Friday, February 24, 2006

Family of reggae legend marks 13th Marley Fest in Miami

Marley's family: 'We celebrate our lives through him'

For 13 years, the family of the late music legend Bob Marley has been the defining feature of Miami's annual funky reggae party, the Marley Fest. But beyond their formidable legacy, the mother and sons of the Third World's first superstar hadn't necessarily earned their headlining status. Until now.

Saturday's Marley Fest at Bayfront Park has been named Jam Rock after the breakthrough success of Damian ''Jr. Gong'' Marley's second album, the Grammy-winning, gold-certified Welcome to Jamrock. Robert Nesta's youngest son set a record for most first-week sales by a reggae album (86,000) when Jamrock debuted on Billboard's Top 10 in September. Those sales were propelled by the success of the title track, a gritty anthem about poverty and violence in Jamaica.

Brother Stephen ''Ragga'' Marley, who coproduced the crossover hit, says it was just a matter of time before the Marley name reentered the charts.

''If the people get the music, it will have that success,'' he said over the phone from the Lion's Den, the Marleys' studio in South Miami. ``That was the problem: getting music to people in that mainstream. We make the music good.''

The Marleys have become a growing cooperative cottage industry over the last decade. Damian, Stephen, Julian and Ky-Mani -- all of whom perform Saturday -- have steadily released albums and toured, often working together through their Ghetto Youth label. Damian's '01 release Halfway Tree won a Grammy for best reggae album. Two weeks ago, Jamrock won two Grammys: for best reggae and best urban/alternative performance.

''It has a lot to do with momentum,'' Stephen says. ``His last record never do so well, but in streets it gain a lot of respect. Through that, everyone was looking for this record. The song was perfect for that. It's important in the lyrics, yet the beat was heavy, a hard beat. The people in the club appreciate that.''

Jamrock broke through in part because it fit in with the thundering sounds of hip-hop and reggaeton (both of which genres have their roots in reggae). But in a sense, the sons were following the mix-it-up spirit of their father, who brought the message music of Jamaica to a rock audience in the '70s.

''You still have people who just want to have a good time, who don't want to hear something too serious,'' Stephen says. ``Then you have people who love brain food. If you can, give them the best of both.''


The other siblings are hoping to build on their brother's success. Stephen is finishing up his own CD, which he describes as ''the next page of the book.'' Albums by Julian and Ky-Mani are in the works.

The clan, including Marley matriarch Cedella Marley Booker, will share the stage at Bayfront Park, as they do at every Marley Fest. 'These festive things that have to do with our father, they're more in a celebrating vibe. We don't say we're going to do a concert. We do it together, more than, `This is Damian, this is Steve.' We celebrate our life through him.''

Earlier this month, the Marley siblings and others performed in Ghana for the second annual Africa Unite concert. Last year's, in Ethiopia, marked the 60th anniversary of Bob's birth. Bob's widow, Rita, plans to make them an annual event in different African countries.

This year sees a more somber marker: the 25th anniversary of Bob Marley's death from cancer at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami (the artist stopped here after falling too ill to fly on his way from treatment in Germany to Jamaica). He was 36. Stephen says there are no plans to commemorate his passing: ``We're addressing the life.''

The festival is an important date in the Marleys' calendar, their chance to give back to a city that has been the family's base in the United States since Cedella moved here in '78.

''This city is our second home, after Jamaica,'' Stephen says. ``This is one of the only places we come. Miami is our family. People love our father here. We give back to them.''


The third son of Bob Marley says the family is not letting the success of one sibling disrupt the harmony of a clan who do not all share the same blood lines, yet have banded together. (Bob had 10 children by eight women, and adopted two children of Rita's as his own). Damian is not letting fame go to his head, Stephen says.

``We're getting treated properly. We talk about these things. We make sure we know.''

But thanks to Jamrock, this year's Marley Fest, which as usual includes a food drive, should be a bigger celebration than ever.

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