How the ‘One Love’ Film Captures the Truth about Bob Marley

Who is Bob Marley?

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician who became an international icon and is regarded as one of the pioneers of reggae music. Born on February 6, 1945, in Nine Mile, Jamaica, Marley rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with his band, Bob Marley and the Wailers. He is known for his powerful lyrics that often address social and political issues, as well as themes of love, peace, and spirituality. Some of his most famous songs include “No Woman, No Cry,” “Redemption Song,” “Three Little Birds,” and “One Love.” Bob Marley passed away on May 11, 1981, but his music continues to inspire people around the world.

How the film One Love captures the truth about Bob Marley.

In the winter of 1976, at Harry J’s studio in Kingston, Jamaica, Bob Marley, donning a Spartan Health Club T-shirt and worn-out sandals, concludes a recording session with a rendition of a surprisingly upbeat song titled “Smile Jamaica.” As a correspondent for the British rock press reporting from the island, I stopped by to bid my farewells, only to be caught off guard by this cheerful tune, reminiscent of a tourism advertisement. I inquired about the song’s contrasting mood, to which Marley, sipping on a glass of green juice, responded succinctly: “People in Jamaica too vex.”

“Vex” denotes anger, and the accuracy of his assessment would swiftly unfold in the days ahead. Within a week, reportedly, four gunmen invaded Marley’s residence on Hope Road and targeted him.

During this period, Jamaica experienced upheaval, influenced by distant Cold War conflicts that seeped into the island’s political landscape, dominated by two parties, each with its own gang connections and charismatic leaders. The JLP (Jamaica Labour Party), led by Edward Seaga, known as “CIAga” in downtown graffiti, and the PNP (People’s National Party), led by Michael Manley, a graduate of the LSE, who sought assistance from the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Marley aimed for his upcoming concert, also named Smile Jamaica, to remain impartial, but many Jamaicans perceived it as endorsing Manley. The speculation is that the JLP orchestrated the gunmen’s attack in retaliation.

Despite the attempt on his life, Marley survived and proceeded with the concert two days later. However, he left the island uncertain about his return. Over the subsequent two years, residing in London, he energized Britain’s burgeoning Rastafarian community, and alongside the Wailers band, produced Exodus—later hailed as the album of the century by Time. Marley returned triumphantly to Kingston to headline the One Love Peace Concert in 1978.

Having witnessed much of this era firsthand, I documented it in my book “Exodus,” published in 2006. Now, the period has been brought to life on screen in the captivating film “Bob Marley: One Love” (originally titled “Exodus”). The British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir delivers an impeccable performance, introducing Marley to a new generation. Radiant and profoundly empathetic, Ben-Adir’s portrayal drives what Ziggy – Marley’s eldest son, who co-produced the film with his sister Cedella – modestly refers to as “a brief glimpse into my father’s life”.

The evolution of Bob Marley’s marketing has undergone several transformations since his passing from cancer in 1981. Dave Robinson, then the managing director of Island Records, reimagined Marley’s once-edgy political Rasta persona, conceptualizing the bestselling compilation “Legend,” which spotlighted his uplifting tracks. Consequently, Marley became widely known as the amiable “Cuddly Dread,” associated with red, green, and gold beer bongs, as well as crochet caps adorned with woolly dreadlocks.


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