It is officially 40 years since Bob Marley released Kaya, his classic paen to the joys of smoking weed. Stephen Marley started Kaya Festival in Miami and this year moved it to San Bernardino in California. It was an extraordinary weekend of music with many of the highlights supplied by the Marley Family. I arrived late on Saturday and was impressed with the massage therapists in the VIP area. I planned to return for a massage on Sunday but never quite made it there.
NB: Ten of the following images may appear to be photographs, but if they have writing in the top left hand corner then they link through to videos.
Toots & The Maytals were phenomenal and I noticed that Toots voice is so strong that he keeps the microphone down near his chest. He opened with Pressure drop and then teased the crowd several times with the opening bars of ’54-46 That’s My Number’ before wrapping his show with a blistering version of this killer tune.
The first Bob Marley grandson to grace the stage was Skip Marley who appears to have quite the future ahead of him. Born in 1996 in Jamaica, he grew up in Miami and taught himself to play a variety of instruments including piano, drums, guitar, and bass. He released his first music in 2015 and joined his uncles Damian and Stephen on their Catch a Fire tour. In early 2017, he signed to Island Records and was and co-wrote Katy Perry’s 2017 single “Chained to the Rhythm” as well as being featured on the song. He performed the song at the 59th Grammy Awards with her in February 2017.
The next Marley grandson to perform was Stephen Marley’s eldest son, Jo Mersa Marley. He didn’t have the same presence as his cousin Skip, but he did a great job of getting the crowd to wave their arms in the air.
Headlining on the opening night, The Marley Brothers have expanded and now include Julian and Ky-Mani (who I photographed in NYC back in 2010). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of musicians enjoying themselves as much on stage as these five brothers from different mothers. From the moment they walked out arm in arm onto the stage they didn’t stop grinning and laughing like maniacs throughout their whole show. Even when they were plagued by the technical problems which marred the festival, their joy was infectious to such a degree that dead microphones seemed less like an obstacle than an opportunity to rise higher. Each of the brothers sang lead but the one who really seemed to shine just a little bit brighter was the youngest, Damian (Jr. Gong) Marley, who has had the most commercial success over the last few years.
Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine joined the brothers for a blistering version of Exodus. Check the full madness of his guitar solo in the video below.
Although I wanted to get to the venue earlier so I could see the mighty Third World, I didn’t quite make it and so the first performance I saw was by the very much up and coming Chronixx. He is one of the leaders of what is being called ‘Reggae Revival’ music which harks back to the roots era of the seventies and looks like it has a very real chance of putting reggae back in the spotlight it deserves.
Stephen Marley performed a special acoustic tribute to his fathers Kaya album and in a mini reprisal of the previous nights triumphant set by the Marley Brothers, brought out his brothers Damian, Julian and Ky-Mani to duet with him on a series of songs.
Soja is another one of the leaders of the Reggae Revival movement. He inspires comparisons to the inspirational Dennis Brown, which is a great place to be starting from. His band brought their A game and the audience was delighted with everything he played. A young girl perched on her dads shoulders had made her way right to the front and she made her presence known to all around her with her squeals of delight every time Soja made a move.
Last but not least was the incomparable Lauryn Hill. She too was plagued with sound problems and did not look happy with the production crew who were running around trying to get everything right for the notoriously ‘difficult’ Ms Hill. The crowd didn’t really notice and danced with delight as she served up selections from her two official releases.
Kaya Festival served up a weekend of delights, ranging from the excellent food trucks scattered around the venue to the promotion of the now legal (in California) weed and excellent music. If they can eliminate the serious production problems they were having on stage (I’ve never seen a roadie jumping out on stage as many times as the guy who was looking after Stephen Marley managed to do – somebody should tell that guy he isn’t in the band and he should have organized things like broken mic stands before the band came on stage) this will deservedly become one of the biggest festivals in the reggae calendar and I for one will be back next year.