Africa [1999/I]

The spirit of Bob Marley imbues Africa Unite, a documentary-cum-concert recorded in 2005, the year of what would have been the late reggae pioneer's 60th birthday. Yet it was more than Marley's music (represented here by versions of classics like "Get Up, Stand Up," "Natty Dread,""Burnin' and Lootin'," and "I Shot the Sheriff," variously performed by widow Rita and sons Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, Damian, and Ky-Mani, along with a few vintage clips of Marley himself in action) that drew thousands of Africans and others to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a week of music, symposiums, and other events. More than any other genre-defining artist of the pop music era--more even than Bob Dylan, who neither sought nor was comfortable with the "voice of a generation" tag--Bob Marley's work contained an overt political element, and it is his message of resistance to oppression and the necessity for people to work together to enact change that galvanizes director Stephanie Black's film. And while Marley, a Jamaican, never actually performed in Ethiopia, the choice of that country (referred to as "the genesis of mankind") as a location makes perfect sense, as it was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, whom Marley and other Rastafarians regarded as God incarnate. Selassie, also known as the Lion of Judah, Ras Tafari, or Jah Rastafari, is invoked often; his granddaughter is on hand to welcome visitors (who also include Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, and actor Danny Glover). In juxtaposing old news footage from Africa's colonial past with new material in which participants discuss the vital importance of African self-sufficiency, Africa Unite offers a well-balanced and informative perspective on an important and interesting subject. The music's pretty darn good, too. --Sam Graham

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