illegal in Jamaica until the black man started to use it, the black man meaning the Rasta man.
PRENDERGASTAnd the reason why they made it illegal is because there was no other way that they could bring in the Rasta man who was talking about liberation rights and freedom. The only way to bring him in was to outlaw this sacred herb.
NNAMDIWhich, Patricia, can enable you to tell Eric about the role that marijuana plays in Rastafarianism and exactly a little bit about the history of Rastafarianism and its relationship to Ethiopia.
SCARLETTOK. In terms of the role that marijuana plays, I would, you know, say it's very similar to that of in Hinduism. The sadhus have been using it for centuries as a form of meditation that helps them to establish a closer link or connection to God. And again, as Donisha said, it was the Indians who -- indentured laborers who brought marijuana to Jamaica. And it's also interesting to note that, again, when they were brought to Jamaica, they were also at the bottom rung of the society.
SCARLETTSo they befriended -- they had a lot in common with the black former slaves. And so they developed a relationship. And, sure enough, there were exchanges between them, cultural exchanges and hence, you know, the curry as Donisha said, and the marijuana. In terms of the links to Ethiopia, Haile Selassie was coronated in 1930. He became king of kings, lords of lords, conquering line of the tribe of Judah, which is connected to a passage in Revelation. He's the only monarch to have ever had that title.
SCARLETTAnd, prior to this, Marcus Garvey made the statement that if black people should look to Africa, look to the East. And once there was a black king crowned, our redemption was at hand. So there were a number of things that came together that signaled to Rastafari that Haile Selassie was, in fact, the kind that was foretold by Marcus Garvey.
NNAMDIIndeed. I, who thought I knew everything, learned a great deal from watching this documentary. Marilyn Gray, were there surprises along the way for you also?
GRAYThere was. Looking at the actual travel and looking at how various cultures incorporated Rastafari in their lives. So how did the Jewish Rastas do it in Israel?
NNAMDIYeah, that was fascinating.
GRAYYeah, the one love message. And then the South Africans -- I can't forget about the South Africans because they really touch me in terms of how they incorporated that kind of original feel to what the Rastafari had tried to accomplish from back then. So it was quite beautiful.
NNAMDII know it touched Donisha 'cause I could see it in her eyes, which were often crying in the documentary, and in her smile because, obviously, a lot of these revelations gave you great delight.
PRENDERGASTIt did. And it gave me great pain at the same time, you know, because it brought up a lot of realities in front of me. You know, like I'll always refer to being Bob Marley's granddaughter. People kind of lay out a carpet for you sometimes, so they don't treat you like a Rasta.
PRENDERGASTThey treat you like a Marley, you know? Even that was hard for me to deal with. And, you know, so it's -- in these days, it's just about being real to emotion and not being afraid to cry or to laugh when time calls.
NNAMDIWell, we'll talk about the distinction between being treated like a Marley and being treated like a Rasta after a short break when we come back. But you can still call. If you have already called, stay on the line. We'll get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. The website for this film is rastajourney.com. You can find a link at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation. We're talking about the documentary "RasTa: A Soul's Journey." And "RasTa: A Soul's Journey" is at the D.C. film fest. It screens tonight, as a matter of fact. You can see it at the D.C. film fest. The film fest runs from the 12th of April to the 22nd of April. And there are two feature series this year. One is "Caribbean Journeys," and it includes a movie "The First Rasta." And then the other is international comedies. But this film "RasTa: A Soul's Journey" tonight. What time?
SCARLETTIt's at 6:30 at the Landmark Theater.
NNAMDI6:30, Landmark Theater on E Street Northwest?
NNAMDIOn E Street Northwest. We're talking with the filmmakers and producers, Patricia Scarlett and Marilyn Gray. And Donisha Prendergast, she's Bob Marley's granddaughter. She is the guide in this film. She's an actor, artist and activist who has history here in Washington. You went to Howard.
PRENDERGASTI did go to Howard for a few years.
NNAMDIYeah. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Bob Marley circled the globe using reggae music to spread the Rasta message of nonviolence and happiness. I know you found, Donisha, that this message still reverberates today, but I'm wondering what you were expecting when you began this journey.
