House that Marley built
"He was driven and amibitious and hard-working and virile" ... Kevin Macdonald on the subject of his film, Bob Marley. Photo: Rodger Cummins
Rohan Marley is a big boy with very big teeth and a large smile. He is nothing like his lean father, Bob, or his elder half-brother, Ziggy - a musician who resembles his dad and carries on his reggae tradition. Rohan used to play gridiron and during our interview he stands up and pounds his chest recalling one time when he was about to beat the crap out of his opposing team on the American football field - but they started singing Buffalo Soldier and reduced him to rubble.
''It's an aggressive game and I was pretty good at it, or so I was told,'' he says of his days playing for the University of Miami, when he managed to stuff his dreadlocks under his helmet. ''I was a vicious player, so they would do things like sing so I would lose my concentration. One guy on the Alabama team said, 'I don't like Rohan Marley too much but I love his father's music.'''
We didn't want the money. We wanted to protect our father's legacy.
The garrulous 39-year-old becomes emotional in our interview when talking about his father, and explains how he is determined to keep the legend alive. The middle child of his father's 11 official children to seven different women - who were all partly raised by Bob's long-suffering widow, Rita - Rohan, Bob's only child with Janet Hunt, is the prime marketer of what we might call Marley Inc: the various organisations he runs with his brothers and sisters.
The original ... Bob Marley.
He recalls travelling to Australia last year to launch The House of Marley. ''I went to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns,'' he says. ''We make sustainable products including headphones and audio systems. You should check us out at houseofmarley.com and also look at the marleycoffee.com and 1love.org.''
While 1love.org is a charitable organisation devoted to spreading peace, love and good deeds, the family also runs the Bob Marley Foundation, assisting with the empowerment of the oppressed in regions such as Africa. They own the reggae label Fifty-Six Hope Road, while Tuff Gong Worldwide is a label formed by Ziggy, who named it after his father's original label with the Wailers. Rohan explains that his eldest sister Cedella makes all the business decisions together with Ziggy.
''Cedella has been handing my father's business since the age of 13. She's strong, she's just like him,'' Rohan says emphatically, referring to his Rastafarian father as a kind of deity. Indeed, Bob retains a spiritual presence in his native Jamaica.
Family matters ... Ziggy Marley.
Now, in effect, the third in charge, Rohan initially came on board to handle the forest coffee and farming, though he describes himself as the spokesperson for his family's entities. ''I deal with aesthetics, the creative innovations and I create opportunities for business development,'' he says.
A good talker, he has travelled to the Berlin International Film Festival to promote Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald's Marley, a documentary in which the family, Bob's musician colleagues and associates, his friends and many of his women provide new insight into a man who was on a mission.
''Kevin wanted to tell Bob's story how Bob would tell it, how my father would tell it,'' Rohan says.
Bob Marley's widow, Rita.
The film follows the mixed-race Bob, who never came to know his father - a British captain in the Royal Marines - who deserted his mother, growing up a kind of outcast in the Trenchtown slums, where he started to develop his musical talent and drive. Most poignant, though, is the insider's view we are given into the months before his death from a cancer he failed to treat.
''They told him that he had to cut his toe off,'' Rohan says. ''And my father said, 'I came into this world a whole man; I leave a whole man. If you cut my toe off, what purpose do I have?' He was about his mission.''
According to his Rastafarian beliefs, you never really die, so Bob never left a will. The family feuds and legal battles that erupted after his death on May 11, 1981, aren't really broached in the film. Under Jamaican law, Rita was entitled to 10 per cent of her husband's $US30 million estate and held a life estate in another 45 per cent. The 11 children were entitled to equal shares in the other 45 per cent, as well as a remainder interest in Rita's life estate. Universal Music owned the most famous of his recordings, and still does, and the family now owns the publishing rights after Rita spent a lot of money in protracted legal battles to get them back.
Illustration: Simon Letch
''We didn't want the money,'' Rohan says. ''We wanted to protect our father's legacy and his name because, for instance, when you are 18 and you get $1 million you have a choice: do you reinvest into your father or do you take the $1 million and go live on the beach and go live a lie? And I said 'no'. I asked myself, 'What did my brothers and sisters do?' They reinvested in their father's life. So I followed them because they know.''
Rohan now has five children with singer Lauryn Hill, though her recently born sixth child is not his and he reportedly has been dating 28-year-old Brazilian Victoria's Secret model Isabeli Fontana. But he won't discuss any of this.
Bob has about 40 grandchildren, and I suggest they could create their own suburb. ''Yeah, we will one day,'' Rohan says. ''The goal is to have one big land where everyone lives, like a little village.''
For now, he lives ''all over - I live between Jamaica, Miami, New York, Europe, Africa and Brazil'' but holds home-grown ideals that are strong with the Marleys.
This, of course, extends to marijuana. Just don't call the veritable weed ''dope''.
''They are herbs, you know,'' he says. ''The bad rap they give to [the] 'erb - I don't know why they do, because they prescribe it to cancer patients, to AIDS patients and to bulimics. So why is it bad?
'''Erb is not the saviour of life, it is a part of life. It grows from the earth. But anything in excess is dangerous, of course.''
Macdonald notes that ''ganja'' had to be included extensively in the film as it was integral to Bob's philosophy and his beliefs. The most important thing was how he lived his life.
''He was not this stoned layabout,'' Macdonald says. ''He was driven and ambitious and hard-working and virile. Certainly, he was virile.''
Marley features at the Sydney Film Festival, June 6-17. See sff.org.au.