Less than a month after its lineup of top tier Jamaican acts was announced on his Facebook page, Damian Marley’s inaugural Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise has sold out all of the 2,300 available cabins aboard the Norwegian Pearl cruise liner, Damian told Billboard.biz in an exclusive interview.
So named for Damian’s 2006 Best Reggae Album Grammy Award-winning “Welcome to Jamrock” (Universal Motown/Tuff Gong), which peaked at no. 7 on the Top 200, and its blockbuster title track which reached no. 55 on the Hot 100, the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise will sail from Miami to Jamaica, October 20-25, 2014, docking for daytime excursions and beach parties in the island’s resort towns, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
The enthusiastic, globe-spanning response to the cruise -- cabins were purchased by reggae fans from Asia, Australia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas -- signifies reggae’s broad-based, continual appeal, despite the genre’s persistently modest sales. “Reggae doesn't traditionally move a lot of numbers but it is loved the world over and this cruise is a testament to that; we haven’t done any marketing except announcing the lineup in late September, and it sold out,” Damian told Billboard.biz on the phone from his Miami studio.
The lineup features Damian and his older brothers Stephen and Julian Marley; dancehall superstars Sean Paul and Shaggy, contemporary roots singers Tarrus Riley, Jah Cure, and Etana; sing-jay Busy Signal, Jamaican-American sibling band Morgan Heritage and the roster of acts from the Marley family’s Ghetto Youths International imprint: Wayne Marshall, Black-Am-I, Christopher Ellis (son of Jamaican rock steady legend, the late Alton Ellis) and Stephen’s son, Jo Mersa Marley. Also on board will be renowned UK selector Sir David Rodigan and three veteran reggae sound systems Jamaica’s Stone Love and Renaissance Disco and Japan’s Mighty Crown.
The proliferation of successful American and internationally based reggae acts over the past few years and their dominance on the Reggae Album chart prompted Damian to choose acts coming from the music’s birthplace for the inaugural Jamrock cruise, which will be an annual event. “Reggae’s root is Jamaica, and it seems that the world is losing a bit of that history so we were very strict in having most of the lineup for the first cruise be of Jamaican heritage,” Damian stated.
“We are very excited to have a reggae success story and another platform to present artists that we think so highly of,” added Damian’s manager Dan Dalton of Red Light Management. “There has never been a fully chartered cruise ship devoted to reggae so this will be like a festival with sound systems playing, a rock steady lounge or dub lounge, an 80s dancehall club, a multifaceted Jamaican musical experience.”
Asked what it's like to follow in the footsteps of his famous father, Bob Marley, a man who comes as close to deification as our popular culture will allow, Stephen replies with only a sentence fragment: "Rastaman vibration positive."
That response could be taken a couple of ways. Maybe by quoting one of his father's songs, he's showing reverence for the man. Or maybe he's annoyed about being asked a question he will never escape, no matter his own accomplishments. And during Stephen Marley's multidecade career, there have been many proud achievements.
At age 8, a year before his father died, Stephen sang lead vocals on the song "Sugar Pie" for his brother's band Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. He has produced albums by his brothers Damian and Julian. And, of course, there are his own solo recordings, beginning with 2007's Mind Control, continuing with 2011's Grammy-winning Revelation Pt. 1: The Root of Life, and culminating with the forthcoming sequel, Revelation Pt. 2: The Fruit of Life.
"The Fruit of Life is a natural extension of the root," Stephen says. "It features more collaboration work with some of the best hip-hop and reggae artists." Those collaborators include big names such as Wyclef Jean, Rakim, and the Roots' Black Thought. There is also the already-released song "Bongo Nyah," featuring his brother Damian and dancehall DJ Spragga Benz.
With music being such an integral part of the Marley family and with Stephen becoming a musician at such a young age, it seems he had almost no choice of career path, which is fine with him. He wouldn't want any other way of making a living. "Music is my foundation and way of life. Only thing comes close is soccer."
As with much of the rest of his family, Miami has become one of Stephen Marley's home bases. "We love the sunshine," he muses, "so the light reflects in our music."
That makes him a natural headliner for the Miami Reggae Festival, especially because he appreciates what organizers Alfonso D'Niscio Brooks and Rockers Movement have developed. He hopes his music will be worthy of the headlining spot and leave fans with "positivity, power, and inspiration to continue on life's journey."
So this Rastaman, with his vibration positive, continues to do his father's work, spreading The Root of Life and sharing its fruit. He's even happy to see reggae versions of songs by non-reggae bands such as Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles becoming so popular.
"Every artist should be reggaefied, even once throughout their career."
Where are you?
I'm in Miami at the moment. It's about 5pm. I'm just rising. I record all night and sleep all day. It started because you're excited about the music and you want to stay up longer, but over 15 years it's become a habit. In my circle I think a lot of musicians operate like this. When the place is quiet you're more creative. I have plenty of people I can call at 4am and know they'll be up. The Marleys had a family base here even before I was born, but everyone's developed families now and my brothers and sisters live in the surrounding blocks from me. It's become a home away from Jamaica.