Featured Post

angela benton interview

Saturday, May 4, 2019

donisha perendergast

Donisha Prendergast: “My grandparents are revolutionaries”

Bob and Rita Marley's granddaughter opens up about her Rastafarian childhood

When people think about Rastafarians, they imagine dreadlocked men smoking ganja, playing reggae music and living close to nature. They often see us as cool and mystical, but I was raised to be a soul-jah for humanity, not a celebrity. It’s important to acknowledge the anti-colonial sentiment in our very image, language, music and way of life
My household was always filled with politically-charged conversations about revolutions in Africa, destroying the concept of first class and second class citizens and this false idea of ‘first world’ and ‘third world’ nations. I learnt very early that there is great power in words and sound, and that there is always a deeper truth beyond the shadow of diplomacy that we encounter in society. History was not written for us or by us, so we have to right the story with small decisions that can make global impact.
My mother Sharon, as the eldest born to Rita, was often left in charge of raising her siblings Cedella, David (Ziggy) and Stephen, when my grandparents were on tour. And when they returned it would be joy to the world! My mom tells me how they would get days off from school to venture to the beach and river—all the children loaded up in Bob’s Land Rover for a day of family time. The days were punctuated with gifting new clothes, shoes and exchanging lots of stories about the people and places they have seen. They were just teenagers, when my grandfather passed away, and their entire lives changed.
Soon they would be known to the world as Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and forced to carry on his legacy while trying to make space for themselves as well as their other siblings born out of wedlock to different mothers. As the eldest of my generation, born into such a global and diverse family, I look at what they have gone through and embraced my role as guide and protector to my younger family members as they seek knowledge about this legacy that we have all inherited.


There aren’t many terms of reference for growing up in the Marley household or as Rastafari—in fact, they are two totally individual experiences. You are sheltered and overprotected as a Marley. People have a soft spot for you because of the legacy. But as a Rasta person, you are often disrespected and belittled, misunderstood and misrepresented. People overlook the contribution of Rastafari to my grandfather’s legacy. It’s almost as if the world is willing to accept the image of Marley but not the reality that is Rastafari. As I’ve grown, I’ve learnt to navigate both worlds and try to bridge the gap. Still, one thing I always remember my mother and grandmother telling us is how Bob used to tell them “you have enough brothers and sisters, you don’t need friends and company, they will lead you astray.” So I’ve never been one to just follow along simply because it is a rule or someone said so. If I’m not in the company of my family, I’m often trodding alone or in the company of a select few who know the mission, and are souljahs themselves.
I think a hard lesson I learnt from my grandfather is that not everybody will stay the journey with you. Even some of your closest allies may become enemies just by virtue of vision, or lack thereof. Bob Marley & the Wailers were booked for a promo tour in the UK that would take them to some very shaky, underground punk rock spots. His bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer refused to perform in these spaces, asserting that reggae music didn’t belong there and the money was too small. My grandfather disagreed. He remained adamant that the message was for all people, especially the ones in those places that have been rejected by society. Instead of forfeiting the tour and staying home, he asked my grandmother and two other very powerful female singers of the time, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, to join him on background vocals. This would be a defining moment in my grandfather’s musical career and the sound of the music. It was also an empowering moment of reckoning for women in the movement as these three singers, known as The I-Three, would help to establish an image and presence for the ‘RasTafari Empress’ as royal, eclectic and graceful in her fashion sense and general demeanour. Looking back, it was an empowered attitude that would inspire other women to begin their own soul journey to Rastafari.
Every time I travel, I encounter people who share personal anecdotes about time spent with this mystical Rastaman. At their core, my grandparents are revolutionaries, who used music and love as their ammunition in the fight for equality and justice for all. People often ask me if I sing, they expect me to. I fully acknowledge that my voice is my gift but not as a singer, as a speaker. It is an echo of the rebel spirit of my grandparents, Rita and Bob Marley.
My grandfather transitioned three years before I was born. My Nana, who is the root and foundation of my family, has always been bold, brave, beautiful and outspoken… magical really. She has told me stories of them discovering their purpose as young people on this mission. How they would return home after a long, tiring tour, to lines of people, extending down the street and around the corner—the hungry, the sick, infants, the homeless, the forgotten ones. My grandparents helped to feed and strengthen communities, educate children and build businesses for ghetto people. They also fought alongside other liberation movements, lending their music as a soundtrack to the emancipation of Nations. My first visit to South Africa was with my grandmother for ‘Africa Unite’, a series of Youth Symposiums and concerts she hosts in various parts of Africa to bring together young people from across the continent to dialogue on how to move forward to a United State for Africa. On that visit, she told me that I would be opening the youth symposium. I had never done any serious public speaking before and was extremely nervous, but somehow my Nana knew it was the right time to put the mic in my hand. After I spoke, some young women came to me and lauded me for such a powerful speech, challenging me to do more than I thought I could. They told me that their parents had used my grandfathers’s music, especially ‘Get Up Stand Up’, ‘Africa Unite’ and ‘Redemption Song’ during the uprisings in Soweto that would eventually lead to (Nelson) Mandela’s freedom and the end of apartheid. The socio-political impact of reggae music and Rastafari on global affairs has yet to be truly quantified outside of the context of pop culture.


