Thursday, February 14, 2008


On February 6, the day Bob Marley would have been 63, I was in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica experiencing some Tardis moments (and if you don't get it, ask Doctor Who). It was fascinating that Jamaica gets all Christmas-y on the Big Man's birthday (or Earth Day, as Rastas say.) Of course, it's also a government and a Christian holiday, but it was amazing to see the whole town so still. People were going round saying "Happy Bob's Birthday" to each other, which I cut to "Happy Bobday."


Actually, I was in the middle of an extended Marley moment anyway, as I was in Kingston to do readings both uptown and downtown: with founder/director Rozylyn Elison and librarian "Happy" Howell at the Trenchtown Reading Centre, that ghetto jewel, and at the University of the West Indies, where my "The Book of Exodus" on Bob and his Wailers' album got its Caribbean launch, courtesy the University of the West Indies Professor and Director of the Reggae Studies Unit, Carolyn Cooper, a pioneer in Caribbean music academia.



My Bobday was spent with some kind folks from the psychedelic Japanese travel magazine, Trip. Their Bob story's being shot by New York/ Jamaican photographer, Nigel Scott, who has four framed portraits of Bob in the show at the Bob Marley Museum, on loan from the Jamaican National Gallery, along with a Bob surfboard he made. Thanks to Nigel for all of these Bobday pics and watch out for his in-the-works book, "Thank You, Mr. Marley."



Nigel Scott's surfboard of Marley in the current exhibition 


My cunning plan was to try and squeeze into the sold-out premiere of "Africa Unite", the new documentary on the Marleys' trip to Ethiopia directed by Stephanie Black, who also made a must-see doc on Jamaica called Life & Debt that explains a lot about the mess the island is still trying to pull out of.

Instead, here's a report from our Spy, the witty Gleaner journalist Mel Cook, who I met at my UWI reading: "I was knocked out because it's far more than a music film. There's not just extremely rare Bob footage, it's the way Black pulled different parts of history into a cohesive whole -- the Marleys visiting Ethiopia, the Rasta homeland, for the first time, along with the whole history of Africa's division and then independence."

For director Stephanie Black, "The trip was very emotional because I was able to see Ethiopia through the eyes of my old friend 74 year old Bongo Tawney, a Rastafarian Elder who was a bred'ren of Bob's, as well as my own. It's been his dream his whole life to reach Ethiopia, so when the Bob Marley Foundation invited him, that was really heartwarming."


But I got sidetracked in a way even Stephanie herself approved of -- at a Rasta drumming session of Bob's songs. Actually, it was a rehearsal over on the verandah at top guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith's house. He was working with the Mystic Revealers, an old-school "nyabinghi" drumming and chanting group -- the real rich roots of Bob Marley's music, onto which any other vibes were grafted. Chinna was an unofficial Wailer who played with them often over the years. One of Jamaica's most respected musicians, bandleaders and arrangers, even he deferred to the blind singer of the Revealers, who's a very regal Elder. Standing on Chinna's garden path with the Japanese posse and a journalist from France, (Chinna makes friends wherever he goes!) it was like being in Rasta Temple. Of course, Chinna knows that material inside out, and it was great to watch him show everyone the subtle chord changes at the intro to the Wailers classic, "Dem Belly Full (But We Hungry); they're quite complex! They also played what Chinna called "The Anthem" -- "One Love". The drummers started after lunch and went on all afternoon. Frankly, the bit that got me weepy was "Fly Away Home," the old gospel song about life and death, that the original Wailers trio used to sing.



The Mystic Revelation Vibration rehearse chez Chinna, Bobday.
l to r:  Herbie, Jahman, Negus and Chinna
Image courtesy Vivien Goldman aka The Punk Professor 

That night, we all hung out at the Bob Marley Birthday Celebration at Strawberry Hill, a unique mini-village of a hotel up in the Blue Mountains behind Kingston, where Rita Marley and Danny Glover were celebrating Bob's birthday and "Africa Unite."


l to r: Danny Glover, Babsy Grange, Judy Mowatt, Marcis Griffiths, MC Tommy Cowan,  PM Bruce Golding and Rita Marley cut Bob's 63rd birthday cake at
Strawberry Hill.


The quaint cottages of Strawberry Hill -- they call them huts -- are one of the greatest places you can ever stay if you like luxuriating on stunning mountaintops. That night the lawn was full of elite Kingstonians - including Bob's widow, Rita Marley and her fellow songbirds in the I Three, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, plus Olivia "Babsy" Grange, the very busy Minister of Information, Sports, Culture Youth and Women's Affairs and the Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding. Truly the furthest possible cry from Bob's rural village of Nine Miles, or the Trench Town ghetto where he was a teenager -- but not as distant from Mr. Marley as you might think.



l to r: The I Three:  Marcia Griffiths Rita Marley Judy Mowatt
enchant the crowd at Strawberry Hill on Bob Marley's birthday
Image courtesy of Nigel Scott
The Punk Professor, Minister Olivia "Babsy" Grange and Sallie Henzell, widow of the Harder They Come director, Perry

