By Jabari Fraser
Unlike coronavirus, there is definitely one good thing about music, as Bob Marley used to sing: when it hits, you feel no pain.
Marley, of course, is gone, but his descendants live on – and as the Covid-19 lockdown continues, they are spearheading a mighty musical response to the virus that extends across the Caribbean region.
Skip Marley, one of Bob’s grandsons, has been cutting tracks in his home studio while in self-isolation in Miami with his mother Cedella. His debut EP is due out this summer on Island Records, subject to the changeable release schedules of the major labels as the pandemic hampers their promotional efforts.
Like many well-known musicians, Skip has been entertaining the lockdown world with livestreaming. He told Billboard magazine that he keeps coming back to his grandfather’s song, So Much Trouble in the World. Although it was recorded in 1979, the tune has acquired new resonance for Skip and his mother.
Cedella, Bob’s daughter and known in her own right as a vocalist, actress and designer of the Jamaican 2012 Olympic team’s uniform, says of So Much Trouble in the World: “It’s not one of daddy’s most popular songs, but I think going through this pandemic, it has become one of those songs that people are kind of singing to themselves, you know? And then if you listen to the lyrics — ‘All we have to do is give a little’ — that’s what we really have to do as we go through this.”
Other members of the Marley clan, Ziggy and Karen, are in Los Angeles. Ziggy and brother Stephen had planned a series of events on behalf of Marley Holdings this year to mark what would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday. Some events had already taken place, but much of the showcase work has now gone virtual. A pretty good way to chill during your lockdown would be the #BobMarley75 YouTube channel, which is updated regularly.
The Marley family have found ways to make sure that Bob’s legacy can make another difference in these lockdown days. Money made from an Easter Sunday telethon, performed virtually by members of the family, went to buy medical equipment and tests to help fight Covid-19. Marley-branded face masks have also gone on sale on BobMarley.com. Proceeds go to the MusiCares charitable foundation, set up by the Grammy Recording Academy to help less fortunate people in the music community affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
By mid-April, artists and celebrities with Caribbean roots took part in a telethon to raise money or Jamaica’s healthcare workers. In addition to Ziggy, Damian and Stephen Marley, others taking part in the event included Sean Paul and Shaggy, Haitian-born Wyclef Jean and Cuban-American musician Gloria Estefan.
At the other end of the island chain, Trinidad’s three-time soca monarch Aaron “Voice” St Louis staged a virtual concert towards the end of April. Although the event was streamed from his Trinidad home, Voice managed to include fireworks and confetti in his show, which has prompted the Trinidad media to call him the “Quarantine Monarch”. Voice said later on social media: “We set out to do a simple live concert, but it ended up being much more than that. The real win here was seeing my people smile and have fun.”
From Barbados, three-time Barbados Calypso King Ian “iWeb” Webster lived up to his digital name by inviting regional colleagues to a Covid-19 online extempo challenge. Extempo – based on lyrics composed in the heat of the moment – brings out all the spontaneous musical talents of calypsonians. Challengers included Trinidad’s current Calypso Monarch, Terri Lyons, who urged people in her lyrics to “stay home... don’t go and roam”.
Even Jamaica’s police took to the web to show off their musical skills in the last week of April. The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Stronger Together Virtual Concert included a mix of reggae, gospel and ballads played by police band members, songs from musically-minded officers, stories from the force’s work during the lockdown and an interview with Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson on the work of the Covid police unit, in which he called for Jamaicans to continue to “be stronger together”. Viewers clearly enjoyed it too, as their streamed comments included, “Bless up officers.”
And it’s not just reggae and soca fans getting their lockdown fill of music. A group of Jamaican DJs have been sharing their skills via a daily party online. The YM Family Entertainment offer brings together top local DJs who would have been performing live at scheduled events, but are now making their way into people’s living rooms. YM Managing Director told the Jamaican Gleaner: “Online parties have allowed us to still be relevant in the entertainment world while keeping our followers happy... With increased viewership and participation online, it will make the transition easy when the pandemic ends.”
By the end of May, the big guns in Jamaica had moved into the online music streaming culture, as dancehall giants Beenie Man and Bounty Killer faced off in an online clash. The two took part in a series managed by American record producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. Organisers said that at its peak over the US Memorial weekend, the Instagram audience alone reached more than 500,000 viewers. Thousands more had joined the stream via other online platforms. Featuring in the show was a range of politicians and global celebrities, from Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness to Idris Elba.
Jamaican global star Shaggy urged Prime Minister Holness afterwards on 25 May to push for the US to reissue visas and work permits to the two performers. Shaggy said on Instagram that the live stream had been a “boost to our spirits, our tourism, our economy, our music, and most importantly, Brand Jamaica”. He added: “The culture needs it, the music needs it, the economy needs it, the country needs it and the fans need it.”
Was there ever a time when the power of music was so needed?