The next generation of Marleys

Garry Steckles is impressed by the latest addition to the Bob Marley dynasty – the great man’s grand-daughter

Donisha Prendergast, Rita and Bob Marley’s eldest grandchild. Photograph by Michael ChambersThree generations of Marley women; Rita Marley, Donisha and her mother Sharon. Photograph by Michael Chambers

It seems like just the other day that I first heard reports out of Jamaica about a sensational new reggae album called Catch a Fire, by a group called the Wailers, whose lead singer – at least on most of the tracks – was a guy named Bob Marley.

A couple of decades later, when the nineties rolled round, I could hardly believe that I was now listening to music being made by Marley’s children – first Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers (whose lineup included Stephen Marley, later to emerge as a Grammy-winning solo performer), then Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Julian Marley and Ky-Mani Marley.

So I did something of a double take recently when I started to hear good things about a documentary called RasTa: A Soul’s Journey and discovered that the film is about a voyage of discovery by a young Jamaican woman called Donisha Prendergast.

Who just happens to be a granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley.

Yes, another generation of the Jamaican musical dynasty has emerged in the public spotlight, even as the world’s ongoing love affair with the music and persona of Bob Marley shows no sign of cooling off.

I’ve seen the RasTa documentary something like half a dozen times, and each time I watch it I’m struck by the strength and depth of Donisha’s personality, by her easy-going rapport with people of the eight countries (Ethiopia, South

Africa, Canada, Israel, India, Jamaica, the US and England) she visited during the shooting of the film, by her perspective on Rastafari, and by her seemingly effortless ability to communicate. And it doesn’t hurt that – as readers can see from the picture on the opposite page – she’s decidedly camera-friendly.

Prendergast’s views on the Rastafarian movement which her grandfather played such a huge role in bringing to the world’s attention are particularly illuminating. She regards Rastafari as a way of life rather than a religion, an interpretation that I suspect will resonate strongly with people – myself included – who don’t happen to be practicing Rastafarians but who believe strongly in the positive and peaceful aspects of the movement.

“It’s not a religion,” Donisha states flatly. “People project it to be a religion because they don’t understand it; they haven’t taken time to do the research. But Rastafari is a culture that can be practiced by people of any kind of religion. You have Hasidic Jews who are practising Rastafari, you even have Muslims who are practising.

“Rastafari is a way of life. It’s the way that you treat the world, the food that you eat. That message of peace and love, that’s the basis of Rasta.”

I was also intrigued by her response when I asked her what she thought Bob would have felt about the role he played – and continues to play more than 30 years after his death – in the growing acceptance and influence of Rastfari.

“He was just a soldier in Jah army doing the works required of him,” replied Donisha. “His role in this world is no greater nor lesser than another man. We all contribute equally to the whole when we’re doing Jah work. I think he would urge others to get to work too.

“It is a challenge to be a Rasta … we speak and seek truth, and that doesn’t go unnoticed.”

And I was even more intrigued when I asked Donisha about her plans for the future. Her response: “Everything is on the horizon – from making more films to leading countries.”

When I heard those last two words, the first thing that came to my mind were the opening lines of a popular song a couple of decades back by the great Barbadian calypsonian Ras Iley:

I can see Rastafari in parliament,
Making crucial decisions for government …

Before signing off, congratulations are in order for my Caribbean Beat colleague David Katz on the publication of his latest book: Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography.

As a long-time Cliff fan, I’ve always wanted to know more about the veteran Jamaican singer-songwriter, whose illustrious career dates back to the early days of ska and who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple of years back.

Now I do.

David’s book, which is chock full of authoritative detail, documents Cliff’s life from his childhood in rural Jamaica to international stardom, and includes fascinating background information on the making of the classic 1972 Jamaican movie The Harder They Come, in which Cliff starred.