PRENDERGASTHmm. To be very honest with you, I tried not to have expectations. I was very humbled to be given this opportunity. You know, as many would think, you would always get these opportunities, but this is a responsibility that was put into my hands. And, you know, I had to acknowledge that and have no expectations. What I didn't expect, though, happened. You know, for instance, when we went to Shashamane, I expected that there would be a greater welcome.
PRENDERGASTThey allowed us to stay in the Twelve Tribes of Israel HQ.
PRENDERGASTShashamane is in Ethiopia.
PRENDERGASTYes. That's the land grant that his majesty gave to the Rastafarians.
PRENDERGASTAnd a lot of Rastafarians have repatriated to Shashamane since that time. But when it...
NNAMDIBut as one person in the documentary pointed out...
PRENDERGASTIt's not an easy road.
NNAMDIAnd they are treated there as foreigners.
PRENDERGASTYes. They are treated as foreigners because his majesty is not there to defend them at this time.
NNAMDIMarilyn, you were on that trip, it's my understanding, to Ethiopia. Were you surprised?
GRAYI was actually very surprised. As Donisha was saying, that we didn't get the support that we kind of had expected, but, also, I was really surprised with the struggle that the Rastas -- they had really little. And there was a lot of elderly Rastas there that's been there from ground zero that I've heard since passed away since we've interviewed them.
NNAMDISince you were there.
GRAYYes. So that was -- it was -- I could really see how -- it was literally -- they had nothing, and they had to build from nothing. And it's been a slow road.
NNAMDII don't know about you, but, Patricia, what I found that was consistent about that is that when the women in the documentary were describing the kind of struggle they had there, it reminded me of the struggle that the Rastas had in Jamaica itself. Indeed, one of the characteristics of Rastafarianism is the constant need to struggle.
SCARLETTAnd I think, you know, with a new generation that's come along, like Donisha and others like her, it's not that it will get easier, but I think they see the need to be part of an evolution of the movement -- cannot remain what it was before. And just to speak to the situation in Jamaica, I think what Jamaica has done in general is that Bob Marley has been placed on a pedestal...
SCARLETT...quite literally. So there is Bob, and then there's what I call the rest of them, and the rest of them don't count.
NNAMDII am old enough to remember when simply having dreadlocks...
NNAMDI...was anathema to the entire Jamaican middle class.
PRENDERGASTAnd still is.
NNAMDIIt still is to a lot of...
SCARLETTBut, you know, what happened, though, in the '70s, as a result of Bob Marley becoming so popular, some of the middle class youth did rebel, you know? Most of those ended up as members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But the fact of the matter is it's still not easy to be a Rastafarian in Jamaica.
NNAMDIWhich brings me back to the issue that Donisha raised earlier, that I was treated as a Marley and not a Rasta. What did you mean by that distinction? I imagine it's difficult to come to terms with having an ancestor as famous as your grandfather, but especially when you never had a chance to meet him.
PRENDERGASTYeah. I think that's the hardest thing. Like, even -- the Marley film is being screened tonight, you know? And even -- for the whole weekend, it's almost like a preparation for me to go and watch it again because it's almost like preparing to watch him die all over again, you know?
PRENDERGASTSometimes when I listen to his music, it makes me sad because I never really got to know him. But then, at the same time, it also gives me strength because whichever song happens in that time is always a message just for me, you know?
PRENDERGASTAnd so that empowers me to even try to walk my own journey beside his footsteps because I will not try to pretend I'm going to try and fill his footsteps.
NNAMDIYeah, but how difficult is it to be humble when you are, in a lot of ways, music royalty, when, in a lot of ways, people will consider you Rastafarian royalty because you happen to be a Marley? And as we were pointing out, that's not the treatment that most Rastas get.
PRENDERGASTNo. Well, I give thanks for that respect that they give me, but, at the same time, I also demand to be treated like a human being, like anybody else, you know? That's why when you say star, I try to stay away from that name. I would say guide because we're all learning. So -- and the next thing is my grandfather was a ghetto youth, you know. And before he was a ghetto youth, he was a country boy. And while he was a country boy, he also was a mixed breed. So there was...
