This past Saturday, in conjunction with the 14th Annual New York African Film Festival, the denizens of Lincoln Center and natty dreads of all flavor were treated to a work-in-progress screening and celebration of Africa Unite, the newest offering from documentarian Stephanie Black. Six years after her film Life and Debt (a penetrating study of IMF/World Bank influence in Jamaica), Black trained her lens on the 2005 Africa Unite concert held in Ethiopia. Think Wattstax, only with a lot more Rastafarians… and Danny Glover! The concert, which drew some half a million people from across our melting globe, featured performances by Lauryn Hill, Angelique Kidjo, and assorted members of the Marley clan. One of the most scorching numbers in the flick belonged to top shotta himself, Kymani Marley. Clad in the traditional white garb of the host country, as well as camo pants and black boots, Kymani delivers a murderous rendition of “Crazy Baldheads,” which, in Black’s deft hands, becomes an all-to-relevant condemnation of neo-colonialism in Africa. Lucky for us, Kymani was in the building Saturday night, and after blessing the audience at the Walter Reade Theater with a couple eerily dead-on renditions of “Redemption Song” and “No Woman No Cry,” him spoke with I and I. Which is to say, we interviewed him.
Let’s get the most difficult question out of the way. What do you think it's going to take to unite Africa?
Just the right state of mind. Point blank. That’s all it comes down to. Your thinking. What is your purpose on Earth? My purpose is to make the next one feel up, feel happy. I don’t live for myself; there’s no joy in that. I think if everyone took on that approach then we would have a peaceful and united Africa.
Everyone knows how important Africa was to your father and his music. What does it mean to you?
It’s carrying on a legacy. It’s what’s my reality, ‘na mean. It’s what I strive for. It’s what my father’s teaching. I’m a pass this teaching down to my children, and I’m hoping they pass it down to their children. That’s the start. ‘Em say: “A ripple on the ocean side of Africa becomes a wave in the western world.” We started with a ripple and hopefully it becomes that wave we’re looking for.
How did you get involved with the documentary?
Well, that just came naturally, ya know. Because I mean at the start of it a documentary to me…I didn’t know [the concert] was going to be documented. I didn’t know that it was going to become, ya know, what it became. But I love it. It was kind of free-flowing. It turned out very well.
Was this your first time playing in Africa?
No, not the first time. Been to Africa a few times before. Played Senegal, played Abidjan. Supposed to be going to Sierra Leone in August.
Yeah. So looking forward…
What’s going on in Sierra Leone?
They’re having a concert there. I don’t know exactly who, but I was invited, so…
How would you compare those other performances to the one in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia was more a spiritual vibe than just a performance, ya mean. It was the beginning of creation. To be able to walk in His Majesty’s palace and sit in a seat as he once sat in. It was an overwhelming feeling. So for me the performance in Ethiopia was more than a performance. It was a vibration.
Yeah, and then just…I mean, the Ethiopian people as a whole, because…It’s strange, them have a different type of humility. Ya’ mean, I was awed by it. Everywhere I went the people was just so humble.
It's interesting how reggae artists have always looked to Africa for inspiration. But, like the film does a good job of showing, African artists are looking to reggae now for inspiration. Why is that you think?
Well, ya see, it’s strange you know because some time I sit back and I reflect on my country, and the people from my country and…we’re a different set of people. Jamaicans [laughs]…Jamaicans are a different, very different breed of people. Very determined. Very hard-working no matter what it is. To some people it may be strange how such a small country can inspire the entire globe, ya na mean, with reggae music, with a music that is just so captivating. For some reason, no matter where it is on the ends of the earth, you have reggae lovers there. And then….Bwoy, I can’t explain how it did that, but you know that’s how the Creator set it. And after all, we know that all Jamaicans and all Jamaican artists has been saying, ya know, “Free Mandela” from those times, “Free Africa.” We’ve always been a part of that movement, that freedom fighter movement.
This isn't your first time on the big screen either. I think a lot of people were impressed with your depiction of the gangsta Biggs in “Shottas.” Is acting something you're going to keep doing?
Yeah, we’re looking forward to naturally doing Part 2 of Shottas. Also, I have this synopsis I wrote for this film called “Buffalo Soldiers”—of course, coming from one of the old man tune—which we’re looking to develop into a script, and shooting it in Jamaica with some local actors. Which ya know, me personally, not because ya know it’s me writing the script, but I love it.
Ambitionz of a Writer?
Oh ya done know!
What else are you working on?
Well, the album. The album is set for release in September. So that’s coming.