The closing days of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema were graced by the presence of twenty-five year old Donisha Prendergast …
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As the eldest granddaughter of reggae music’s most iconic figure Bob Marley, Donisha Prendergast grew up in a world that revered the art and life of her grandfather.
Published: Sunday | October 16, 2011
RasTa: A Soul’s Journey, a feature-length documentary by director Stuart Samuels is an exploration of Rastafari, the inspiration for Bob Marley’s music and his granddaughter’s desire to dispel any misconceptions about the world of Rastafari.
The documentary will have its world premiere at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal, on Tuesday, with a repeat on Thursday.
Odyssey to challenge
The FNC is one of Canada’s longest film festivals celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The film unfolds with Donisha’s personal odyssey to challenge the often cartoon perception of Rastafarians, and her focus on putting the story and message of this movement into a personal and global perspective.
In the film, Donisha encounters Rastafari communities of all races in Israel, India, Jamaica, South Africa, Ethiopia, Canada and the United Kingdom. In these countries, she meets with men and women who have chosen a Rastafari lifestyle. She explores how the movement evolved in that particular place and ultimately hopes to find her purpose as a young Rasta woman.
The documentary features interviews with British/Jamaican writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls “street politics”; reggae artiste and successful entrepreneur Ras Levi-Roots, a Rastafarian who stands for peace, love and harmony amongst all people; Bob Marley’s youngest son Damian Marley, wife Rita Marley; and Dr Jake Homiak, curator of the exhibit Discovering Rastafari at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian
Institute. Produced by Patricia Scarlett and Marilyn Gray, RasTa: A Soul’s Journey is a documentary that moves away from the more familiar images of Jamaica, towards the various ways in which the Rastafarian movement has gone beyond the tiny Caribbean Island.
It reveals the ways in which the message of Rastafari has manifested itself in diverse cultures, how the tenets of Rastafari are rooted in history and how they are made relevant to contemporary issues.
The film’s narrative unfolds as a voyage of discovery, driven by a woman’s intense desire to understand the past and make a clear meaning of the present.
RasTa: A Soul’s Journey was produced in partnership with Citytv.
By SAIRA PEESKER
If Bob Marley were alive today, he probably wouldn’t be making music. That’s what his granddaughter says anyway.
There’s just too much other work to do in the world, Donisha Prendergast tells an eager crowd packed closely around her in a grassy patch between the library and the outdoor pool at Alexandra Park on Friday night, August 5.
Promising a dialogue on youth, spirituality and the much misunderstood Rastafari, the charismatic actor and activist addresses a mostly adult group and speaks of her grandfather as a Rasta first and foremost.
If Marley were alive today, he’d be focused on doing positive work in the community, she says. “There’s lots of good singers.”
In his day, she points out, the reggae king was spreading Rastafari through a newly popular form of music, but now the movement has reached all corners of the world.
Prendergast, who was born after her grandfather’s death, is here promoting a soon-to-be-released film, RasTa: A Soul’s Journey, in which she visits Rastafarian communities in Toronto, Ethiopia, Israel and South Africa, as well as other cultures that share some of its practices, like the dreadlocked, pot-smoking Hindu mystics of India.
Anyone looking to get a straight answer about the basics of the movement is out of luck at the Scadding Court event, an unstructured, two-hour Q&A. Audience questions jump from racial profiling by police to the cultural significance of the Queen of Sheba.
Asked to explain the culture, Prendergast says, “That is your decision. You must know when the time comes, and you must know what it reveals.
“Rastafari represents African-ness. There is no other movement in the world that shows Africa is the way forward right now and identifies an African king and an African queen. If you take Rastafari out of this world, then the colours, the dreadlocks, the music, Bob Marley, all of that is gone. You understand?”
The idea of sacrifice and public service comes up again as she traces her own evolving understanding of what it means to be a Rasta.
“It represents love, unity, peace, sacrifice, service and justice for all. And inspiration. And we are all divine beings. The only way I feel whole is if I do service,” says Prendergast, who helped start a recycling company in Jamaica, where such services are uncommon.
“I grew up Rasta, but it wasn’t until I began this journey that I realized I wasn’t Rasta.”
The film’s Toronto-based executive producer, Patricia Scarlett, says she first became aware of Rastafari’s reach while travelling the world for her job at TVOntario.
“It has spread to cultures that are not in any way connected to Africa or Jamaica,” Scarlett tells NOW. “There’s something in the message as spread through reggae that people relate to. It’s really a reinterpretation of the Old Testament.”
