Today would have been Bob Marley's 46th birthday, had that reggae superstar not died almost 10 years ago from brain cancer. Annual celebrations of Marley's birth have been held since 1982, including this Sunday's three-part "Get Up, Stand Up" tribute at Kilimanjaro, starting at 6 p.m. The first part of the program will focus on tributes to Marley and to Nelson Mandela (it's the first anniversary of his release after 27 years of imprisonment); these will be musical, oral and visual, with screenings of Marley concert footage and Mandela's "walk to freedom." That will be followed by a performance by Israel Vibrations, which first came together in a Jamaican polio rehabilitation center in the mid-'70s and subsequently became one of that country's finest "roots reggae" vocal ensembles. Its performance will be followed by a "conscious party" featuring dancing to the music of Marley and other Caribbean and African political artists. For information call 202-328-3838.
Some of the "conscious party" music is likely to come from a new Marley album, "Talkin' Blues," released today on Tuff Gong/Island. Much of it is drawn from an October 1973 performance in the studio of San Francisco's KSAN, one of the first radio stations in America to support reggae. It came at the end of a disastrous debut tour of America by Marley and the Wailers, who were scheduled to open 17 concerts for the then-very-hot Sly & the Family Stone, only to be dumped four dates in (reportedly for upstaging the headliners). Stranded in Las Vegas, the Wailers accepted a last-minute gig at the Bay Area's Matrix Club, which in turn facilitated the KSAN session.
"Talkin' Blues" includes seven songs from the only live record of the Wailers' first tour. Five of those songs -- including "Get Up, Stand Up" -- are from the two Wailers/Island albums released then, plus a mid-'60s tune, "Walk the Proud Land"; "Can't Blame the Youth" (with Peter Tosh on lead vocals); and a previously unreleased saucy love song, "Am-A-Do." There are also alternate versions of "Natty Dread" and "Bend Down Low," and "I Shot the Sheriff," recorded at London's Lyceum the night before the fabled version that appeared on the "Live!" album. The new album features the classic "Catch a Fire" lineup of Marley, Peter Tosh, Carlton Barrett, Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Earl "Wire" Lindo, with Joe Higgs subbing for the just-departed Bunny Livingston.
Songs are interspersed with excerpts from a 1975 interview with Jamaican deejay Dermot Hussey (a free transcript of the thick patois is available from Island). The interview took place soon after the death of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the crucial figure in the Rastafarian religious movement, and Marley was in a particularly reflective mood, talking about his roots, the formation of the Wailers, struggling to elevate reggae around the world and "challenging the mind with lyrics and calming the soul in song." At one point, Hussey asks Marley whether the messages in his music spoke to Jamaicans alone, or to a much wider audience. Marley's reply: "No, round the earth. Me speak to all the children. Me speak to everything that moveth and liveth 'pon the earth." Which explains why "Get Up, Stand Up" has long been a theme for liberation struggles around the world, and why Marley's message of strength, justice and social unity continues to resonate 30 years after his very first recording, "Judge Not," a plea for society not to hastily judge ghetto "rude boys" for the way they dressed.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Marley's death (on May 11), there are many tributes being planned, including a major Marley box set (probably ready in the fall), a three-part television documentary called "Time Will Tell" and a photography exhibition that opens in Paris in April before touring the world. The Jamaican government, which has been slow to give Marley any official recognition since his death, has declared today Bob Marley Day, and a three-day celebration kicks off in Kingston tonight. There will be performances by most-famous-son Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, which includes brother Stevie and sisters Sharon and Cedella; a reunion of the I-Threes, featuring Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths; and the debut of 13-year-old Damian Marley, son of Bob and former Miss World Cindy Breakspear. Another son, 14-year-old Julian (whose mother is Lucy Pounder), makes his singing debut tonight at SOBs in New York before flying to Jamaica for what is likely to be the biggest-ever gathering of singing Marley siblings.
In the past year, all of Marley's Tuff Gong/Island albums have been digitally remastered and reissued on CD. There had been plans for an album of Marley covers by major international artists (including Public Enemy), but that has since been dropped. However, the Marley estate hopes to stage a concert in May (probably in Jamaica) featuring major artists, and that will probably produce both an album and a video.
$3.4 Million for Jazz Network Jazz may not have been recognized on the recent American Music Awards, but it is the beneficiary of an extraordinary grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, which has committed $3.4 million to bringing jazz to communities across the United States over the next four years through a National Jazz Network. The network of 15 to 20 jazz organizations nationwide will be coordinated by the team responsible for the yearlong study that led to the grant -- the Washington-based National Jazz Service Organization and the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Concerts, with "satellite tours" to expand artists' itineraries, will be augmented by outreach and educational programming, jazz master awards, regional radio networks, promotion and training programs, and jazz-focused conferences. Says NJSO Executive Director Willard Jenkins: "Jazz has shaped the development of modern music around the globe. Yet ... few artists can support themselves in the music and must go abroad to find work, fewer stations are committed to jazz programming, and record companies often focus only on its most profitable forms. ... The network will bring jazz artists and audiences together."
Incidentally, the recent budget bill passed by Congress includes $328,000 for enlarging the Smithsonian Institution's jazz programming, particularly its Jazz Masterworks Editions and what will become the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.