This February Jamaica’s celebration of Reggae Month became “Marley Month” as not only was Bob Marley’s Earthday celebrated island-wide on February 6, but several members of the Marley family made significant contributions to the entertainment activities taking place in February.
In this past week son Rohan Marley celebrated the award of USDA certification of his organic Marley Blue Mountain Coffee, grown on pristine acres of the highest reaches of Jamaica’s premier coffee region. That evening Rohan and his partners, retired heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and businessman Balram Vaswani announced the Marley Coffee sponsorship of the Best Director Honour Award at the upcoming Reggae Film Festival.
The announcement took place at a Preview held to showcase the films already entered in the May festival, and the audience was thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with both Rohan Marley and Lewis, who has begun a career as a film actor with roles in “Johnny Was” and the new Jamaican feature “Ghett’a Life” directed by Chris Browne that will be shown in the Festival.
One night later, Marley grand-daughter Donisha Prendergast hosted another in her series of ‘Conversations” – live performances with a difference that have become a new and refreshing entertainment event exposing talented, upcoming artists to the young, culturally aware of Kingston. With five acts each delivering a full set, the audience is also invited to question the performers – crossing the barrier between stage and audience – and the evenings have become laid-back occasions echoing the Rasta Peace-And-Love vibe of the early Seventies, brought forward to the 21st Century with digital cameras, Blackberrys and SUVs.
“Conversations” is presented under the OneJamaicaLifestyle banner to showcase young artists playing and singing their music live and accoustic, backed by excellent musicians. The event promotes eco-awareness, partnering with OneJamaica Recycling – Jamaica’s first recycling company operated by Raul Haynes — to carry the message at every show. Donisha’s membership of the Manifesto Jamaica organisation, brings the involvement of this group of committed young adults who use the arts as teaching and socializing tools in their work with youth in marginalized communities.
Two weeks earlier, “Conversations” featured Donisha’s uncle Julian Marley and Richie Spice, performing under a full moon on the wave-washed black sand beach at Wickie Wackie, St. Thomas. This week the event moved to Morgans Harbour yacht club at Port Royal, with the lights of Kingston twinkling across the water as Kymani Marley celebrated his birthday by headlining the event, in company of some excellent entertainers.
Singer Italee, opening the evening with the stage presence of a dreadlocksed Tina Turner, grabbed the audience with her poetry-set-to-song ballads, preaching and teaching and amusing with her strong voice, and drawing everyone into her act.
She was followed by Jabalance, a fiery Boboshanti well-known in St. Ann, but unknown to the Kingston audience. Backed by drums and riddims led by Bongo Herman and Iyah Gift, he started with “Rain A Fall”, a tribute to the showers that bless his farm, and the audience held their breath as he sang with beautiful voice a vivid description of the food he grows.
Breaking into a smile, he ordered up a fierce Nyabinghi riddim and opened the lyrics of “The First Time I Smoke a Spliff...” a humourous tale of visions of talking animals and singing bees that had the audience roaring with laughter. A few songs later, and Jabalance had made his never-to-be-forgotten impression with his strong voice, his easy, happy communication with his audience and his roots Bobo chants and praises that endeared him still further.
To cap his performance, he called on stage the multi-talented Donisha, who dueted “Catch A Fire” with Jabalance and displayed her beautiful voice and jazz-style variations that made their performance a unique experience. I expect much from the release of “Catch A Fire” and was pleased to be present to witness the rise of a new star in Jabalance.
They were followed by Protoje, the newest star of roots reggae. Son of songtress Lorna (‘Breakfast In Bed’) Bennett, this young singer mixes a middle-class upbringing with an inner-city consciousness that produces lyrics that poetically and articulately express the emotions of the suffering with the consciousness of Rasta spirituality. Protoje has developed a faithful following among the young, hip and culturally aware, and has come to public attention with his debut CD “7 Year Itch” which is gaining him both respect and fame. His songs are deep, delivered with emotion and often humour. Accompanied by master guitarist Jason Wharton, and joined for one song by thrilling singer JaNINE, Protoje delivered an awesome set that had the audience shouting approval.
Followed immediately on stage was Kimani Marley, whose duet with Protoje “In Love With A Rasta Man” is topping reggae charts. They closed the evening with the hit, but not before Kymani delivered his ganja anthem “Rolling Paper” and a beautiful, soulful rendition of his father’s “Redemption Song” that reminded me once again of how much of Bob has been reborn in this son.
So ended another interesting “Conversations”. I look forward to the next one.