Bob Marley’s granddaughter Donisha Prendergast takes us on a quest to understand the roots of her grandfather’s extraordinary legacy. She has long been committed to his longing for Zion, a place of One Love, where people live in peace and harmony. But when she looks at the world around her, all she sees is injustice and suffering. Is Bob Marley’s legacy even possible? In Reaching for Zion, Donisha confronts the roots of prejudice and present day struggles with poverty, racism and religious hatred. Along the way, Donisha uncovers Rastafari’s intriguing connection to Judaism and delve into the music that expresses both people’s suffering and joy.
Rastas and Jews share beliefs about Old Testament redemption, the mystical properties of hair, and symbols like the Star of David and the Lion of Judah. Both also share a history of slavery and persecution. Through Donisha’s quest, we recall the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt, the transport of African slaves to the Caribbean, the persecution of Rastafari in Jamaica and Jews in European and Arab lands. Rastas identify with the Israelites’ exile in Babylon; both Rastas and Jews have long struggled to feel safe and at home.
With Donisha we also delve into the music that expresses both people’s suffering and joy. Bob Marley, a musical prophet like King David, was deeply inspired by David’s psalms, He adapted the ancient Hebrew laments against Babylon into reggae protest and freedom lyrics, and brought reggae music beyond Jamaica to every continent in the world.
Like all Rastafarai, Donisha believes that Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, was a direct descendant of David’s son King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Fascinated by Solomon’s legendary wisdom, Sheba travelled to the Holy Land to pit her wits against his. Since she was a girl, Donisha has dreamt of the African Queen, whose intellectual and spiritual connection with Solomon evolved into one of the most legendary romances in history.
Donisha retraces Sheba’s voyage to Israel, where she meets historians, archaeologists, musicologists and Israeli reggae musicians. She links up with Idan Raichel, whose music is a fusion of traditional Hebrew texts, Arab, Ethiopian and other world music. Together they share the exploration of their common legacy, the longing of Israelis, Palestinians and Ethiopians for home, and the music that expresses it. In Israel, Donisha encounters Ethiopian Jews, rescued by the Israelis, but still struggling to find their Zion in Israel.
Back home in Jamaica, Donisha takes us to the first Rasta home, Pinnacle, established eighty years ago in Jamaica’s brilliant green hills and now in danger of being destroyed. She dances to primal Rasta Nyabinghi drummers and in a scene exclusive to this film, Donisha attends a Reasoning, where Rastafari discuss the human’s ability to transcend differences to freedom and redemption.
Donisha learns more about the meaning of Zion — a wandering people’s longing for home. The longing began with the Jewish enslavement in “Babylon”. For over two millenium, Jews dreamt of returning to Israel. For Rastas, “Mi want to go home a mi yard,” is Jamaican Patwa for their desire to go back to Africa. For many others, Zion is a spiritual, peaceful state of mind.
Donisha’s quest finally brings her to other peoples who are also “reaching for Zion,” like the Canadian native Nishiyuu Walkers, Tibetans in exile and Syrian refugees. The film expands to embrace Marley’s idea of One Love and the understanding that everyone needs a home where they are safe and free. Marley knew that to achieve this, we have to stop defining each other as us and them. We all yearn for the same freedom of body and soul.
Created by the international-award-winning team of director Irene Angelico and producer Abbey Neidik, executive producers Honey Dresher and Patricia Scarlett, and writers Maurie Alioff and Irene Angelico, Reaching for Zion is a musical journey featuring Bob Marley’s songs, as well as other reggae, reggae revival, Israeli, Ethiopian, Native American and World Beat music. It evokes legends and potent beliefs, even as it asks probing questions.