[10 May 2011]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Picture this: it’s a warm evening sometime in 1975 and you find yourself in the birthplace of reggae music—Kingston, Jamaica. You’ve spent an entire day lounging on sandy beaches, feeling the burning embrace of the sun as it pours over your body. You recognize no stress. No worries. Never mind the fact that you forgot your sunblock and all of the soothing rays that the sun is providing will soon turn into painful burns. Never mind the troubles that sit within the confines of your mind, the thoughts of responsibility, the possible feelings of anguish that can loom in anybody’s head on any given day. In fact, never mind the worries that any “normal” day can bring altogether.
Why? Because this isn’t just a normal day. In fact, it isn’t even a special day. It’s a legendary day, because tonight, you have plans to see the most important figure in reggae music history perform songs from his latest, breakthrough release, Natty Dread at the quintessential musical venue in the country, the National Stadium. That’s right. Bob Marley is mere hours away from hitting the stage to spread the message of all of the great things his music stands for: love, rebellion, and, well, impossibly good vibes. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?
Well, if you ask Marley’s daughter, Cedella, the answer is simple: her father.
“Oh, I wasn’t there to see daddy perform,” the 43-year-old singer and fashion designer now says while laughing. “I was there to see the Jackson 5.”
And rightfully so. At the time, she was barely old enough to stay up past 10. To her, she says, the reggae legend was merely known as her father, not a revolutionary. Just the notion of being in the presence of such international pop stars as the Jackson brothers—most notably brother Michael—was enough to get her interested in checking out her dad’s opening set performance that night.
None of that means she completely discounted everything she saw that evening, though. Come on, now. This is still Bob Marley we are talking about.
“Dad was amazing, though,” she adds, breathing a sigh of reflection. “He tore the place down.”
Cedella has been in a reflective mood lately with the release of her father’s final concert on CD. Live Forever, a two disc set that chronicles Marley’s final concert on September 23, 1980 at The Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pa—two days after collapsing while jogging in New York—has recently been officially released after existing within only the world of bootlegging for years beforehand. The set captures an older, more tender-sounding Marley in a light that feels perfectly imperfect at times, considering the couple sloppy endings to songs and a crowd that seems somewhat inexplicably under-whelmed.
But none of that gets in the way of what truly shines through the release much like the aforementioned cloudless afternoon on a Kingston beach, and that’s the passion felt within the man’s voice. It’s a passion that pierces through songs like the inspired “Them Belly Full” or the haunting, show-stopping take on “No Woman, No Cry”. Sure, there’s no way he could have possibly known this was going to be his final concert before eventually succumbing to cancer the following year, but if you listen closely to the 19 performances that make up Live Forever, you might just get the feeling that he knew something was up. The performances draw the line between being aged and being wise. And if nothing else, this portrayal of that final night on stage proves the latter, rather than even questioning the former.
It’s that maturity, that wisdom, that made Bob Marley the statesman of an entire movement—an entire art—that Cedella argues is missing from reggae music today.
“Now, everything today is rhythm-based,” she says when asked about the current state of reggae music. “Nobody gives a shit about what is on top of the music. Nobody is saying anything anymore.
“I wish we could go back. Lately, I’ve been going way back to listen to the music with artists like Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear and Culture. I mean, look at how it still is today. Thirty years later, generations keep looking back to my dad for reggae music. Everyone still holds one man responsible for reggae. No one should have to step up to the plate [for reggae music], and you can’t blame those who have tried for failing. But people always say stupid things like ‘Me bigger than Bob Marley.’ Don’t say that.
“Stephan has all of the elements,” she adds, citing her brother’s debut release Mind Control as one of the great reggae albums of the last five years. “He has that old folk voice that sounds amazing. It goes back. There needs to be more of that in today’s music.”
Another thing Cedella would admittedly like to see in today’s musical world is the inclusion of women in reggae within the walls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though she cites her father’s contemporary, Jimmy Cliff, recently being elected to the Hall as “very nice,” she contends that all of the influential women within the genre have been largely ignored.
“I think Ziggy Marely & The Melody Makers should be in the Hall of Fame,” she quips half-jokingly when pressed about the matter. “But how about the I-Threes? Women in reggae have always been over-looked. All of them. I think they deserve the honor just as much as any men.”
Hall of Fame induction thoughts aside, Cedella knows the importance of her father when it comes to both popular music and politick. She knows it so much, in fact, that she has been designated as the child who takes on most of the legal issues her family is forced to deal with on a daily basis. Feeling as though she “knows the law better than some of her own lawyers,” she notes that Live Forever is only the beginning in a slew of official releases she and her family hope to release looking ahead.
“We want to start a bootleg series,” she says. “But we want it to be completely fan-based. We would like to collect the stuff people have recorded and release it officially. Another thing we have been thinking about is bringing together some of the world’s best DJs to release an album of remixes of their favorite Bob Marley songs. These are a lot of maybes, though. No promises.”
As for that exciting night in 1975—a night which she remembers more for the headlining act than she does the semblance of her father performing to a sold out crowd on the heels of one of the biggest, most influential reggae albums ever recorded—Cedella looks to it as a reference point for where she was when Live Forever was recorded.
“I was so young, and to me, he was always just daddy,” she says now with a hint of warmth that suggests something far deeper than she would ever reveal. “I miss him all the time. I am way older than my father was [when he passed away]. And listening [to Live Forever], I try to understand where he was emotionally at that time, and what he was feeling.”
Then, with her voice trailing delicately, her light Jamaican accent continues into a tone of thought and question.
“I feel like he was immature when he died,” she says. “And he wasn’t mature then, when I listen to this. He had matured musically, but not as a man. We all think we are invincible, but we aren’t. Everybody has regrets, you know? But I’d love to be able to turn back time just to see him again.”