NNAMDIA ghetto youth.
PRENDERGASTYes, a ghetto youth, meaning that he came from the inner city. He didn't have much, you know?
PRENDERGASTSo that's a place that he came from. It's just in these days that people see him as international superstar, but I remember, you know? I will not forget.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Abraham in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of D.C. "My question is, are there hard numbers about how many Rastafarians are out there and where they are located? Also, can you tell me, what are the basic principles of being a Rasta? And what about the debate over whether it's a religion, a lifestyle or a movement?" The answer is yes. It's all of the above. But here's Donisha.
SCARLETTIn -- well, I'll just answer the first one.
SCARLETTIn terms of numbers, there are now about 1.5 million Rastafarians, self-identified Rastafarians scattered all over the world. The only place you will not find Rastafarians -- and I think it's a question of time -- is Antarctica.
NNAMDIBut you have to point out that a lot of Rastafarians today are baldheads, and that is they do not necessarily grow dreadlocks. Correct.
SCARLETTThat's correct. Necessarily have dreadlocks. That's correct, yeah.
NNAMDIWhat are the basic principles of being a Rasta? Donisha.
PRENDERGASTWell, the basic principles of being a Rasta, the first thing you have to do is know to be humble and to give thanks to the Almighty. And when we say the Almighty, we are talking about the universe in all its manifestation, but also we're talking about His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. Now, when we say we are Rastas, we mean that we are soldiers of his imperial majesty's principles and his teachings.
PRENDERGASTHe is one who taught about justice and truth and rights, equal rights for all, despite the color of your skin. That song that my grandfather sings, "War," "until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere will be war," those are his majesty's words. And...
NNAMDIAt the United Nations.
PRENDERGASTAt the United Nations. And that is what we represent in this day.
NNAMDIHere is Karen in Herndon, Va. Karen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARENHi. I'm calling with -- that often emitted in the -- well, you hear about the -- Sheba -- (unintelligible) Sheba, Ethiopia.
KARENBut there's a connection with Haile Selassie. Very, very relevant. One of Haile Selassie's ancestors was the (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIYou're breaking up on us, but I guess I'll ask Patricia to underscore the point she was making about an ancestor of Haile Selassie because it does go back beyond the Emperor Haile Selassie.
SCARLETTAbsolutely. There is, historically, a connection between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, and this is the lineage of Haile Selassie.
NNAMDIHere is David in Woodbridge, Va. David, your turn.
DAVIDHi there, Kojo. First of all, it's a pleasure to be speaking with you and Bob Marley's granddaughter and everybody involved in this project. I have many friends that have drawn close to the Rastafari religion. And even myself at points, we definitely agree that cannabis and...
NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds left, David.
DAVIDOK. How does -- I always been -- I've always been confused with how -- with Jah and God and the Bible references and Jesus. How does that all tie in with Jah, and what exactly do we mean and how does Haile Selassie also tie into that, I guess, is my question...
NNAMDIWell, we explained how Haile Selassie ties in, but Jah is God. But go ahead.
PRENDERGASTJah is God. Jah is God. It's just another name for him. In terms of His Majesty and Jesus Christ, we believe that His Majesty is the physical manifestation of the spirit of Jesus Christ within this time. And we are the lost children of Israel that the Bible speaks about.
NNAMDIPatricia Scarlett and Marilyn Gray, this has been a, what, six- to eight-year journey for you?
GRAYEight, an eight-year journey.
NNAMDIAn eight-year odyssey for you...
NNAMDI...and you are now featured in Filmfest DC here. "RasTa: A Soul's Journey" will be screening tonight here in D.C. at the Landmark Theatre on E Street. Patricia Scarlett and Marilyn Gray are the filmmakers and producers behind this, well, new film that was eight years in the making. Congratulations. Thank you so much for joining us, Marilyn.
GRAYThank you. Thank you very much.
SCARLETTThank you very much.
NNAMDIPatricia, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIDonisha Prendergast is an actor, artist and activist. She's the granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley. She's the guide in "RasTa: A Soul's Journey." Donisha, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
PRENDERGASTThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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