Rita Marley celebrated her 70th birthday anniversary in Nassau, Bahamas by combining a family reunion with a Pan-African event dubbed a “Soul Shakedown Party” that featured African traditions, Bahamian fire-eating skills and Jamaica’s best export, reggae as the main ingredient.
Orchestrated by Cedella, her eldest daughter with Robert Nesta Marley, the Caribbean event invited surprise guests and an assembly of children, grandchildren and great, grand children the reggae queen probably had not seen in one place at the same time.
For the July 25 ‘earthstrong” Cedella invited Chris Blackwell, Island Records founder, Dr. Delois N. Blakely, representing Harlem and the United Nations, Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett, former Third World percussionist and a long list of associates that contributed to the steady rise of the singer who is now an entrepreneurial genius.
Dr. Blakely presented the matriarch with a copy of her book “The Harlem Street Nun” and in her role as Queen Mother offered spiritual guidance to the former singer who inherited a dynasty and added gems to her crown.
Acclaimed the queen of reggae due to her shared rule of the genre with Bob Marley, the crowned king of reggae, the heiress sat on a throne-like seat of honor to greet her guests.
Bob Marley’s bride and mother to all his children reveled to the out-pouring of sentiments her family and friends lavished on her milestone anniversary.
“I call my mother Janet but I call her (Rita) mama,” Rohan Marley said, “When I was three years old, my father introduced me and told me who she was…”
Born in 1972, the former football player and now Jammin Java proponent of the family-owned coffee corporation exuded pride giving salutations to the woman at the center of the soulful celebrations.
Rohan brought his children — with pop singer Lauryn Hill — John, Joshua and Selah to the Bahamian affair.
He played drums and with his daughter Selah paid tribute to Mama Rita.
Selah sang “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” a song her mother recorded in tribute to the legendary and iconic reggae superstar.
Here with his brother Kymani, sisters Cedella, Sharon, Stephanie, Serita, and many grandchildren from each of them along with Stephen and Ziggy they witnessed African dancing and drumming to start the revelry.
Cedella and her big sister Sharon relived the Melody Making years they accompanied their brothers Ziggy and Stephen voicing “Could You Be Loved” and an incomparable set of songs recorded by the first Third World superstar and the legend they knew as father.
The next generation of Marleys did not shy away from entertaining their famous relative.
Skip, Cedella’s son wailed his grandfather’s hits — “No Woman No Cry,”“Redemption Song” and “Could U Be Love.”
Ziggy’s daughter Zuri rendered her grandfather’s “High Tide” and “Who Feels It Knows It.”
And Stephen’s son Stephan chose to sample Sade’s more soulful ballad “By Your Side.”
Sharon’s daughter Donisha proved to be a super-emcee for all that was presented, an actress and filmmaker, she demonstrated another aptitude to the Marley pool of excellence.
She introduced percussionist Bongo Herman who proved his mettle reprising the Studio One years when a young Alpharita Constantia Anderson met an ambitious Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley and teamed to form Bob Marley & The Wailers.
The drummer / singer delivered vintage Bob Andy reprise to “I’ve Got to Go Back Home” and Gregory Isaacs’ “Number One.”
Himself a legend from Jamaica, he stirred the crowd with nostalgic delivery of “Collyweed” and other classic records from the early years of reggae’s emergence to the international scene.
During that period, Rita and her Soulettes was a budding girl-group music producer Coxsone Dodd embraced with similarities to Detroit’s Berry Gordy’s endearment of the future Supremes.
And while that group managed a seminal success on the island, it was Rita’s backing of Bob Marley as a member of the I-Threes that launched her into the international spotlight.
Together with Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths, the three emerged songbirds to the Pied Piper of reggae.
One-third the triumvirate made the trip here.
Griffiths, acclaimed for her chirping melody on Marley’s “Kaya” and other albums and in later years better known for popularizing a singular hit-song — “The Electric Slide” — gifted her partner in music with a memorable performance.
Guests did not hesitate to challenge the party favorite turning and dipping to instructions from the original hit maker of the dance / song.
She also joined songwriter Astley Grub Cooper, renowned vocalist with the Fab Five Band to sing a handful of hits recorded and released by the celebrant.
In falsetto style, Cooper mimicked “Rastafari know…everywhere I go…Jah Jah.”
With drum and bass accentuating every note, the music soulfully amplified the mood, setting and revelry.
Cooper is no novice to Rita Marley’s music, he penned many of her hits and when he launched into “One Draw,” the popular, ganja advocacy tune, Rita sang along.
It was more than anyone expected given her seat of honor at the far end of the stage.
Cooper obliged the celebrant delivering the second-best rendition to Rita’s “That’s The Way” and “Harambe.”
Rita’s brother Wesley beamed.
Blackwell smiled broadly.
And although that performance seemed entrancing, Cedella sought out and escorted Griffiths back onstage to sing Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No.”
It was well after midnight, and five hours after African drummers and dancers escorted the guest of honor inside a circular space when Everton Bonner claimed the microphone to deliver his gift. Better known as Pliers from the recording duo Chaka Demus & Pliers, he rendered “What A Bam Bam.”
The reception he received prompted “Murder She Wrote” and a testimony he dedicated saying “I love sister Marley more than anything.”
True to the song recorded by the Blues Brothers, “Nassau Gone Funky” a 51-year-old, local, fire-eater named Action Jackson inflamed the setting with a fiery exhibition.
Urged to blaze by the emcee, guests echoed “Go Action Jackson!”
With that he ate, tested and coerced others to join him as he tumbled across burning sticks and a surface laced by an inflammatory substance.
A glow radiated from Rita Marley throughout the evening and early into the dawn she seemed the epitome of happiness.
For all the accolades lavished her storied career reads with service, philanthropy, and Pan-African activism.
More than her legacy as wife, mother, grandmother and singer, the heiress was named honorary citizen of Ghana and Ethiopia. She was enstooled Nana Afua Adobea and queen of development in the Konkonuru community of Ghana. She was also named Personality of the Year in Ghana. She organized a global celebration in 2005 to mark the 60th birthday anniversary of the man she married. Held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a reported crowd of 350,000 packed into Meskel Square to revel the occasion. Angelique Kidjo, Lauryn Hill, the Marley family singers and thousands from virtually every continent endorsed the vision she billed “Africa Unite,” named from the title of a Bob Marley composition.
Following that massive turnout, she held annual birthday tributes to her husband in South Africa, Ghana and Jamaica.
In Jamaica, her legacy endures with the establishment of the Bob Marley Museum at a location he lived and worked. It was at that 56 Hope Road location in Kingston, that President Obama eluded media to visit late at night during his brief three-day visit to the island. Along with her eldest son, Ziggy and his family she visited the White House in 2009.
Also an author, she penned her biography “No Woman No Cry” and “Harambe” a cookbook.
The government of Jamaica bestowed the Order of Distinction, among the island’s highest honors to citizens.
She has received countless awards and honors for her philanthropic contributions throughout the world while simultaneously recorded many albums in her own right as solo singer and toured the globe performing those recording.
Last November, she was conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies.
Here in Nassau, the Marley matriarch operates the Marley Resort & Spa, a lush, tropical oceanfront hamlet.
Following the cutting of a cake and several renditions of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” Bob Marley’s anthem of “One Love” united guests with family in song, spirit and oneness.
Catch You On The Inside!