Before Strawberry Hill was a hotel, I used to stay there as a young journalist - OK, I was six, right? -- and in my Tardis moment I looked round the elegant uptown crowd and remembered the long-gone little wooden hut that used to be right there, which I shared with photographer Kate Simon. The whisper would go round the big house that Bob was coming up to stay in the hut next door with then galpal, Cindy Breakspeare, Miss World 1977, (now also known as Damian Marley's Mum.) Those tropical evenings are surprisingly noisy with the sound of insects, but late at night we'd hear one solitary car parking outside and know that at least someone was having fun (the Marley marriage was unconventional but lasting.)




The Punk Professor Vivien Goldman and Miss World Cindy Breakspeare at
the Book of Exodus UWI launch. Image courtesy of Floyd Morris


Strawberry Hill is also where Bob, Rita and the band went to re-group after gunmen tried to kill him at his Hope Road house, now the Bob Marley Museum. So when "supers" (VIPs) spoke, like Danny Glover quoting poet Langston Hughes, and Prime Minister Golding saying, "we must work to further Bob Marley's spirit," I did feel that Bob's spirit was very much there. Though the crowd was extremely far from being the actual oppressed underclass whose voice he was, you don't have to be an officially designated sufferer to know pain and lean on Bob Marley.



I'm not a betting person, but I have no doubt that had he still been around, Bob would have enjoyed that event -- and then headed all the way down to Trench Town where the Rastafarian "nyabinghi" drumming went on till past dawn, all the way up from First Street where he used to live and the Culture Yard is now, to Seventh Street, the roads he sings about in "Talking Blues".



The performances at Strawberry Hill were particularly great, seeing young Jamaican artists come up directly influenced by Marley in so many ways, and in the case of the energetic, soulful young Djavan, being groomed by the camp of Marley's sons Damian and Stephen. Everyone was backed by Lloyd Parkes' We The People Band, who've actually backed everyone for many decades, very well; and it was also superb to see one of my very favorite young singers, Etana perform. She used to be in a group in Miami whose big attraction was wearing not very much and who made her straighten her hair. Then she decided to move back to Jamaica, make the music she really loved, grow dreadlocks and wear comfy clothes. Her earthy, vibrant voice and style as well as her great songwriting made her an instant hit over here in Jamaica and the rest of the planet will soon follow.



The Marleys perform at Africa Unite
Image Courtesy of Palm Pictures 



The stars of the night, of course, were Etana's clear influences, the I Three, who used to back Bob and the Wailers. They're really a Jamaican vocal supergroup consisting of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths. To hear those lush voices melding again on a medley of "Three Little Birds" and "Buffalo Soldier" and the Griffiths-penned, "He's A Legend," surrounded by the dark hills twinkling with the lights of tiny villages, was mesmerizing.




Etana, Jamaica's soulful, rootsy new singer, with the Punk Professor 





You can't keep a good Slit down and after being THE prototypical punk girl group since the 1970s, with all too little overground recognition, it seems that once again, their time is now. We'll have more about the Slits tour that starts in March, but for now here's a Janette Beckman shot of Arri from the Slits at NY's Webster Hall party for Chloe Sevigny's new fashion line for Opening Ceremony. Yes, there were celebs... the Yeah Yeah Yeahs among 'em. Remember how you read here first, that subtle style-setter Chloe was backstage with the Slits last summer in Brooklyn? THIS is the result.



Arri and the Slits wow everyone at Chloe Sevigny's party
Image courtesy of Janette Beckman



Chloe sent us an email saying, "The slits have been a long time favorite of mine. When I was 19 I painted the back of a jacket with their logo, this jacket sparked friendships with several of my still closest friends. When planning my party for opening ceremony they immediately came to mind. They are strong, talented women with some of the best style I have ever seen. Their early photos and video footage have been a huge inspiration to me and many others, the new ep I might even say is better than anything they recorded in their heyday!!!!!!! Ahhhh, attack of the killer slits!"



Arri holds up Chloe's dress, with bassie Tessa 


On Janette's pic you can see how Arri tried to put on one of Chloe's dresses onstage -- but it was too small! At the end of the song, the dress caught on her fishnets and she walked offstage with the dress dangling from her leg. That's Arri stylee!


Opening Ceremony, a fashion store in SoHo, is currently selling both Chloe's line and limited edition hand-printed Slits t-shirts.



Also…Vivienne Westwood on her new line Red-Circus: The great lady, actually OBE! said, "Dressing up is a way of

showing concern about the world... you should be sustainable, not buy too many when you see something you really want and it really suits you, you should buy it and wear it every day. VW's orange crop blended brilliantly with her purple outfit.. "An attitude is great" concluded Westwood after objecting to fashion's pressure to be size sub-Zero...

Opening Ceremony:

Nigel Scott's web site: