Following on from her celebrated book – The First Rasta – my long time friend, French music journalist and occasional contributor to Straight No Chaser, Hélène Lee, has collaborated with Christophe Farnarier, and directed a compelling portrait of Leonard “Gong” Howell’s life.
The initiator and catalyst of the Rastafari Movement, Howell (1893-1981) is considered by many as its founder. The film follows the trail of a forgotten and overlooked, yet central character in the history of this movement.
In 1915, Leonard Percival Howell, boarded a banana boat and set sail from Jamaica. On his travels he encountered an array of thinkers: adepts of the New Thought and Bolshevism, anarchists and Gandhi followers, free-thinkers and Garveyites; each of whom is looking for some kind of Promised Land.
After 18 years of travel Howell arrives back to Jamaica with a head full of new ideas and in 1939 he creates Pinnacle, the first Rasta Commune – a laboratory of a new way of life.
With a mix of archival footage, interviews with members of his first community and a dramatic sound track by Bunny Lee, Max Romeo, Val Bennett, The Abyssinians and Count Ossie’s Mystic Revelation of Rastafari drummers, Groundation, 100 Grammes de Têtes and Tu Shung Peng, The First Rasta makes fascinating and moving viewing giving an insight into the community of Pinnacle, which laid the foundation of a culture that has since spread to the four corners of the world.
Big respect to Hélène Lee. She is one of the most important global commentators on reggae music and Rastafari and any venture she takes on board I’m going to check out. So far, the film had never been shown in the UK and is released on DVD in April. Don’t sleep on this.