Stephen Marley at House of Blues, 5/22/14
Photos by Jim Bricker
I wonder what it was like to grow up a Marley. Unfortunately they all lost their dad too early in life, but what was it like growing up in Bob's shadow? While it might've been difficult stepping out on their own, the family name assuredly afforded them many more opportunities throughout life.
Now that they're all in their 30s and 40s, and mostly in the music scene, it must be difficult ever being cast as anything but the child of a musical icon. And while I'm sure they're all alright with it, they have to live the rest of their lives more or less as representatives to their father's music rather than being known for their own.
But then again, you don't ever hear about a Marley kid (and there are a lot of them) becoming an accountant or waiting tables. They definitely have lived the sweet life, and are continuing to by forwarding the tradition of music and the Marley name.
Through the mid-2000's, the world saw a lot of Marley's kids. Ziggy was still going strong with the Melody Makers and his solo career, Damien "Jr. Gong" was welcoming everyone to Jamrock and touring with hip-hop legend Nas, Julian and Ky-Mani were both bursting on to the scene, but out of the lot of them, the most original music was coming from Bob's second oldest son, Stephen.
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His debut album, Mind Control, was a welcome one and with the help of several choice guest stars including his brother Damian and Mos Def, welcomed Stephen into the world of music already removed from the shadow. And while he looks and sounds the most like his father, his material's originality is what has helped him jump out on his own.
He still tackles his father's material during his live show ("Could You Be Loved," "Is This Love" and "Get Up Stand Up"), which is welcome and appreciated by the crowd, but many people were there to see Stephen and not Bob. Fortunately we were given ample opportunity over the hour and a half performance.
Stephen's particular brand of reggae touches on what his father mastered, but is stylistically his own. He adds dashes of hip-hop, funk and soul to the party, keeping it high energy throughout. While the stage is mostly his, he invited a handful of friends to the stage including a third generation Marley, Stephen's son Jo Mersa, who's a budding reggae star on his own right.
Throughout the set, Marley and his band remained nice and loose, only tightening up when they needed to. They tackled songs from each of his three albums, including a dub version of "No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)," a sans-Mos Def take on "Hey Baby," "Traffic Jam," "Made In Africa" and a brief step away from the energetic set with an acoustic "Revelation Party" featuring just Stephen and his guitar player trading licks and verses.
Stephen, to me, is the most Bob out of the lot of them. Ziggy always did a great job representing his father's vision with the Melody Makers, but he doesn't sound as much like his father. Stephen just has that same underlying grit to his voice that the rest of his brothers don't. His music is not the same, but when he really gets his voice in that higher register it's nearly unmistakable.
It must not be too bad living under the shadow of your father, especially when your father is Bob Marley. You can't really complain about that. And even though half the crowd was there only because of his royal blood lines, I guess it doesn't matter at the end of the day when he checks his bank account.
What really matters is that Stephen is continuing on the family business, and doing it quite well. He should see future successes with touring and recording if the past is any indication. I really enjoy what he brings to the table, one that might be a bit crowded by the family name, but continues to be filled with a bounty of delicious servings.
Personal Bias: I was a little stoner growing up, so the name Marley goes hand and hand with my youth culture.
The Crowd: A mixed bag of dreadlocks.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Why the fuck does it smell like hot dogs in here?"
Random Notebook Dump: I appreciate and encourage the judgment of my flip flops. I ain't changing for no one.
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