Back in the day talk was that “Nassau Gone Funky.”
As a matter of fact it was more than talk, the Blues Brothers recorded a song chorusing that very lyric repeating “ Nassau’s gone funky…Nassau’s gone soul…Nassau rock and Nassau roll Nassau’s got a whole lotta soul…”
On July 25, 2016, Nassau experienced a soul revival when Rita Marley, the queen of reggae celebrated her 70th.
Along with some of her most loyal friends and associates, her family added to the island’s repute by throwing a “Soul Shakedown Party” that featured African traditions, Bahamian fire-eating skills and Jamaica’s best export, reggae as the main ingredient.
It started with a procession of drummers and dancers dressed in African ritualistic outfits, distinguished from them was an individual carrying an oversized umbrella that shaded the celebrant from the oppressive Caribbean sun.
After being seated on a throne-like seat of honor, 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.
Chris Blackwell, Island Records founder stood among the well-wishers. Harlem’s Queen Mother Dr. Delois N. Blakely distinguished herself as a spiritual guide who travelled from the continent of Africa in order to witness the celebration of a displaced African woman who established greatness from Jamaica.
And her childhood pal and confidante Minnie Phillips sat gazing at the spectacle as if her best-friend was her best association.
Her brother Wesley lavished platitudes of pride in her accomplishments and in addition gave an inkling of the little sister he recalled growing up in Kingston, Jamaica.
Donisha Prendergast, Rita’s first grandchild 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.
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 now center of all attention.
In falsetto style, Cooper mimicked the lyrics to a song reggae lovers related singing “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 delivering the second-best rendition to Rita’s “That’s The Way,” and “Harambe.”
Rita’s brother Wesley beamed.
Blackwell smiled broadly.
And when Nassau’s own, 51-year-old fire-eater Action Jackson inflamed the setting with a fiery exhibition urged by the emcee guests echoed “Go Action Jackson!”
Had he lived past May 11, 1981, Bob Marley might have been proud to see his sons Rohan and Kymani, daughters Cedella, Sharon, Stephanie, Serita, and many grandchildren from each of them along with Stephen and Ziggy as they reveled the milestone 70th.
“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 John, Joshua and Selah to the Bahamian affair.
He played drums and with his daughter Selah paying tribute to Mama Rita Marley.
Selah sang “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” a song her mother, pop singer Lauryn Hill recorded in tribute to the legendary and iconic singer who never met his grandchildren.
Cedella and her big sister Sharon relived the Melody Makers’ years (with Erica Newell) they accompanied their brothers Ziggy and Stephen voicing “Could You Be Loved” and delivering an incomparable repertoire 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 matriarch.
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.”
And although those performances seemed entrancing, Cedella, Rita’s eldest demanded more by summoning and escorting Griffith for an encore performance to sing Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No.”
The shakedown reached fever-pitch when Everton Bonner AKA Pliers — of the duo Chaka Demus & Pliers — took the microphone to render his hit “What A Bam Bam.”
Unanimously approved by the crowd, guests flocked to the dance-floor to demonstrate their nostalgia.
The singer segued to another hit delivering “Murder She Wrote” as a bonus to the crowd.
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 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.
In Nassau, the Marley matriarch operates the Marley Resort & Spa, a lush, tropical oceanfront hamlet.