Why There Are Multiple Singing Voices For Bob Marley In The One Love Biopic

The reggae legend Bob Marley has remained an icon and is still the defining voice of the music he helped popularize since his tragic death back in 1981 at the age of just 36. His music is a mainstay of mainstream radio, while the greatest hits collection encompassing his career with The Wailers, "Legend," continues to sell and be streamed widely, and is today one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, with 28 million units sold globally, according to the website Best Selling Albums.

He has been memorialized repeatedly over the years, with Kevin Mcdonald's 2012 documentary, "Marley," receiving wide coverage and critical acclaim. But like other musical icons including Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash, there looks likely to be a renewed surge of interest in his discography thanks to an upcoming biopic, "Bob Marley: One Love." 

The movie, which stars British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir in the title role, puts Marley's music career and fame in the context of his Kingston, Jamaica roots, and largely focuses on two pivotal years of Marley's life starting in 1976 when political unrest led to ongoing violence in the island nation. While director Reinaldo Marcus Green has striven to give an authentic account of Marley's life and milieu in the biopic, both Green and Ben-Adir have openly admitted that, though the performances portrayed in the movie look uncannily like the real thing, a great deal of audio trickery was employed to get Marley's tone just right — with two of Marley's descendants instrumental in the process.

Kingsley Ben-Adir admitted he couldn't sing

Kingsley Ben-Adir is an acclaimed stage and screen actor, perhaps best known to audiences prior to the release of "Bob Marley: One Love" for his role as Colonel Ben Younger in "Peaky Blinders" and as Basketball Ken in the blockbuster 2023 movie "Barbie." He recalls in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he was approached by Marley's son, Ziggy Marley, a reggae star in his own right who is a producer of the movie, to portray the iconic singer. "I was completely convinced that there's no point in auditioning for this. I can't sing. I can't dance," Ben-Adir said. "My question was if they'd been on a worldwide search and they said yes. And I said maybe they should go on another one."

Nevertheless, the team behind the biopic was certain that they had found their leading man in Ben-Adir, who has experience playing Black icons, such as Barack Obama and Malcolm X. The actor was won over, and took singing and guitar lessons to allow him to portray Marley's performances convincingly. He also spent hours alone studying and transcribing Marley's speech and his live performances and met with Marley's former bandmates and friends to get tips on how to perform and behave more like him.

Creating a universal voice

But while Kingsley Ben-Adir really is singing in "Bob Marley: One Love," there was little chance of him reaching Marley's level of ability with no former music training, and the actor admits that he performed "not necessarily well all of the time ... I butchered a lot of people's ears for many days," per Entertainment Weekly.

To give Ben-Adir's vocal performances a greater Marley flavor, his takes were later blended with those of two members of the Marley musical dynasty: his sons Ziggy and Stephen, which Rienaldo March Green tells Rolling Stone creates the effect of "one universal voice in the film." Despite the Marleys' involvement in the vocals, Ziggy is adamant that Ben-Adir is integral to bringing his father to life on screen. You're never gonna be Bob, but to capture the essence, the spirit, when we saw Kingsley, he held our attention," he said. "And if you're going to play Bob, you have to be able to hold our attention."