Stephen Marley: A Celebration of Peace, Love and Unity
Words & Photos by M. Peggy Quattro
It was a splendid evening on July 24, 2011. The Revelation tour bus had finally made its way to South Florida and the Culture Room fans were lined up! With the recent release of Stephen Marley’s mind-blowing, Grammy-worthy album The Revelation Pt. 1: The Root of Life, his followers were eager to catch him live and direct.
Stepping into Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room, Reggae Report headed upstairs for the perfect vantage point. Sponsor Marley’s Mellow Mood brought in DJ Geefus from Stone Love, a popular international Reggae sound system, to keep the vibes flowing. He was not joking around with his music selections. Hit tunes from such greats as Dennis Brown and the Marley family, amongst others, kept the happy crowd rocking. As the new single “My Girl,” from Jo Mersa (Stephen’s son), blared from the speakers, Geefus started a round of follow-the-leader that had the entire house grooving along to Jamaican dance crazes, including Signal, Lift the Weights, and Thunderclap. It actually felt as though you were invited to an exclusive party a night you would not soon forget.
The lights dimmed as flagman Donovan entered the stage waving an oversized Lion of Judah flag. Squidly Cole’s skillful drumming and Chris Meredith’s booming bass were joined by the excellent vocal harmonies of Erica Newell and Rochelle Bradshaw. Bringing in the roots Reggae sound was Ranoy Gordon on guitar, Carol McLaughlin and Llamar Brown on keyboards, and Nicholas Laraque on sax and flute – rounding out the Ghetto Youths Crew. “Punky Reggae Party” had everyone skanking as Stephen strolled on stage in a mellow mood. “Greetings! My name is Stephen Marley and I come to bring you Reggae music!” Joyful screaming erupted from the jam-packed crowd.
The vibe for the night was set as Stephen’s youngest sons danced alongside their father to a collection of hits from Mind Control and the new album, including the current single “No Cigarette Smoke (In My Room),” which featured a fantastic solo by Erica Newell. The Bob Marley hits “Jamming” and “Buffalo Soldier” brought in crowd participation as they happily joined in with “wo yo yo yo,” making it crystal clear that this was going to be a sing-along night.
Being that this was the last U.S. stop of his Revelation Tour, we were pleasantly surprised when Julian Marley and Spragga Benz magically appeared on stage to sing “Iron Bars,” thus bringing the audience’s energy to a whole new level. Spragga and Stephen then called Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley to grace the stage. Fueled by the high energy, the three lions jumped in unison with their fists in the air as they performed “Traffic Jam.”
“Greetings! My name is Stephen Marley and I come to bring you Reggae music!”
Steve informed the screaming fans: “This is the first single off the new album which features my brother Jr. Gong.” The band played the chords from “Jah Army” as Jr. Gong jumped up to the Reggae rhythm, his long dreadlocks swaying behind him. Spragga and Stephen were obviously enjoying themselves as Damian cleverly delivered his verse. At this point, Stephen proclaimed: “Fort Lauderdale, if you love Buju Banton, let us see your hands in the air! I know if Gargamel was on the stage tonight he would say it like this [impression of Buju’s gravelly voice]” Raggamuffin, Jr. Gong and Spragga Benz watch it, yuh know! A few lines of Bujus verse were sung whilst the entire venue exclaimed Free Buju! This brought laughter and smiles from the performers and band.
The rest of the multi-talented Marleys, complete with Bob’s grandchildren, stormed the stage dancing and singing. This brought a chuckle and a wide smile from a proud Stephen. Sharon and Cedella (Bob’s daughters) did a melodic rendition of “Could You Be Loved.” Midway through the set, Cedella showcased her vocal ability by belting out high notes and gyrating dancehall style, which had Stephen in shock as he playfully covered his eyes.
There was a lesson to be learned from “Made In Africa.” The song’s introduction was played over the loudspeakers: “Scholars and scientists now conceive that Africa is the first place of mankind. Africans were the first builders of civilization. They discovered mathematics, invented writing, developed sciences, engineering, medicine, religion, fine arts, and built the Great Pyramids – an architectural achievement which still baffles modern scientists. The 225th emperor, direct descendant of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, He is the King of Kings, The Lion of Judah. The name Haile Selassie means Power of the Trinity.” Stephen demonstrated his musicality and true Rastaman vibration when playing his ites, green and gold Keite drum and chanting his cry to Mother Africa. Spragga Benz reconfirmed by vocalizing a verse about history, slavery and love. Jr. Gong, aka Gongzilla, joined his brother centerstage and the lesson continued with “Slave Ship.”
Next step was “The Mission.” This song, in particular, seemed to be a favorite amongst the brothers as it gained two Pull Ups! During the second pull up, Damian, in pure elation, burst out with his trademark Peppa! Peppa! Communication within this family circle seems to be beyond words – just a clear understanding as Gongzilla broke into a quick medley of “Shootout” and “Liquor Store Blues.” There was a sea of waving hands and pumping fists as he saluted the crowd, embraced his brother and exited the stage.
A sense of how great a mastermind Stephen is when it comes to composing music was realized while – accompanied beautifully by Nicholas Laraque on flute – he delivered the emotional “Now I Know.” This ballad tugged at the heartstrings as you listened to the words: “Grandma said I could have my dreams, at least if nothing else – and mama never raised no fool, I can feel things for myself.” The fans got a glimpse of the real Stephen Marley with this sincere, warm song.
With this in mind, Stephen informed us his mother Rita Marley was in the house. He explained July was a very important month because of all the birthdays to celebrate – Jr. Gong, HIM Haile Selassie, and his grandmother Cedella Marley Booker (Mother B). However, that night was the most important as it was past midnight and the actual Earthstrong of his mother. He looked up at a beaming Rita and proclaimed We love you! Loud cheers of celebration filled the air.
“One Love” was an appropriate final song for the night. Before leaving the stage, Stephen delivered this profound statement: “The most important thing tonight was unity. That is what we represent – peace, love and unity.”
After an extraordinary two-hour performance, it was evident that we all witnessed Reggae royalty at its best; it was Marley magic. There is no question as to why Stephen Marley has won seven Grammy awards. Thank you for treating us to a night of pure, authentic Reggae music! Jah Bles