As Bob Marley Once Sang, We Were “All In The Same Boat, Rockin on The Same Rock”
When The Wailers linked with Lee “Scratch” Perry to record their classic African Herbsman selection “Don’t Rock My Boat” back in 1973, chances are Bob Marley had no idea that 40-plus years in the future his family would be rocking the biggest boat in reggae history. But when the Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise pulled away from the Port of Miami on Monday October 20th, the 2400 artists, selectors, and reggae lovers on board the luxury liner Norwegian Pearl were just as Bob sang, “All in the same boat, rocking on the same rock.” Continued After The Jump…
(via Mass Appeal)
The brainchild of Bob’s youngest son, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, who has been fine-tuning the concept for the past couple of years, the Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise sold out rapidly with minimal marketing push—on the strength of a handful of blogs, social media, and the power of a great idea. Next year’s waiting list is already so large that organizers are talking about using a larger ship.
“How blessed we are to have the opportunity to be doing this,” said Damian just before the ship’s departure. “Not just me myself but all of us who are on the cruise and reggae music overall. This is a very historic moment for all of us. Nuff people really really think the music itself or the genre could do this kind of business. So it’s a big statement, you know?”
As soon as the 93-ton vessel pushed away from the dock, depth-charges of bass began to blast forth from a massive sound system strung up on the main deck right between two hot tubs (which were wisely closed off to minimize the risk of electrocution). Damian Marley headlined the first evening of live performances along with his elder brother Julian “JuJu Royal” Marley as well as Black-Am-I, the newest recruit to the Marley Brothers’ Ghetto Youths International crew. A young Rasta singer who hails from Nine Mile, the same rural village where Bob Marley was born, Black-Am-I kicked things off with a powerful set that suggested that the future of reggae music was in good hands. After Julian Marley performed a stirring mix of his own compositions interspersed with some of his father’s best-loved hits, it was time for Jr. Gong to take the stage under a starry sky. Gongzilla opened his set with “Make It Bun Dem,” a collaboration with Skrillex which served notice that this Marley youth does things a bit differently. The set included “Wisdom” “Dis Spear” and “Land of Promise” from Distant Relatives, Gong’s collaborative album with Nas. Damian’s elder brother Stephen “Ragga” Marley joined him onstage for some of their devastating duets, including “Jah Army” and “The Mission.” Gong wrapped things up with the 2005 smash hit that gave the cruise its name, and which became the boat’s official anthem. (Indeed, the cruise afforded a unique opportunity to compare a wide range of “Welcome to Jamrock” dubplate specials as played by most of the various sounds on board. For my money, Mighty Crown had the wickedest version of all.)
After the live sets, the action was just getting started as the immortal Stone Love Movement, with foundation selectors Rory and Geefus (or “G-Force” if you prefer) at the controls, the sound entertained the die-hard fans on the main deck until after 4a.m. Elsewhere on the ship, Mighty Crown the Far East Rulaz were juggling in the Bliss Lounge while UK selector David Rodigan entertained fans of vintage rock steady in the Spinnaker Lounge and Shinehead’s Kingston 12 sound system made a brave stand in the ship’s two-story Atrium (which contained both a 24-hour food buffet and an aqua-marine hued Dale Chihuly abstract glass sculpture) until after 6 a.m.
As so it went on the following night with the Wailing Souls, Tarrus Riley, and Shaggy (who was celebrating his birthday on the night of his performance) and Rodigan on the main deck. Meanwhile Stone Love moved to the Spinnaker Lounge, where Jr. Gong and Shaggy went head to head on a late-night freestyle session—during which Shaggy, certified-diamond hitmaker showed off his Flatbush sound system roots. As Rory flung down riddims like the “Answer” and the “Sick,” Zilla and Shaggy went bar for bar in a good-natured competition, with Gong finally getting the better of the baldhead DJ when he boasted “The longer the locks the longer the love.”
On Wednesday the vessel reached Montego Bay, where a new wave of talent boarded the vessel, including Bounty Killer, Busy Signal, and Jah Cure, all of whom have been unable to perform in the United States due to visa restrictions. All three artists rose to the occasion, turning in some of their strongest performances in memory. Killer was joined by Cham and Jr. Gong. The final chapter of Night Three was arguably the climactic moment of the entire cruise as King Jammy’$ Super Power set up their sound. Live and direct from the main, the legendary Lloyd “King Jammy” James (with his son Jam 2 on the right hand side) mixed down some of his most immortal dancehall productions, including the original “Punany” riddim. As vocals by Shabba Ranks and Admiral Bailey float in and out amidst various echo and laser-beam sound FX, but the real star is Steely & Clevie’s earth-shaking riddim track, which provided much of the blueprint for modern dancehall. Every selector used the same speakers and amplifiers on the main deck, but none of them got the whole ship dumbling like Jammy’s heavy-duty digital basslines. It’s a good bet that all the aquatic life in the surrounding area was tuned in to the same frequency. When Shinehead, Jr. Gong, and UK bad boy Mr. Williamz passed the microphone, the vibes were indescribable.
The penultimate performance featured the talents of Sean Paul, Wayne Marshall, and Cham, who rode the ship all the way from Florida, taking in the vibes along with his wife O and his longtime sparring partner, legendary dancehall producer Dave Kelly. Jr. Gong joined all three performers during some part of their sets, performing his duets with them in a spirit of unity that pervaded the entire cruise, setting it apart from the standard reggae festival experience.
The final evening was the only night affected by bad weather. Ghetto Youths crooner Christopher Ellis was off to a brilliant start, just launching into a set of songs made famous by his father, rock steady legend Alton Ellis, when wind and rain cut his performance short. After a brief rain delay, Morgan Heritage managed to squeeze in a brilliant if somewhat shortened set, their rich harmonies and warm reggae rhythms emanating into the Caribbean air. Stephen “Ragga” Marley’s headlining set was scheduled to follow, but the clouds opened up again after he opened with a mind-blowing rendition of his dad’s “Punky Reggae Party.” He finished up his set in the atrium with Renaissance Disco providing the backing tracks as he and Gong mashed up the place, only to be joined by Sean Paul, Cham, UK microphone chanter Mr. Williamz, Hawaiian crooner J-Boog, and Shinehead, who almost stole the show with his rapid-fire attack.
It was the sort of moment that brought a big bright smile to Gong’s face. No matter how gruff his lyrics, he was unable to conceal how pleased he was to be experiencing the moment. Unity is needed and not just talking of it. You know reggae music talk ’bout unity but over the years we’ve really been standoffish toward each other in a whole heap of ways. So we kinda try go round some of them mentality. I just feel that probably we need a new set of minds who are ready to champion Jamaican reggae music to a certain level. Because that is what has been lacking to a certain degree I feel. I was looking at it and seeing that we didn’t really have much of the Puffys and Suge Knights and Russell Simmons and these type of guys. We had a Chris Blackwell back in the days, but Chris never really have no… Maybe someone like a Specialist.
When you read Russell Simmons’ biography and hear the man them ah say, Bwoy, he used to sleep on his friend’s couch. But it’s “Do or die, hip-hop.” You get me? We haffi feel that way about our music and know the value of it. I feel like this cruise is a big example of that. You get weh me ah say?” To me that is what is really so important about this thing, just to say, “Hey look at what we can accomplish.”
Unity, then, turned out to be the key. In much the way Marcus Garvey proclaimed the mission of his Black Star Line. Or like The Wailers song said, being “all in the same boat,, rocking on the same rock.”