This weekend marks the impressive 15th anniversary of the local annual event known colloquially as the Bob Marley festival. Which is more or less accurate; meant to honor the legend's memory, it's sponsored by his estate's official organization, Bob Marley Movement, and each year's headliners represent various configurations of his extended clan. And in the spirit of Marley's humanitarian message, it's also a charity event. Since the festival's inception, admission has required a donation of canned food.
Moreover, the 2008 musical lineup gets back to, well, roots. Although past years have attempted crossover to great success (Lauryn Hill) and not-so-great-success (Hootie and the Blowfish), this year is strictly conscious rhythms. Here's our guide to the acts.
The year 2007 was when Richie Spice grew into his own. He put out a stellar album, In the Streets to Africa; got ink from a bunch of glossy magazines; and ran the dancehalls with three of the best-timed releases all year. "Open the Door" started off the year as a Marcus Garvey-esque street rocker for the youth. The love song "Brown Skin," an ode to the beauty of black women, came next and kept the ladies on the dance floor. By the time his most popular tune, "World Is a Cycle," hit in September, the trifecta was his, and although Jah Cure got the biggest headlines and Movado ruled the streets, when it came to airplay, Spice had them all beat. If you want to see what the fuss is about, don't miss his set.
Birthed improbably in Oklahoma and raised in Arkansas, the artist born Joseph Montgomery Fennel claims to have first been smitten with reggae at age two, thanks to Bob Marley and the Wailers' Babylon by Bus album. His uncle and father were both huge reggae fans, the latter owning a club in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The family began visiting Jamaica regularly when Joseph was just a teen, and soon he gave up school sports in favor of studying the Rasta path, and writing and recording his own tunes.
Israel's big break came in 2003, when he scored an opening slot on one stop of Ziggy Marley's U.S. tour. He clicked with members of the backing band, and things rolled from there. Just a few years later, he was in Kingston, recording his 2007 debut album, Gone Are the Days, at various spots including Bob Marley's legendary Tuff Gong studio. Full of heavy, conscious rhythms, it also features a number of star-power collaborations, including duets with Luciano and Mikey General.
Javaughn is reggae's latest youth prodigy, at only age 15 boasting a debut album, SuperStar, released this past November by Tuff Gong's Ghetto Youths subsidiary, founded by Stephen and Ziggy Marley. Born in Portland, Jamaica, to a multi-instrumentalist father, Javaughn began tinkering with the keyboard when he was two years old, and at the unbelievable age of four, started singing with the Sensation Band at Port Antonio. At age five, he picked up drums and bass guitar. No wonder he quickly earned the nickname "Javaughn Genius."
A string of Jamaica hotel residencies, as well as a number of slots at Jamaica's most high-profile gigs and appearances in New York and Miami, landed him an introduction to the Marley family. Soon afterward came SuperStar, showcasing Javaughn's sweet, wide vocal range, refreshingly free of studio tricks and gimmicks. Oh, and following this weekend's concert, he'll fly back home to Jamrock, where he's a tenth-grader at Fair Prospect High. Awww.
It's not easy for white guys to gain respect in the world of dancehall. A few have pulled it off, such as David Rodigan and Collie Buddz, but nobody has captured the adoration of both genders the way reggae crooner Gentleman has over the past 10 years. With a soft voice, solid looks, and a style more akin to lovers' rock of the Beres Hammond variety than anything else, Gentleman has long been surprising audiences with a wholesome outsider appeal that's hard to grasp yet easy to fall in love with. A part of his mystique is that he was born and raised in Germany — a country that's just beginning to catch on to reggae and produce its own scene of underground talent. It's not a hot spot for the genre by any means, but Gentleman is the biggest reggae act in not only Deutschland but also all of Europe. American audiences might not know his hits "Jah Jah Never Fail" and "Superior," but when he takes the stage, there's a good chance folks are going to be singing every word.
A sort of protégé of the late Nicodemus, Jr. Demus is grimier, with an almost hip-hop sensibility and a nearly unmatched ability to spit impromptu lyrics. His first single, "When Me Come," appeared in 1991. But it was three years later when he really took off, thanks to "Cabin Stabbin," his collaborative track with Super Cat and Nicodemus, which appeared on his debut album, Bad Fowl. A DJ in the true Jamaican sense — that is, someone ready with off-the-cuff, bawdy chats — he has appeared on records by everyone from Sugar Minott to Foxy Brown.
Alternately known as everything from King Shango and King David to the Fireman and the Prophet, Capleton is a legend in his own right, one of the first to take dancehall back to its roots. Born in rural Islington, Jamaica, in 1967, he moved at age 18 to Kingston to pursue a music career. In 1989, a concert with Ninjaman got him hooked up with Philip "Fatis" Burrell; soon afterward came his debut single, "Bumbo Red," featuring sexual lyrics considered risqué, even for dancehall.
But Capleton was no one-trick pony, and in the ensuing years, he became known for infusing his jams with social consciousness, as well as delivering a growing Rastafarian message. It was his knack for beats and melodies, however, that garnered him crossover success in the States, most notably with hip-hop remixes of "Tour" and "Wings in the Morning." The late Nineties and the turn of the millennium saw Capleton again get rootsy, although he increasingly has been accused of writing homophobic lyrics. His most recent album, Rise Them Up, was released last May.
The Marleys: Julian, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani
They hardly need an introduction, but these four brothers Marley head up the day's lineup. Julian, born in London in 1975, released his first album, Uprising, at the tender age of 14. His most recent disc, 2003's A Time and a Place, was produced by himself and brothers Stephen and Damian.
Stephen played in his early years with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and with Ziggy founded the Tuff Gong subsidiary Ghetto Youths. Lately he's been a frequent collaborator with 30-year-old brother Damian, whose solo albums he's produced. He now lives in Miami, where he runs Lion's Den Studio.
Damian's career started slowly, but things blew up with his 2005 album, Welcome to Jamrock, featuring its hip-hop-inflected title track. The album charted on the Billboard Top 10 and won a 2006 Grammy for both best reggae album and best urban/alternative performance.
Finally, Ky-Mani, although up till now a relatively overlooked Marley son, makes a triumphant return to his hometown of Miami, on the heels of the winter 2007 release of his hip-hop-flavored album Radio. Not only is he the star of BET's show Livin' the Life of Marley, but also he just finished up a successful, high-profile national tour with Van Halen.
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