While it’s not clear how many Rastas there are in Toronto, Stats Can figures for 2001 put the number at 415. Beliefs vary among different Rastafarian communities, but many believe in the Bible and see Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I as a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Selassie (emperor until 1974) was highly regarded on the world stage for bringing Ethiopia into the UN and writing his country’s first constitution.
Many are vegetarians and adhere to an Ital diet: food that comes from the earth, without preservatives or other chemicals. Some also avoid salt unless it comes from the ocean.
But while ganja smoke may be one of the few things outsiders associate with Rastafari, Prendergast mentions it only once, while encouraging people to check out Jamaica’s inaugural Manifesto Festival in November, a collaboration with Toronto’s Manifesto crew.
“There will be lots of concerts, lots of life, reggae music, greenery, everything nice,” she says.
Though her grandfather, reggae legend Bob Marley, died three years before she was born, Donisha Prendergast can feel his spirit with her wherever she goes.
“I’ve felt his spirit, I hear his music all the time so I feel like I know him,” said the 26-year-old, who dropped by Oakdale Community Centre at Jane Street and Grandravine Drive Wednesday, Aug. 3 to promote her soon to be released documentary Rasta: A Soul’s Journey. “Making the documentary helped me become a little closer to his mission. He was a freedom fighter, not just a musician.”
The documentary, which was shot over four years in eight countries and will be released in the fall, explores the Rastafari movement and aims to dispel myths often associated with it.
Prendergast, who spoke to some 60 local youths, said a Rasta is someone who does the work – not just “the braids, the marijuana, the red, green and gold (flag).”
“We are about truth, rights and justice,” she said. “The documentary is my journey as a young woman and Bob Marley’s granddaughter, discovering the roots of Rastafari. It was an eye opening experience. I was watching myself evolve as a Rasta woman and not just Bob Marley’s granddaughter being Rasta. It’s not just a black movement. I don’t want to picture a world without Rastafari. It’s created so much balance in an otherwise unbalanced world.”
Before filming, Prendergast, who calls Jamaica and Miami home, said she thought the movement was all about reggae music, peace and love.
“As I was travelling, I realized there is so much work to be done, truth and rights work,” she said. “I think the biggest misconception is that people wear dreadlocks and do bad things and don’t have work to do. I hope the documentary makes people realize it’s OK to reevaluate your life and challenge the things you thought at certain points in your life.”
The Rastafari movement began in the Jamaican slums in the 1920s and 30s. Some Rastafarians see Rasta more as a way of life than a religion. The Rastafarian lifestyle usually includes ritual use of marijuana, avoidance of alcohol, the wearing of one’s hair in dreadlocks and vegetarianism.
The movement is named for Ras Tafari Makonnen, who was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1930.
“It’s a great day,” said Phil Edwards of the community recreation program at Oakdale Community Centre, who dug out his Bob Marley T-shirt especially for the occasion. “(Prendergast) can speak directly to the youth, the youth have heard Bob Marley’s music and have been affected by the culture.”
By Fannie Sunshine – article
By CLIFTON JOSEPH
Donisha Prendergast, the granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley, and the star of the upcoming documentary film “RasTa: a Soul’s Journey”, is coming to Toronto to headline a float at Caribana promoting the movie and to do a series of presentations and youth events.
The 26 year-old whose iconic grandfather died before she was born, is the daughter of Sharon Marley of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, grew up in the U.S., studied acting at Howard University and immersed herself in an acting career before becoming a devotee of the Rastafarian faith in 2003.
While in Toronto, in addition to headlining the “RasTa” float at the Caribana Parade, Prendergast will appear at a number of other events, including presenting at the Irie Music Festival on Friday July 29 and again at the Festival’s “Tribute to Bob Marley” on Sunday July 31; meet with youth groups and appear on a panel about Rastafari and “green” living.
“Rasta: a Soul’s Journey”, produced by Toronto’s Scarlett Media, helmed by Patricia Scarlett, which has been described as “one young woman’s global journey to explore Rastafari, the spiritual legacy of her grandparents, Rita and Bob Marley”. Filming took Prendergast to eight countries, including Jamaica, Canada, the U.S., Ethiopia, Israel, India and South Africa, on a personal spiritual search for the history and practice, international popularity and continuing impact of Rastafari.
The JamaicanXpress newspaper caught up with Donisha Prendergast for an exclusive interview, on/the/phone from Miami, where she was filming interviews with her grandmother, Rita Marley, and her uncle, Damian Marley, for “RasTa”.
She was forthcoming, thoughtful, energetic and enthusiastic about the film and her trip to Toronto. We asked her about the iconic importance of her grandfather Bob Marley, and she told us that:
“His place in history has been made clear in his music and the effects he has had on the social consciousness of people. He’s a rebel but a rebel with a cause and he is like David, the man of Psalms to me in this time. If I had to look at the Bible I would say that my grandfather was a kind of David figure and he and his message stands today in the hearts of the people, because in each heart there is a song.”
