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‘One Love’ Music Executive on Obtaining Bob Marley’s Licensing Rights and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Transformation Into the Reggae Icon

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Randy Spendlove, president of worldwide music and publishing at Paramount Pictures, is no stranger to musical biopics. His roster includes “Dreamgirls” and “Rocketman.” When it came time to bring reggae icon Bob Marley’s story to the big screen, his challenge remained the same as always: “How do you tell the story about a legendary figure? How do you accomplish it? And how do we make sure we utilize Bob?”

Early meetings took place during the pandemic with Marley’s sons Ziggy and Stephen as well as director Reinaldo Marcus Green over Zoom. The answer would be in authentically preserving Bob Marley’s live recordings and enhancing them – with actor Kingsley Ben-Adir’s vocals layered in.

However, the first complication the team needed to overcome was clearing the music rights.

While Marley’s family owns many aspects of his estate under the Tuff Gong/House of Marley and Universal Music Group has an 80% stake in the singer’s music. In addition to that, Primary Wave Music Publishing, Island Records and other companies also owned a percentage.

“There were different companies who have different rights with the music,” Spendlove explains. Ultimately, it came down to timing. As Spendlove says, “It was conveying the right message and making the movie for the right reasons. It was about bringing the music together, always in conjunction with the family and the pieces and parts was a big effort, but I think people realized it was the right time.”

The film begins after a subsequent assassination attempt in December, 1976 and before the Smile Jamaica concert. The story then follows Marley as he travels to London to record his “Exodus” album and returns to Jamaica to perform at the One Love Peace Concert.

Tailoring the film’s soundtrack proved to be another challenge.

Marley had an extensive catalog to pull from. Of course, hits such as “I Shot the Sheriff,” “No Woman, No Cry” and “Redemption Song” featured in the film. But narrowing it down was no easy task.

“We looked at all the music, some of it before ‘Exodus,’” Spendlove says. “As we told the story, and the story came together, songs came in and out of the cut as we tried to figure out how the narrative of the song and the lyrics fit where we are in a particular point of Bob’s life.”

With Marley’s 1973 “I Shot the Sheriff,” which plays early in the film, the idea was for it to play as a younger Marley is getting his start. Spendlove explains, “He’s already a star in his own right. It was about figuring out what the band would be working on at this moment. And then you record that song so that it feels like Bob has an idea and a band writing and recording the song.”

A live recording of Marley existed, captured with only two microphones on stage. The track needed to be re-recorded for the film.

“It dropped the drums and utilized Bob’s voice with Kingsley as the actor and blended it because he’s also singing in the room,” says Spendlove

And yes, Ben-Adir does sing.

Early on, Ben-Adir expressed his main concern to Spendlove — it was to sing with the right accent and get Marley’s mannerisms perfect. ”He worked with a vocal coach daily and with a guitar teacher. He worked with our team for weeks in the pre-records,” says Spendlove. “That’s him playing in those rehearsal scenes when he’s writing and singing. When he’s writing songs on the couch, he sounds very close to Bob. He wanted to have Bob’s voice shine. So, it was very much layering Bob and Kingsley’s voice.”

It wasn’t the only track to be re-recorded. “When we started, we recorded for two weeks. We had handpicked musicians from Ziggy’s and Stephen’s bands, and members of the Wailers. We recorded 40 songs, and we matched them with the recordings, the live recordings and figured out how to supplement it with the right sound,” explains Spendlove.

Ziggy Marley featured on guitars and Stephen Marley would play bass. “He would also fill in vocals. It was about utilizing his family and making sure that as custodians of the material we could take that journey from something recorded in the mid-’70s as a live recording on stage with two mics and into a theater sound,” explains Spendlove. “With Stephen and Ziggy at the helm, we could layer drums and bass and get that fidelity.”

Of the 40 tracks recorded, only 22 made the film’s soundtrack. For Ziggy Marley, “Ambush In The Night” is the one song he wished made the final cut. “That was a song that dealt directly with the situation that happened in the movie.”