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The 6th Annual Bob Marley Festival Report

The 6th annual Bob Marley Festival in Miami made a series of serious public relations blunders this year, although the event continued to steam-roll along. We've held our tongues for a while although things haven't been right with this festival for years now. However, things went from bad to worse this year, and this has forced us to make a few comments. For the promoters -Movement of Jah People- the "Wake Up & Live" Bob Marley Festival was obviously a huge financial success, with an estimated 25,000 people paying $15, $20 (and more if they didn't bring any canned food with them). With high flying divas Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu on the bill, all seemed like business as usual at the Bayfront Park amphitheater. However, behind the scenes all was definitely not "kosher". Things got off to a bad start at the Miami Beach press party to launch the event. Besides starting very late and not having any of the featured artists present, the catered menu included ham, served by (among others) a gay or cross-dressing man in a dress. Why?... How?... Who?.. I mean, why would anyone knowledgeable or
sensitive to Bob Marley's principles and lifestyle make these kinds of arrangements, -that menu, that venue- knowing that they would be catering to Rootz/Reggae/Rasta/Kulcha-conscious guests? (The same thing happened at the anti-climatic launching of the Bob Marley exhibit at Disney in Orlando in February, when they also served pork and provided a lot of hard liquor -but
that's another story.)

One of the biggest problems has always been the insensitive treatment of South Florida based artists. For instance, Cappo and his Benaiah band played the festival three years in a row, backing up a host of supporting acts every year for free. When the entry fee went from free, to $5, to $10, and Cappo asked for "expenses", Benaiah was cut from the line up. Then there were the drummers from the Nyahbinghi House in Miami, who were cut from last year's show because they requested a stall at the event -a space in the park- in lieu of payment. And to this day, although the Melody Makers (the band and not Ziggy & the Marleys as far as we know) is paid "expenses", Florida based artists are required to perform for free or else they are overlooked. Imagine then, the horror of young artists like Nellie Starr and Contractor, who, after being present and on time, were suddenly told they had "2 minutes!" to perform. Perform they did, but without their band, which simply unplugged when given the "2 minutes!" warning. These artists had to pay for stage outfits, had to pay their backing band, had to pay for rehearsal space and time, etc. Nellie Starr even flew in her father from Martinique to see her debut on the big Bob Marley show. (She was on stage for less than 120 seconds.)

Is this anyway to treat artists? Where is the reciprocity? Then there was the conflict with the press, in particular the local Caribbean and Reggae press/media. To a man, woman and media outlet, they all felt very much "dissed" this year by the Movement of Jah People, which spent no advertising dollars with any of the Caribbean/Reggae radio shows or publications. From Winsome Charlton of Hi-Class and WAVS radio, to Eddie Edwards of Jamaica Awareness, WVCG radio and "Mention" newspaper, to "Rhythm Vibes" and "Now" magazines -the story was the same. No radio adz, no ticket give-aways, no interviews. To add insult to injury, there were no back stage passes, no complimentary tickets, no sensitivity, no understanding and no nothing for the ethnic and Rootz media. Some members of the Caribbean press were even told that if they want press passes for next year they will have to be sponsors of the event. (Ed: they told me the same thing last year when they turned down my request for passes. This year they told me there were no more passes available because
they had already exceeded the number allotted by the Fire Marshall.) And it wasn't only the local Caribbean media in Miami which suffered. Well known freelance journalist Vinette Pryce from New York ran into the same problem as did other legitimate media organisations and personnel from out of town.

According to the promoters, the restriction on passes was intended to minimize the number of "do-nothings" and "groupies" hanging out back stage. We overstand that, but what's that got to do with journalists and photographers trying to do their job?
Small wonder then, that this year's festival didn't even really feel like a Bob Marley or Rootz/Reggae event. The mainstream radio, TV and press commercials/adverts, all focussed almost exclusively on the presence of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, and not on the reason for their presence -Bob Marley and his Earthday celebration. It was all about Erykah and Lauryn, and after they performed, masses of the crowd started leaving (although it became very cold by Maimi standards that night.) And another thing. Where
were all the Black people? Why exactly is it that sizeable numbers of Black people, Rootz people, and Rasta people no longer attend this show anymore? Is it the steadily increasing entrance fee, or the lack of real vibes? Whatever the reason, once again there were relatively few people of color there and many of those who did attend were Haitians who came especially to see Lauryn "Fugee" Hill. Movement of Jah People clearly needs to become more sensitive to the Rootz/Reggae artists and the Caribbean media which has always supported and sustained this festival in many different ways. Yeah, over 700,000 cans of food for Miami's homeless have been donated to Camilus House over the years, and that's great. But the promoters need to get this event back on track as
a meaningful cultural event and not get lost in the "One Love" hype. Remember: Bob Marley was a Reggae revolutionary who urged Black people and poor people to "Get Up (and) stand up for your rights". So first things first. There'll be all the time in the world for the euphoria of "One Love", after we achieve "Equal Rights and Justice".
By: I. Jabulani Tafari


Anthony B

KYMANI...More Marley Magic

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