The JamaicanXpress also wanted to know how she was able to filter through all the reggae and Rastafari iconic imagery of Bob Marley, to get to an understanding of him as flesh-&-blood, a man, her grandfather. The granddaughter didn’t jester with her answer.
“Through my grandmother, mainly,” she told us, “because she didn’t look at him like an International superstar, like everybody. To her he was just Robbie, this youth that she and him fell in love. And he didn’t come from any great social circumstance. In fact I just interviewed her, to be included in the documentary, and just learning more and more about him, like when she and him first started to court, he used to sleep on a door in Sir Coxcone Dodd’s studio, and it was she who let him in her home so he could sleep on her floor in the nighttime and sneak out early in the morning before her auntie would wake up, and it was no sexual relations or anything like that, it was just out of respect for her brother, as my g/mother said that even though he was her husband he was still her brother, you know, so its through her stories, her reflections, her memories of him that I am able to see him as a man, because there’s no one else that can tell the life-story of Bob Marley like my grandmother. She’s the closest one to him that is still living today”.
Prendergast told us that her introduction to “RasTa”, the film, coincided with her own interests in doing a documentary about Africa, after her moving experiences with her grandmother’s foundation’s annual trip to Africa, in South Africa, where after a speech about honoring young girls, she was besieged by a deluge of questions from moved young girls about what else she was going to be doing. When she got back to the U.S., she decided that acting wasn’t/her/thing and started looking at doing a documentary on the negative portrayal of Africa. That’s when Patricia Scarlett, of Scarlett Media, called her.
“Patricia contacted me, saying that she just got back from Jamaica, shooting a film on Rastafari called “Rastafari Then and Now”, and she has some ideas to do a global film. Then she told me her history and connection to Rastafari. She was in love with a Rastaman and was drawn to the philosophy, but before they were to be married, he died. Earlier he had told her to do a film to teach the world the Rastafari philosophy that he had taught her, and it was so touching, and reminded me so much of my grandmother, and the sense of duty. She was left with this duty to carry the message all over the world, after my grandfather passed away; and it just resonated in my spirit. I was immediately drawn to the project and we didn’t know exactly how we were going to go about doing it. All we knew was that we had to go around the world; and the documentary just evolved into what it is. It started out with the working title of “In search of Rastafari” and eventually evolved into “Rasta: A Soul’s Journey” because it’s a journey inside of you, it’s a road you have to trod yourself. You can’t look to somebody else and know. Who feels it knows it, as Bob say and now I understand”.
Prendergast passionately told us about growing up in the atmosphere of reggae and Rastafari and how she eventually went through a personal transformation.
“I just automatically assumed I was Rasta. It wasn’t like an experience I thought I had to go through. I didn’t really realize that there was so much history in Rastafari. All around the world there are people who see Rastafari and reggae as something solely connected to Bob Marley, and then because I am his granddaughter, it’s almost like I don’t look any further, but like what my mother said when I did decide to locks my hair in 2003, ‘this vibration bring positive and negative energy’; and when I did start to feel that imbalance in my life I really started to realize that there is something deeper than just this surface thing, to Rastafari. Then I started asking questions of the elders, and sit at their feet and listen while them talking, and you listen to their reasonings, their experiences, the pain that they went through, and you hear that life is Rastafari levity. And it’s so much more than these colors that you wear, than the dread-locking your hair, so much more than the ganja that you smoke, and wanting to say that you are free and that you are Rasta. No! Its about building and establishing a reality in people, letting them know, yow, you worth something, you come from strong lineage, you is somebody, you is an African and we have a King to identify in Haile Selassie I the First, so look no further for identity, because it is here in the present state of Rastafari”
We also wanted to know how the experience of working on the documentary has changed and charged her, personally.
“Rastafari is a call to action, that is what I have come to overstand from the experience of this documentary. It has totally changed me. It has put things into perspective, like my grandmother says “everyone is on a journey, but who is on the mission?” and that is what I am coming to understand now, “when does your journey become a mission?”
After a pause, she continued, “When you become exposed to certain truths then your journey becomes a mission and you can even decide to do something, or not, or just continue journeying. Since I been back off of this journey, I have been on my mission in Jamaica doing a lot of social programs in different inner/city-communities. I have also been traveling to different schools in the region—I went to Trinidad recently—doing presentations on Rastafari, and to ask questions and also to give myself up in that space for the youth to ask me questions, because I realize that everybody is searching, everybody is trying to understand what the truth is.”
