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Bob Marley Celebration : Africa Unite Tonight! Free Film Screening – February 6, 2008, San Diego

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Africa Unite Free Film Screening
WHEN: TONIGHT! Wed, Feb 6th
At 7:30pm

WHERE: WorldBeat Center
2100 Park Blvd. San Diego 92101

WHAT: Film Screening on Bob Marley’s Earth Day

WHO: Africa Unite, Bob Marley’s 60th Birthday. First Screening of this new film!


Africa Unite Tonight!
The documentary “Africa Unite” had its official world premiere in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this past September. Award-winning filmmaker Stephanie Black and Executive Producer Rita Marley returned to Addis, where in 2005, 300,000 people from across the globe helped the Marley family celebrate Bob Marley’s 60th birthday with a massive, outdoor concert. The September 15, 2008 screening–the Ethiopian calendar is based on an ancient Egyptian system and Ethiopian dates fall seven to eight years behind western dates–was hosted by President Negasso Gidada at the National Palace and coincided with Ethiopia’s celebration of the millennium.

The 2005 concert was the realization of an ambitious vision of unity building that Bob preached about when he himself performed his historic 1980 Zimbabwe concert. The Africa Unite foundation, founded by the Marley family to promote pan-Africanism, organized the week-long celebration and sponsored the attendance of students from African countries like Ghana and Kenya as well as Rastas from the countryside of Jamaica for a conference and continuing dialogue.

While the film is anchored by the marathon Marley benefit concert in historic Mesker Square in Addis Ababa, there are parallel narratives that help to create a fuller picture of Bob Marley’s personal dream of a Pan-African movement on the continent and throughout the Diaspora.

Ras “Bongo” Tawney, featured in Black’s award winning documentary “Life and Debt,” begins his sojourn in the humble hills of Jamaica, complete with a Nyabingi send off. “I will tell the whole Rasta community [of my trip],” he promises as his neighbors line the countryside dirt road to see his cab off. His journey is a spiritual one and brings him to tears often.

“It meant so much to me that Ras Tawney was able to make the trip,” says Stephanie Black. “It was really more of a sojourn. It meant everything to him, as you can see in the film. If there had been money to send his wife and family, I’m absolutely certain his trip would have been one way.”

Tawney’s recollections of the early and severe discrimination that Rastas faced on the island make clear how far the Rastafarian movement has really traveled. He remembers when merely wearing dreadlocks was considered not fashion, but a crime. Ironically, even when a group of Rastas who’d traveled from Shashamane, a village in the interior of Ethiopia that HIM Selassie gifted to a community of Rasta repatriates, to the airport in Addis to greet Mother Cedella Booker for the February 2005 celebration, they were turned away by airport security. “I didn’t include it in the film,” says Black. “But it was a reminder of the struggle Rastas have in terms of discrimination. That’s why the screening at the Palace [in September of ‘08] was so important. Rita invited the entire Shashamane community and the respect and love the President showed them was such an honor, so healing. After the film, President Gidada told us Africa Unite would be screened at schools throughout the country, that’d it would be used as an educational tool to teach children about Bob and the Rastafarian movement.”

In addition to the concert, Africa Unite hosted a week of symposiums on the history of the Pan African movement and workshops for the dozens of young grassroots organizers and students from all over the continent. As teenagers from Ghana seek out fellow students from South Africa and Rwanda and exchange personal narratives about their homes and lives and their visions of the future, it becomes clear how meaningful their interaction is. “Because of the history of colonization, and the carving up of different countries, it’s been impractical for Africans to travel within Africa. West Africans literally had to fly to Paris or London to get to the South Africa or Kenya,” explains Black. “What was so beautiful is the way they’d initially introduce themselves through the arts—through music and dance. It was their calling card, their name tags literally became their national dance and song. These kids were young and earnest but they understood themselves to be future leaders.”

Footage from these workshops and symposiums go further still in demonstrating the amount of education and organizing necessary to rebuild a present day movement that reclaims the mid 20th century goals of leaders like Jomo Kenyatta and Haili Sellassie. Black includes archival footage of Sellassie’s historical, controversial speech delivered to the League of Nations the summer of 1936 when Italy was beginning its illegal invasion of Ethiopia. The only country unconquered by colonialists, Africa Unite offers a concise history lesson on Ethiopia and its revered place as a thoroughly independent nation. During the weeklong Africa Unite festival Bob Marley’s son Ziggy visits the Organization of African Unity, established in 1963 in Addis Ababa when Emperor Selassie I convened 32 African independent states. Though disbanded in 2002 by South African President Mbeki and replaced by the African Union, Ziggy tells crew members he still “feels the history” of the landmark.

Black acknowledges the challenge of presenting a truncated history of the vast diasporic Pan African movement that inspired Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite.” Instead of a biopic about Marley, she chose instead to explore the ideas that inspired him. “There’s not an artist in the world who is both the commercial success and the inspiration that Bob is. We approached this film not as a way to gaze upon Bob, but to direct the viewer’s gaze on the things that were important to Bob: His Majesty, Ethiopia, a united Diasporic movement.”

The Africa Unite Foundation will hold its 4th Annual Conference in Kingston on Bob Marley’s birthday February 6, 2008. The film “Africa Unite” will make its premiere in Jamaica during the conference, and the DVD of the film will be available for wide release in early February.

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Written by Staff Writer