A portrait of Bob Marley in latex high-gloss stared down from a wall of Heritage Hall as more than 1,000 people crowded last night into this low-slung section of the Kilimanjaro nightclub at the edge of Adams-Morgan.
The Jamaican reggae king has been dead -- a victim of brain cancer -- for almost four years, yet the nightclub's video screens flickered with his image, its patrons wore buttons bearing his likeness, and throughout the night Marley's music thundered like an approaching storm.
"We got to survive, we got to survive," rang out a Marley lyric, setting the tone and the theme for the 40th anniversary of his birth.
Two-year-old Jabari Exum took up the syncopated rhythms on his miniature goat-skin drum as he sat on his mother's lap. His dreadlocks, tiny stalks of twisted hair, shook with each slap he gave his drum.
"He likes music and he really responds to reggae and Bob Marley," said Jabari's mother, Evelyn Exum, who said she is bringing her son up in the Rastafarian faith, of which Marley was a follower.
"I brought him out tonight so he could see what's going on," she said. "I brought him for the exposure to his culture, his African heritage."
African heritage and the diversity and unity of the international black community appeared to be a linchpin of the eight-hour celebration of Marley's spirit and music.
"We're not just here to celebrate the singular person of Bob Marley," said reggae journalist and author Malika Lee Whitney, who hosted the program. "We're here to celebrate ourselves."
Hasinatou Faye, a native Washingtonian and 40-year-old mother of four, sat near the back of the nightclub, her eyes locked on a video rendering of Marley in concert.
"His music has been about the people's struggling and oppression," she said, adding that she was pleased with the dance, poetry and music being performed in Marley's name last night.
"It's educational and very spiritual."
Marley, who began his musical career at 17, became an international phenomenon in his later years. Selling more than 20 million records worldwide, the little man with a lion's mane of dreadlocks became a symbol of Third World determination.
Today, his music has been elevated into a kind of hi-fi doctrine for peace and liberation, heard from South Africa to Nicaragua.
Marley believed Africa was "Zion" and that all black people should turn to the continent for inspiration and redemption.
"That's Pan-African," explained political activist Kwame Toure, known in the 1960s as Stokely Carmichael.
Toure, the evening's keynote speaker, said Marley was a true artist. "He represented one who has taken the music of the people to inspire the people."
"He wanted to change the thinking of people," said Dera Thompkins, a friend of Marley's and a key organizer of each of the last three annual tributes. "He was telling people to wake up and live."
But Thompkins, a Boston-born Rastafarian who lives in Northwest Washington, said it was time to start making Marley's visions a reality.
"Africa is our land," she said. "Now we have to go and build it."