This weekend marks the impressive 15th anniversary of the local annual event known colloquially as the Bob Marley festival. It's sponsored by his estate's official organization, Bob Marley Movement, and each year's headliners are composed of various configurations of his extended clan. And in the spirit of Marley's humanitarian message, it's also a charity event. Since its inception, admission has required a donation of cans of food.
Moreover, this year's 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.
Birthed improbably in Oklahoma and raised in Arkansas, the artist born Joseph Montgomery Fennel claims to have first been smitten with reggae at age 2, 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 started 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, such as duets with Luciano and Mikey General.
2007 was the year Richie Spice grew into his own. He released 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" came next and kept the ladies on the dance floor as an ode to the beauty of black women. By the time his biggest tune, "World Is a Cycle," hit in September, the trifecta was all his, and although Jah Cure got the biggest headlines and Movado ruled the streets, when it came to radio play, Richie Spice had them all beat. If you want to see what the fuss is about, don't miss his performance.
Javaughn is reggae's latest youth prodigy. At only age 15, he boasted a debut album, SuperStar, released in November by Tuff Gong's Ghetto Youths subsidiary, founded by Stephen and Ziggy Marley. Born in Portland, Jamaica, to a multi-instrumentalist father, he started tinkering with the keyboard at age 2 and at 4 began singing with the Sensation Band in Port Antonio. At 5, 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 after, SuperStar followed, showcasing Javaughn's sweet, wide vocal range, refreshingly free of studio tricks and gimmicks. Oh, yeah — after this weekend's concert, he'll be back home at Jamrock, where he's a tenth-grader at Fair Prospect High. Awww.
The Marleys: Julian, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani
They hardly need an introduction, but these four brothers Marley head the day's lineup. Julian, born in London in 1975, released his first album, Uprising, at the tender age of 14. His most recent release, A Time and a Place, was released in 2003, produced by himself and brothers Stephen and Damian.
Stephen played in his early years with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and with Ziggy, he founded the Tuff Gong subsidiary Ghetto Youths. Lately, he's been a frequent collaborator with brother Damian, each of whose solo albums he's produced. He now lives in Miami, where he runs Lion's Den Studio.
While 30-year-old Damian's career started slowly, things blew up with his 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock, featuring its hip-hop-inflected title track. The album reached the Billboard Top Ten and won a 2006 Grammy for Best Reggae Album and Best Urban/Alternative performance.
Finally, Ky-Mani, while up to now a sort of 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 the currently running BET show Livin' the Life of Marley; he's also just finished a successful, high-profile national tour with Van Halen.
Alternately known as everything from King Shango to King David to the Fireman to 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, at 18, he moved to Kingston to pursue a music career. In 1989, a concert with Ninjaman got him hooked up with Philip "Fatis" Burell; his debut single, "Bumbo Red," soon followed, featuring sexual lyrics considered risqué, even for dancehall.
But Capleton was no one-trick pony and in the ensuing years became known for infusing his jams with social consciousness as well as a growing Rastafarian message. But it was his knack for beats and melodies that garnered him crossover success in the United States, most notably with hip-hop remixes of "Tour" and "Wings in the Morning." But the late '90s and the post-millennium saw Capleton get rootsy again, although he's increasingly been accused of writing homophobic lyrics. His most recent album, Rise Them Up, was released last May.
It's not easy for white guys to gain respect in the world of dancehall. A few have managed to pull it off, like David Rodigan and Collie Buddz, but nobody has managed to capture the adoration of both genders the way reggae crooner Gentleman has over the past ten years. With a soft voice, solid looks, and a style more akin to the lover's 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 Gentleman was born and raised in Germany — a country that's just starting 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 just Deutschland but in Europe as a whole. American audiences may not know his hits like "Jah Jah Never Fail" and "Superior," but when he touches the stage, there's a good chance folks are going to be singing every word.