With so many people still searching and journeying for truth, she told us about meeting up with some white dreads in Israel, and how they came to the faith of Rastafari.
“When I went to Israel I asked them “how come you a white man with freckles and orange hair. How come you are Rasta? And he said, ‘You know the first thing that brought Rastafari to us was reggae music through Bob Marley and others. Once the music came and we understood reggae music and that the thing of reggae music was to carry the passion of Rastafari, we embraced it. Because it was all very natural to us.’ And this was a white man talking, which goes to show that it goes so much deeper, and you know how you can study a book and study a book and one day you might be walking down the street and the book finally makes sense? That’s what Rastafari was to them, they told me.”
She was deeply moved doing this film, she says, and want people to let their guard down and come with an open mind to the film.
“This film will show people a true honest expression of my journey to understand what this thing called Rastafari is, and who I am, because I am Bob Marley’s granddaughter, yes, but what does that mean? Who was he beyond the music? What about Rastafari made him dedicate his life to it, and they took his life for it, for carrying this positive vibe around the world? It’s about answering serious questions like those. And sometimes they hurt. There’s a lot of pain I endured going through the documentary realizing certain truths, even coming to accept & understand that somebody did take my grandfather’s life. All my life I heard that he bucked his toe and so, but doing the film and traveling, I came to realize that there’s no way he could just up and dead so. I have come to realize the importance of his time lived and what he did and accomplished with that time. And also what my grandmother did, too. Many people don’t acknowledge her because she’s overshadowed by Bob Marley, but people should listen to her story to find out more about who Bob Marley was, and go beyond the fame. That is what this documentary will show, that at the root of it, we are all the same, looking for that same thing, truth, justice, happiness and love, one love”.
The JamaicanXpress also asked Prendergast to relate an experience doing the film that was mystic, and she was quick/with/it.
“We were in England”, she said forcefully, “and it was cold and raining and I had just done this interview where the guy was basically challenging me on Rasta and he wasn’t a Rasta. He wanted to talk about just the music and the politics, about the development of reggae music in the U.K., and how it was hooked up to the freedom struggles and politics that were happening there then, and after the interview I had so many questions running through my head about Rastafari and what am I doing with this documentary?
And then I hear my grandfather voice on the radio. The song just comes out, and I hear him say “Jah Live, children yeah, Jah Jah live, children, yeah”, and tears just came to my eyes. It was a real moment for me, and I don’t think anybody else in the bus realized what was happening, but when that happened, I just..just..just… the emotions came over me and the tears just started to run and it was if I could see him there with me, and that just gave me a strength.”
The JamaicanXpress also spoke with the film’s Brand/Manager Len Henry, who’s been on/board for the last two years of the film’s seven year journey. ”I came onboard to help position and package and handle the branding of the film”, he says, “Patricia’s been smart with the way she’s done it. I mean, she could have done it like the traditional indie-film, and just try and find five-cents, here-&-there and try to do a movie, which she has done, but she thought it was important to build awareness and an audience, at the same time, and it’s been a real pleasure recently going to different events like at Afro-Fest, where lots and lots of people already knew about the film. It shows that that approach is working. “
Acknowledging that plenty/plenty films have been made about Rastafari over the years, Henry insists that “Rasta: A Soul’s Journey” is different in scope, strategy and approach, and that it also has “so many things to say”.
“The prime aim of this film is to demystify Rastafari so that you don’t want to judge a book by its cover,” he told us, “You don’t always know what’s in somebody’s heart if you don’t understand what they are about. Donisha’s passion about being here is to share the message, words, history and legacy of where Rastafari has been and how it has touched the world broadly. And Patricia had a strategy of traveling the world and reaching out to all the countries that have influenced Rastafari. We went to India to talk to Sadhus, because that’s where the dreads and the ganja smoking came from, from the Indian indentured workers who came to Jamaica; to Israel and the Star of David, and where that fits in; to south Africa for the political; Ethiopia for the spiritual roots; and Canada for the multicultural, one love vibe. And to have Bob and Rita’s granddaughter right there, going on that journey and experiencing the history and present vibrations and going through her own changes in relation to fully understanding Rastafari. The film has a wide, deep, layered scope.”
According to Henry, the last bit of filming has been done, they’re layering and adding music and the final set of interviews, and they are gearing up for a momentous couple of months of “RasTa” activity. He went on to tell us about “…a special concert to celebrate the film’s release. After that the film will go to a number of festivals before its release theatrically at the end of the year, followed soon after by its television premiere on CityTV. ”
Henry says that the film’s Facebook page now has 25,000 members and hopes to have 40,000 by the film’s premiere in September, and that the float is designed to spread the awareness of the film. “The theme is “”one love/one world”, honoring the mansions of the faith that exist: Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes of Israel, Orthodox Rastafari and Bobo Dreads. The float will honor all of those with banners and the colors and elements of Rastafari.
