Produced in association with Bob Marley's record label, Tuff Gong, this documentary commemorates a now-legendary concert considered the high point of Marley's career. In sing-songy patois, a Rastafarian narrator provides a cursory explanation that civil strife had rocked Jamaica since the island's bitter 1976 elections. Many outlaw gangs terrorizing Kingston...read more
Produced in association with Bob Marley's record label, Tuff Gong, this documentary commemorates a now-legendary concert considered the high point of Marley's career.
In sing-songy patois, a Rastafarian narrator provides a cursory explanation that civil strife had rocked Jamaica since the island's bitter 1976 elections. Many outlaw gangs terrorizing Kingston had loose, tribelike affiliations either to the ruling People's National Party, lead by Michael Manley,
or the opposing Jamaica Labour Party of (onetime record producer) Edward Seaga. In a strange turn of events, rival gangsters (Bucky Marshall and Claudie Massop, both old friends of Marley) were caged in the same jail cell and ended up hammering out grounds for a truce: a "peace concert" to
alleviate the violence. Bob Marley, Jamaica's reggae music icon with an international following, would be the key in bringing intransigent Manley and Seaga supporters to share music of reconciliation and redemption, at Kingston National Stadium on April 22, 1978.
Anyone who was anyone in the Jamaican music scene made the concert, and HEARTLAND REGGAE telescopes the day-long event considerably, opening with Jacob Miller's "Peace Treaty" (an appropriation of the traditional tune "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"). Miller singles out Marshall, Massop, Manley,
Seaga, and other faction leaders for praise. Idyllic snippets of island life are dropped in, along with general asides on the Rastafarian folk religion and Peter Tosh's recorded mini-manifesto, "The word reggae means "king's music." That means it's highly sophisticated and should be highly
appreciated. Because it is black kings." The footage does not contain Tosh's angry and profane half-hour onstage rant, mainly directed at Manley and denouncing the PNP's stance against legalizing marijuana. There are scenes, apparently from unrelated events, of reggae greats U-Roy and occasional
Marley backup singer Judy Mowatt and The Light of Love. Finally, Bob Marley himself takes the stage. In fine form he does reggae standards like "Natty Dread" and "Jamming." He unites Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, up out of their seats for "Jah Live" at the climax, and joins them in a symbolic
public handclasp, although the closing title notes ruefully that the next time these bitter political foes met was Bob Marley's funeral in 1981, after reggae's greatest exponent had succumbed to brain cancer.
The Rousseau-like romantic image of Bob Marley as tropical populist peacemaker turned out to be ideal myth-building material, cemented by his early death--this despite the fact that political violence continued as the PNP and JLP grappled for power into the next decade. Claudie Massop, rumored to
have stolen Peace Concert profits, was fatally shot at a roadblock in 1979. Bucky Marshall died in a Brooklyn dance-club shootout a year later. A posthumous Marley biographer quoted the depressed artist as wishing he could have killed Manley and Seaga when he had them together. HEARTLAND REGGAE is
competently lensed and especially flattering toward Jacob Miller (who also died young, in a car crash, and enjoys as much screen time as Marley). But the film barely scratches the surface as it pays lip service to reggae culture and the music of Afro-Caribbean emancipation and protest. It mostly
defers to footage of idle islanders riding motorbikes or blissfully smoking ganja, shots that could have come from any tourist promo aimed at white Americans more fascinated by unfettered drug use than by Third World poverty and black self-determination. The considerable respect shown to Marley
still doesn't convey the place he held in Jamaican life. One wishes these cameras could have been present at Bob Marley's 1976 post-election concert, in which he, his family, and bandmates displayed their bullet wounds from a still-unsolved assassination attempt a few weeks earlier. Music: "Peace
Treaty" "I am a Natty" "Tired fe Lick Week" (Jacob Miller); "Whip Them All" (Dennis Brown); "Natty Don't Fear" "Soul Rebel" (U-Roy); "Black Woman" (Judy Mowatt and The Light of Love); "Uptown Top Rankin" (Althea & Donna); "Enjoy Yourself" (Junior Tucker); "400 Years" "Get Up Stand Up" "Legalize
It" "Soul Rebel" (Peter Tosh); "Trenchtown Rock" "Natty Dread" "War" "Jah Live" "Jamming" (Bob Marley & The Wailers". (Profanity, substance abuse.)
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