Bob Marley transcended many things, countries, and ethnicities – born in rural Jamaica to an absent white father and a Jamaican mother, he became famous all over the world – music genres – his music was covered by many artists from Eric Clapton to Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox just to name a few and his songs have become as familiar as any Elvis Presley or Beatles’ tune. Marley is, without any doubt, a music icon, and one of the most popular figures in modern culture, but his original message may have been a bit tamed down since his death in 1981. After all, he was a rebel “who dreamed of Che Guevara and the Black Panthers” as a kid and “whose heroes were James Brown and Muhammad Ali” as Dave Thompson, the author of the book, “Reggae and Caribbean Music” wrote. A Rastafarian adept, he was preaching for freedom and liberation of African people from European domination. His legacy can be felt in many areas, but many will lament the commercialized pacification of Marley’s militancy.
In any case, Bob Marley’s legacy was placed in his family’s hands when they produced the new exhibit, “Bob Marley One Love Experience,” that debuted at London’s Saatchi Gallery last year before embarking on a multi-city tour. After a stop in Toronto, the vast multimedia exhibition celebrating the musician’s legacy has landed in Los Angeles, at the Ovation Hollywood – formerly Hollywood & Highland – not too far away from Bob Marley’s own star on the Walk of Fame. On Thursday night, I had the chance to attend the opening of this immersive experience, which included an outside party with a performance by King Cruff and Skip Marley, two of the reggae icon’s grandsons.
It certainly is a very colorful exhibit, easy on the eyes and the ears, and instantaneously Instagramable if I dare to say. It is fun to wander through the green “One Love Forest,” an evocation of Jamaica where you can stare at a giant joint burning inside a cannabis garden, rest on beanbags, or sit on a rope swing. You can also check the curated playlist in the silent disco at the Soul Shakedown studio or enjoy concert footage on various video screens with Bluetooth headphones, then look at rare Bob Marley memorabilia, including personal items such as a battered acoustic guitar, a denim shirt, and lyric sheets.
The walls of the fifteen thousand square foot exhibit are covered with photos (including some previously unseen), images of all sorts celebrating the life of the famous reggae star, artwork inspired by the singer from Mr. Brainwash, The Postman, Camoworks, Idiotbox, and other Bob-Marley-influenced street art. You can stroll around Rock & Roll Hall of Fame memorabilia, Marley’s quotes, and the world’s largest indoor vinyl record celebrating “Legend.” Since it was Bob Marley’s love and passion, soccer is also well represented with a Marley-branded pinball machine, a jukebox, and a few foosball tables on display as well as a soccer jersey and Adidas sneakers, a possible reminder of the complicated relationship between art and commercialization. The journey continues in the Next Gen Zone which celebrates the Marley family, legacy, philanthropy, and influence.
The whole experience is supposed to celebrate and create “a broad picture of one of the enduring cultural icons of the 20th century,” while immersing the visitors “in a journey through his life, passions, influences, and enduring legacy.” It’s beautiful and bright, family-friendly with vibrant artwork, and the entire thing has the same vibe as these popular exhibits that popped up everywhere after the pandemic, and where you can bathe in projected versions of Claude Monet or Van Gogh’s paintings. Immersive is the key word here, large artwork and sounds are everywhere and if there are a few texts to read here and there, they only reiterate what everyone knows about Bob Marley: “He insisted you should live life with positivity, hope, and the eternal message of one love”… “Most come to Bob Marley through his music, which is not surprising as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee not only put reggae on the global map but has sold over 115 million records and counting”… “Smoking herb as he called it was a profoundly important part of the Rastafarian religion he practiced and he believed it led him through a spiritual door into a place where his spirit and creativity could flourish.”
It’s an exhibit for the eyes and the sense but not much for the reggae scholars. The One Love Forest is fun with its green lights and rainforest sounds but it has little to do with the real thing, while the photos and personal objects bring some poignancy but fail to teach us anything new about Marley. But was the teaching part necessary? Do people have any desire to be taught anything when they attend an exhibit like this one? Or do they just want to have as many Instagram opportunities as possible?
The premiere was attended by a variety of notable industry favorites and influencers including actress Victoria Justice, record producer Harvey Mason Jr., Derek Fisher, reggae archivist Roger Steffens, actress Hana Giraldo, TikTok stars Sarah and Leah Talabi, street artist Mr. Brainwash, and Henry Diltz, the official photographer of Woodstock. I had the chance to catch a few of them on the green carpet including some members of the Marley family: Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley with her son Skip Marley.
One of the highlights of the night included an outdoor concert. King Cruff (another direct descendant of Bob Marley) opened the night with his interesting brand of reggae hip-hop delivered with an energetic style and brio. He blended a fast hip-hop flow with Jamaican instrumentation and riddim while Shacia Päyne (one of Bob’s granddaughters) started the night with an engaging DJ set. Finally, Skip Marley delivered a vibrant homage to his grandfather when he performed loyal renditions of some of Marley’s greatest hits – “Positive Vibration,” “Jamming,” “Get Up Stand Up,” “Is This Love,” “Redemption Song” – as well as some of his own songs, and an emotional cover of the late Jo Mersa Marley’s “Hurting Inside.”
“Bob Marley One Love Experience” sums up Marley’s life with many portraits, framed gold discs, pop street art, giant joints, and evocation of soccer. It’s a beautiful and immersive experience for the senses (especially the eyes), if not a deep dive into Bob Marley’s life.
The exhibition, which was produced by the Marley Family and Terrapin Station Entertainment, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, is now open to the public through April 23, and more events have been promised for February to coincide with the singer’s birthday on February 7.
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