Being related to the late great Bob Marley could be a blessing and a challenge. Donisha Prendergast grasps that even though she was not around when her grandfather created powerful songs of freedom, passion and justice that – nearly three decades after his death – resonate around the world.
Appreciating that the legendary Marley’s music and lyrics were informed by his Rastafarian beliefs, Prendergast has embarked on a historic journey to document the deep religious movement that influenced her grandfather’s music.
RasTa: A Soul’s Journey is a feature-length documentary that offers an in-depth look at the Rastafarian movement’s growth and its significant influences in global societies.
The documentary, due to be released later this fall, takes Prendergast to eight countries on four continents to deepen her understanding of Rastafari and explore the cultural and historical links between Rastafari and other peoples.
The journey started in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institute’s Discovering Rastafari exhibit. She has also visited Israel where she spent time in a Kibbutz delving into the links between Judaism and Rastafarianism, Ethiopia and South Africa.
Prendergast completes the journey this year with stops in India, England, Toronto and Jamaica.
“This is a lifelong journey that cannot be told in one documentary,” Prendergast told Share while in Toronto last week for the 14th annual Black History Month’s Kuumba Festival at Harbourfront Centre. “This is a great start and I hope it will inspire the making of more documentaries on the same subject matter because not enough is being recorded about Rastafarianism. There are a lot of young people wearing the dreadlocks and colours and saying they are Rasta, yet they know little of the history.”
Prendergast will assemble with elders from the Nyabinghi, Bobshanti and 12 Tribes of Israel to discuss Rastafari philosophy on her Toronto stop. On her trip to England she will visit a former Rastafarian temple in South London where Marley worshipped in the 1970s. In Jamaica, she will – among other things – meet with scholars who can place the historical and social relevance of Rastafari into context.
The documentary is the brainchild of former TV Ontario sales representative Patricia Scarlett who was raised in Montreal before coming to Toronto. She met Marley when he performed at Montreal’s Forum Concert Bowl during his “Kaya” tour in June 1978.
“My father knew the concert promoter and that was how I got the opportunity to meet Bob,” Jamaican-born Scarlett recalled. “I was quite young at the time and did not appreciate his music but the memory of his presence stayed with me. There was something special about him.
“About 10 years later while on business in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, I was waiting for the busy traffic to ease so I could go across to the Forbidden City when a bus stopped in front of me. When the doors flung open, I was stunned to hear the blast of Marley’s One Love. Later that week, I met a Rasta in China who was an architect and was doing some teaching. The events of that week heightened my interest in wanting to produce a documentary encompassing Marley and Rastafarianism which have taken hold in so many countries around the world.”
Two years ago, Scarlett co-produced a 60-minute documentary, Rastafari Then and Now: A Message from Jamaica.
“When I told the producer of this documentary that I wanted to do something bigger and I was told that I might have to pursue a big name, she suggested Donisha who is an actor,” Scarlett said. “I made contact with her and she was so personable and eager to do it.”
Scarlett expects the documentary, written by Roger McTair, to be released in August.
“It is rare that a religion and cultural phenomenon melds music, culture, philosophy and social change and also spreads around the far reaches of the globe,” said McTair who is a founding member of the Black Film & Video Network. The Rastafarian Movement has accomplished this. It is one of the most vibrant and culturally significant Black movements to have emerged in recent times.”
Born in Jamaica three years after her grandfather’s death in May 1981, Prendergast said she’s honoured to be part of the Marley family. Her mother, Sharon, is the biological daughter of Rita Marley who was adopted by Bob when the two married while her father, Peter, is an International Soccer Federation (FIFA) referee instructor.
“The name Bob Marley, to me, means my heritage and my calling and if I am to know what my mission is, I must look back at my history,” said Prendergast who was the keynote speaker and host of the Africa Unite youth symposiums in 2007 and 2008. “Using my grandfather as a reference, I know my mission must be great and it cannot be separate from what he started. I am just continuing his mission and spreading the word of Rastafari and love. It’s a great responsibility and joy being Bob Marley’s granddaughter.
Prendergast, who also plays the piano and African drums, spent two years in Howard University’s Theatre Arts program before transferring to Miami International University to pursue Digital Filmmaking & Video Production and to be closer to her family.
By Ron Fanfair, for Share Magazine, TORONTO