This time in human history demands more of us—more truth, more action—and we are capable. It is hard to sit still and stay silent when there is still so much trouble in the world. I become restless, anxious, the movement moves me all around the world on this journey to keep fighting to liberate humanity with inspired words and songs of freedom. To share elevated perspectives informed by an alternative curriculum that uses spirituality, humanity and justice at the base. Reaffirming what it means to be a part of a global community and build a greater sense of community beyond nationality. Jamaica, Japan, Indonesia, Cuba, Haiti, Suriname, Trinidad, Barbados, Panama, Peru, Italy, U.K, Spain, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, India, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, across numerous cities in the United States and Canada. Just a few of the places I have been to teach, and there will be many more.
Still, Jamaica has a very hypocritical relationship with reggae music and Rastafari. The lived experience that inspired the movement and the music is wholly anti-establishment. Back in the ’40s and ’50s, just before the birth of reggae music, the first Rastafari community, named Pinnacle, was fully self-sufficient for 16 years based on the farming of agriculture and marijuana, a cash crop which was central to its economic and spiritual life. Ganja as a sacrament, as well as vegetarian living, was introduced to the African population by the Indian indentured labourers. The colonial governments perceived the emergence and proliferation of Rastafari as a threat to the social order of the day. As a result, they antagonised the community. Each raid resulted in cash and cured marijuana being seized by law enforcement, which helped to finance the monarchy. Finally, in 1954, Pinnacle was burned to the ground by the British colonial authorities with the intention of obliterating the foundations and any potential legacy of the movement. Rasta people were subjected to public shavings of their dreadlocks, family separation and ridicule. None of the inhabitants of Pinnacle have ever received compensation for the loss of their homes, personal effects, or their suffering and humiliation. For the past five years I’ve been fighting for this cause and will not relent.
The actions of the colonial government had a reverse effect when Rastafari was scattered to various parts of the island. New ideas of a proud African identity, spirituality and culture took root in Jamaica and spread throughout the Caribbean to uplift oppressed peoples. It is this liberation movement that was popularised through music by a mixed-race country boy from Jamaica’s lowest social class, Bob Marley.
Wherever I am in the world, I know that my grandfather is with me. He simply shows up randomly as an image on a wall or on a T-shirt, or often, someone will pass by playing one of his songs. And then I know everything is alright. I remember being in England, wrapping a full day shoot for RasTa: A Soul’s Journey. It was an intense interview with the journalist Darcus Howe. He asked me if I missed my grandfather. I think that was the first time anyone had asked me that question. It stayed with me … Why was he was no longer on this planet? It hurt. I know he was taken away because of what he stood for. He was a threat to the social order of the day and still is. That night, while travelling home, his song “Jah Live” came on the radio. I listened with my heart wide open and tears streaming down my face, holding on to every word as if he wrote them for me, for this moment when I would miss him.
I identify with the rebellion in the music—the questions, the accountability that it demands. I will continue to be vocal about the true root and context of the movement beyond the music. The truth may be an offense, but it is not a sin. I observe my own evolution with courage, kindness and a knowing that more beauty will be born into this world, and I will be a part of that magic. Yes… So Jah say. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in this sight oh Jah! RasTafari.
An actor, filmmaker, poet and activist, Prendergast will conduct sessions at Goa Sunsplash (January 12-13) and Jaipur Literature Festival (January 24-28) this month

Now Playing: Aditi Rao Hydari’s Behind the Scenes Cover Shoot for the May 2018 issue


1 comment:

  1. INDIAN CURRENTS (IC) is a National News & Views English Weekly magazine, published from Delhi
    indian magazines online