“RasTa” is directed by Stuart Samuels from Patricia Scarlett’s screenplay, written by Roger McTair, and produced by Patricia Scarlett, Marilyn Gray and Stuart Samuels.
For more information about the Caribana float, Donisha Prendergast itinerary in Toronto and about “RasTa”, the film, please contact www.rastaonline.ca
A mediation on India. Donisha explores the distinct similarities and connections between Hinduism and Rastafari. She meets with “ganja” smoking, dreadlocked Sadhus (Hindu holy men) in Varanasi and discuss the mingling of elements of Rastafari in Jamaica and Hinduism in India.
Jerusalem & Tel Aviv, Israel – Donisha visits with Rastafarians living in the Kibbutz Tze’eelim aka “Jamaica in the Desert”. She searches for the truths behind the Rastafarian references to the Star of David; in legends, which state that one of the 12 ancient Hebraic tribes may have been Black. She grapples with the Israeli struggle for their homeland vs her own Rastafarians desire for repatriation to Africa? Although the Rastafari livity in Israel is not a religious phenomena it is a value system espousing peace, love, unity and socialist elements that draws inspiration from the songs of Bob Marley.
Sheshemane, Ethiopia — Ethiopia is to Rastafarians what Mecca is to Muslims. Donisha visits Sheshemane, where many Rastafarians aspire to return. In 1948, Emperor Haile Selassie granted the land as a gesture of acknowledgement to Rastafarians. Few have actually made the journey and fewer still have settled there. Donisha explores this incongruity with some of the brethren now living in Sheshemane. If few Rastas have repatriated themselves physically, can ‘returning to Africa’ be a metaphysical state rather than geographical one?
Cape Town & Kynsna, South Africa — The Judah Square Rastafarian Community is one of the largest and most organized Rastafarian communities in South Africa. Judah’s Square is the venue for the annual Rastafarian Earth Festival. Donisha experiences, first hand, the effects of Reggae and the Rastafarian Movement on an international community. Her grandfather’s music often called attention to the political strife occurring during the Apartheid years in South Africa. How does the Rastafarian community in Kynsna come to the terms with the legacy of Apartheid?
Washington DC, USA — Donisha Prendergast visits the Smithsonian Institute’s DISCOVERING RASTAFARI exhibit. She reasons with curator, Jake Homiak about the roots and inspirations in the birth of Rastafari: Marcus Garvey; Emperor Haile Selassie; as well as her Grandfather, Bob Marley, and his role as a “major conduit” in the popularization of the philosophies of Rastafari around the world. This visit springboards her quest to travel to the various countries to learn more.
Twenty-six year old Donisha Prendergast is the granddaughter of Rita and Bob Marley. She is, at heart, a true artist. Her fresh and vibrant talent spans many disciplines. She is an accomplished actor who has already had a wide range of starring roles in a number of major Jamaican television productions. She has also enjoyed leading roles in a several live stage productions, which have successfully toured the Eastern Caribbean, The United States and the UK.
At 12, Donisha along with a few of her cousins, performed background vocals on theme song for the popular children’s animation series, Arthur, with her uncle Ziggy Marley as the lead. She went on to travel extensively with her mother, Sharon Marley, while she was a member of the Melody Makers; and to Japan, Ghana, South Africa and the United Kingdom with her grandmother, Rita Marley. She recently toured France with Shaggy and Rik-Rok as dancer/choreographer. Donisha plays the piano and African drums.
Donisha and her production partners, Falani Spivey and Serita Stewart of Sumthing F.E.R.T.I.L.E (For Every Revolutionary Truth that Inspired Leaders to Educate) Productions have begun shooting a documentary about the links between Blacks in the Diaspora and Africa.
To date they have completed shoots in Brazil, South Africa and Jamaica. They have also produced a trailer for Maestra Da Favella, yet another documentary project, currently in production.
Donisha currently lives in Miami with her family where she is pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree (BFA) in Film and Digital Production at a prime arts university. She has already completed two years of theatre studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Donisha was the Keynote Speaker and Host for Africa Unite, Youth Symposium in 2006 (Ghana), 2007 (South Africa) and 2008 (Jamaica). Africa Unite is the yearly celebration of Bob Marley’s Birthday that is organized by Rita Marley.
In 2011, Donisha will publish a book of poetry and her musings about life as she sees it thus far.