Bob Marley the man and masterful reggae musician is gone, but his powerful messages of love, peace, freedom, and social justice still reverberate on concert stages around the world. And nowhere was that more evident than tonight at the Kennedy Center as the facility hosted a Grammy all-star tribute to Marley, his music, and his legacy.
The artists came from as far away as Ghana and as close as neighboring Virginia. Most played Marley songs that had special meaning for them. A few performed originals that had been directly influenced by the Jamaican songwriter, who died of cancer in 1981. Before and after their selections the artists praised the man they called their mentor as a preacher, teacher, and reacher.
"Sometimes a musician is more than a musician," said the night's emcee, Dermot Hussey, a friend of Marley's and current host for Sirius/XM's all-reggae station The Joint. "Sometimes they are the social conscience of their times. Bob Marley was one."
Much of the credit for the music, which kept the sold-out Kennedy Center crowd dancing, swaying, and bouncing throughout the night, had to go to the solid back-up band, the Roots Radics, who have been turning out hits for themselves and Jamaican artists such as Bunny Wailer and Yellowman for 30 years. For much of the night, the Radics were joined by Bob Marley and the Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin, who played on many of Marley's greatest recordings and has fronted the Wailer's since Marley's death. Simone Gordon and Hassanah provided backup vocals.
International artists included Rocky Darwuni, who has been called the Bob Marley of Ghana, and David "Dread" Hinds, whose revolutionary lyrics create much of the draw of the British band Steel Pulse.
Several popular young performers on the summer festival circuit joined the tribute including Matisyahu, Citizen Cope, and Jacob Hemphill and Trevor Young of SOJA. One of the night's strongest performances came from talented Toshi Reagon, who is originally from DC but is now based in Brooklyn.
Some of the loudest applause was given to Speech, the leader of the Atlanta rap group Arrested Development whose lyrics deal with the same social and political concerns as Marley's. Accompanied only by his guitarist from Arrested Development, Speech delivered a haunting acoustic rendition of "Redemption Song."
As you would expect, the 3-hour concert focused equally on Marley's songs of love and songs of protest. The crowd, obviously well-versed in reggae and Marley, sang along with hits such as "Get Up, Stand Up," "Stir It Up," and "No Woman, No Cry."
All the performers returned to the stage and swapped verses on "Exodus" and an anthemic "One Love/People Get Ready."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Marley concert concluded a 3-day The Legacy of Bob Marley event of the Kennedy Center's free Millennium Stage. On Friday, DC native Akua Allrich offered a jazz, blues, and soul show that included 2 Marley songs. Saturday night Southern Sudanese hip-hop artist and former child soldier delivered a show dedicated to such career-long Marley concerns as peace, social justice, and human rights. On Sunday, 2 hours before the Marley concert, the Grammy-winning hip-hop Arrested Development performed before a crowd of more than 1,000 fans who danced, bounced, and waved their hands in the air to such hits as "Tennessee" and "People Everyday."
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