Top picks for the 17th annual Marley Fest

It was 1976, and Jamaican reggae musician Robert Nesta Marley had just bought his mother, Cedella Booker, a modest home in the then-sleepy, rural South Dade suburb of Pinecrest. He was a star in his home country but hadn't yet hit international megastardom. That changed, rapidly, later that year, when Rolling Stone magazine named his Wailers outfit "Band of the Year."

Marley was thus finally crowned a bona fide rock star, and over the next several years, he would release hit after hit, taking reggae music and the Rastafari movement to the mainstream. Between hectic touring and studio recording schedules, though, he often returned to the Magic City, a pleasant stopover between Jamaica and the rest of the world.

Miami is also where Marley would meet his untimely, tragic demise, succumbing to cancer in 1981. It's been 29 years since then, but he's still very much a part of our local culture and history. The 17th annual Bob Marley Music of Jah People Caribbean Music Festival, colloquially known as Marley Fest, is a time-honored testament to that fact. This year's solid lineup offers a little something for everyone and promises to deliver yet another magical Miami reggae experience in honor of the legendary man. Here are our top picks from among the nearly ten artists on the roster.

Stephen "Raggamuffin" Marley

Bob's second son, Stephen, is a masterful producer, songwriter, and all-around musician and is often considered the creative force behind many of his brothers' successful musical endeavors. His Lion's Den studio at the family's Pinecrest compound is a virtual hit factory — work produced there has earned him six Grammys, more than any other reggae artist in history.

Stephen began singing onstage with his father as soon as he could walk, and later performed with brother Ziggy, sister Cedella, and the Melody Makers. So he's no stranger to the spotlight, and his highly anticipated performance at this year's fest will come at the end of a four-day Florida run. His versatile style ranges from dancehall to new roots, using a signature production sound based on regal synthesizer and string arrangements.

Damian "Junior Gong" Marley

Damian is the youngest member of the Marley clan and Bob's love child with Miss World 1976 Cindy Breakspeare. The 32-year-old's distinctive voice and captivating lyrical style tell stories of everyday joys and struggles, poverty, and politics, while richly orchestrated arrangements almost cinematically draw in the listener. Damian's music is often as much hip-hop as it is reggae, employing samples and hip-hop beats. His affinity for hip-hop has led to collaborations with the likes of Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, the Wu-Tang Clan, and, most recently, Nas.

In fact, Damian and Nas are set to release a collaborative album, Distant Relatives, this spring. The full-length record, complete with children's choirs and string sections, is written in tribute to Africa, meant to raise awareness of the situation on that continent. Leaked versions of two tracks off the album have been well received by fans and Internet critics. And their joint, recent addition to the roster for next month's Ultra Music Festival in Bicentennial Park makes us wonder if we won't be seeing Nas at Marley Fest as well.

Julian "Ju Ju" Marley

Born in 1975 in England to Bob and Bajan Lucy Pounder, Julian grew up in London and Jamaica. Since the release of his 1996 debut album, Lion in the Morning, Julian has been steadily rising through the reggae charts, performing and touring around the world.

His recent critically acclaimed studio release, Awake, is a call to consciousness, at times channeling his father and at other times revealing a strong influence from British reggae legend Steel Pulse. The album is a collection of tunes with themes of anti-materialism, environmentalism, and spirituality, with styles as diverse as down-tempo hip-hop balladry, roots reggae, and flamenco guitar-laden slow jams.


Born Clifton George Bailey III, Capleton has also used the pseudonyms Fireman, King Shango, and the Prophet. Starting in the late-'80s dancehall scene, complete with flattop haircut and shiny, baggy pants, Capleton sang about partying and guns. Later in his career, though, he switched to a more conscious style of lyrics, preaching positivity and Rastafari spirituality.

At the same time, Capleton is the target of anti-hate-speech campaigns as a result of lyrics that condone violence toward gays. Recently, three of his California concerts were canceled after protesters organized to boycott the artist's shows. So far, there is no news of a Miami protest or cancellation; apparently, activists here are busy fighting other battles. Fans and foes alike can expect a high-energy show, controversial or not.

Tarrus Riley

Brooklyn-born and South Florida-raised, the highly noncontroversial Tarrus Riley, son of Jamaican reggae veteran Jimmy Riley, got his start DJing for Busta Rhymes. His singing debut came with his 2004 release, Challenges, but not until 2006's Parables, with its hit single "She's Royal," did he become a commercial success. Last year's Contagious offered a more mainstream, radio-friendly sound, but the content has remained serious enough. Much of Riley's music centers on arguing for women and children's rights, uplifting victims of domestic violence, and honoring black women.

Spragga Benz

Born Carlton Grant in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1969, Spragga Benz took his performance name from L.A. Benz, the sound system he once worked for. He rose to fame, as legend goes, thanks to a recording session with acclaimed reggae singer Buju Banton, who allowed the young Benz to freestyle on a couple of tracks. The deep-voiced singer, clearly stylistically influenced by Banton, has risen to moderate success with brief major-label support and collaborations with major artists.

On a nonmusical note, his 17-year-old-son, Carlton "Carlisle" Grant Jr., allegedly was killed by Kingston police a couple of years ago. Since then, Benz has set up the Carlisle Foundation to help the city's youths.


Major-label crossover-hit slugger Shaggy is known widely for his megahits "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel." He is said to have perfected those signature pipes while enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during the first Gulf War. After he returned from the Middle East, Shaggy scored his first hit in 1993 with "Oh Carolina," followed by the now-classic "Boombastic" in 1995.

Both onstage and off, Shaggy is known for constantly surrounding himself with beautiful women. His videos consistently offer plenty of premium eye candy, and his personal life apparently is no different. Last summer, after a show at a Russian-clientele club in Germany, Shaggy reportedly took two young beauties, ages 18 and 19, back to his hotel. After he fell asleep, the girls allegedly stole about $200,000 worth of jewelry. Oops! See you in Miami, Shaggy — but watch out for those gold diggers.

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Ben Thacker