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