It’s been 53 years since reggae master Bob Marley launched “One Love,” his global anthem to love and unity.
Now that message of heartfelt acceptance is being spread north and south: to kids in the Gaza Strip, an Arab high school in Haifa, a kindergarten in the northern Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, a kibbutz up north, an African-Israeli gospel choir, and Yazidi children from the Hope Centre in northern Iraq — all by way of “One Love,” an annual Tel Aviv Bob Marley fest at Hangar 11 organized by two Israeli promoters.
Bella Malkin and Shmulik Bar-Dan, partners in work and life, are the diehard Bob Marley fans and concert promoters who created “One Love,” a Bob Marley festival held each year around the reggae star’s February 6 birthday. This year, the celebration will take place at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11 on Saturday night, February 9, right after what would have been his 74th birthday. Marley died in 1981.
“We call it ‘One Love’ because that’s his most important message, that’s the infrastructure,” said Malkin. “We think it’s important to spread his message about human rights, love, loving thy neighbor and spirituality to the world.”
Bar-Dan began the festival 14 years ago, first holding it in small local clubs, and eventually reaching an audience of about 2,000, with a long list of local and visiting performers who wanted to pay homage to the renowned Rastafarian.
“We were surprised to find out how many people feel tied to Bob’s messages and bring their interpretations to his music,” said Malkin. The couple also connected to various Marley children, including Rohan Marley, who have attended the festival several times.
Malkin and Bar-Dan create video clips each year ahead of the festival, and some have gone viral, said Malkin, shared throughout social media networks.
This year, they wanted the clip to share the message of “One Love,” so “that people will wake up,” she said.
Malkin began this year’s video clip by recording Bratslav Hasidim, who are known for riding around in vans while blasting music through the loudspeakers, and spontaneously dancing in the streets.
“I thought they’d love the idea of ‘One Love,'” she said.
They tuned her down at first because Marley wasn’t Jewish, but Malkin convinced them to participate by explaining the reggae artist’s messages about love, peace and understanding.”
“They said, ‘Maybe he’s a righteous person,'” she said.
Through her connections, she filmed a kindergarten in Baqa al-Gharbiya, where the teacher insisted on teaching the kids the song in English, a language they’re not usually familiar with at that age.
There were other renditions by a local gospel choir, kibbutz members, and high school students in Haifa, all of whom sang, danced and made heart signs against the playback of the song performed by local band Rasta Power.
“It’s magical, people just got excited,” Malkin said.
They were trying to figure out how to finish off the video when Bar-Dan read about a group in Gaza that looks for messages of peace and hope, and called the journalist to connect them.
Malkin was put in touch with Rami Aman, a Palestinian from Khan Younis who organizes the peace group. He told her she had reached the only person in the Gaza Strip who knows the songs of Bob Marley. His mother was also a longtime fan.
He readily agreed to teach his group of kids to sing “One Love,” and record them while singing.
Malkin said she was sure he’d forget the plan, but he sent an entire clip of the group singing the song and making heart signs.
“We’ve become good friends from this,” she said.
The Gazan group now wants to hold their own Bob Marley birthday celebration in February, teaching local singers to sing Bob Marley’s songs in English, accompanied by oud and darbouka.
“It’s wild,” said Malkin.
Malkin was also connected to the Hope Centre, which is run by a British woman who saves children at a refugee center in northern Iraq, returning them to a semblance of their childhood. Those groups of kids were also taught to sing the song, and were included in the video.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far,” said Malkin. “And everyone just really felt connected to Bob’s message of love.”