Our Top Picks for This Year's 17th-Annual Marley Fest
It was 1976, and Jamaican reggae star Robert Nesta "Bob" 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. But that changed, rapidly, later that year, when Rolling Stone magazine named his Wailers outfit Band of the Year.
Marley was thus finally crowned as a bona fide rock star and over the next several years 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 Miami, a pleasant stopover between Jamaica and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, Miami is also where Marley would meet his untimely, tragic demise, succumbing to cancer in 1981. It has 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 ten or so artists in the lineup:
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 Marleys' Pinecrest compound is a virtual hit factory — work produced there has earned him a total of six Grammys, more than any other reggae artist in history.
Stephen began singing onstage with his father since he could walk and later performed with siblings Ziggy, Cedella, and the Melody Makers. As such, he's no stranger to the spotlight, and his highly anticipated performance at this year's Marley Fest will come at the end of a four-day Florida run. His own personal, versatile style ranges from dancehall to new roots, utilizing a signature production sound based on regal synthesizer and string arrangements.
Damian "Junior Gong" Marley
Damian is the youngest member of the Marley clan, Bob's love child with 1976 Miss World 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 draw the listener in almost cinematically. Damian's music is often as much hip-hop as it is reggae, using samples and hip-hop beats. His affinity for hip-hop has led, over the years, to collaborations with 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 kids' 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 at Bicentennial Park makes us wonder if we won't be seeing Nas at Marley Fest as well.
Julian "Ju Ju" Marley
Born in 1975 to father Bob and Bajan mother Lucy Pounder in England, Julian grew up back and forth between London and Jamaica. Since his 1996 debut album, Lion in the Morning, Julian steadily rose up through the reggae charts, performing and touring all 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 of British reggae legends Steel Pulse. The album is a collection of tunes with themes of antimaterialism, environmentalism, and spirituality, with styles ranging from downtempo hip-hop balladry to roots reggae to flamenco guitar-laden slow jams.
Born Clifton George Bailey III, Capleton has also, over the years, used the pseudonyms Fireman, King Shango, and the Prophet. Starting in the late-'80s dancehall scene, complete with flat-top 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 lately 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 look forward to a high-energy show, controversial or not.
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 it wasn't until 2006's Parables, with its hit single "She's Royal," that he came into 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 is themed around arguing for women's and children's rights, uplifting victims of domestic violence, and honoring black women.
Born Carlton Grant in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1969, 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., was killed a couple of years back, allegedly by Kingston police. Since then, Benz has been working with his own Carlisle Foundation to help the city's youth.
Major-label crossover-hit slugger Shaggy is known widely for his megahits "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel." He's said to have perfected those signature pipes while enlisted in the U.S. Marines during the first Gulf War. Once he was back 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's 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 robbed him of 150,000 euros' worth of jewelry. Oops! See you in Miami, Shaggy — but watch out for those gold diggers.
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