“You could listen to a Bob Marley album and get all the education you need about life,” says Jesse Jones, leader of Jones & Jones Group, who is at the helm of this interactive Bob Marley experience. The launch is an emotional one for Jones, who recently lost his mother, the legendary Denise Jones.
Denise was the founding chair of the JUNO reggae category and an ambassador for soca, reggae and dancehall music in Canada. When she passed in December last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that she was, “an incredible advocate for Black and Caribbean arts and culture, Denise Jones contributed so much to our country,” while offering his condolences.
Jones is continuing his mother’s legacy through the Tribute to the Legends of Reggae experience, a project that he brought to life with her in previous years. Through a series of pre-recorded performances, interviews and activations, some of Canada’s most influential Black voices will be giving their takes on Bob Marley’s life, influence and discography.
Exco Levi, five-time JUNO award winner, is part of the tribute. “Bob was way before his time, songs of liberation awoke the sleeping consciousness of the people,” he says, adding that these songs are exactly what audiences need in this global time of uncertainty.
“I just migrated to Canada in 2005,” Levi says, “I never knew there was a place for me, I saw Celine Dion and Shania Twain, and I never dreamed there was a place for me on that stage.” Today, he gets a sense of joy when he lays eyes on his JUNO Awards—a symbol that his decision to embark on a life in Canada was a light in his life. He keeps three of his JUNOs at his home, one at his studio and one at Jones & Jones Productions, an ode to Denise Jones, who was also his manager.
“It’s about giving a platform to the Canadian reggae industry, that I don’t think we’ve seen before,” Jones says as he outlines the impact Jamaican culture has on popular culture globally. If we look at Canada alone, “Justin Bieber and Drake are heavily influenced by the diaspora of Jamaica that exists in the Greater Toronto Area. They deserve the credit.”
Bob Marley’s music transcends generations, and through activations like Tribute to the Legends of Reggae, his voice gets to live on. “Growing up my mom would play Bob Marley all the time,” says JUNO-nominee Chelsea Stewart, who’s also part of the project. Stewart is a young first-generation Canadian who remembers being inspired by Marley’s story.
“I would cover some of his songs, back when I used to sell CDs on the streets of Toronto,” Stewart says. Her and her mom would travel across the GTA, selling her CDs at Caribbean restaurants. At that time, her CDs featured her covering popular reggae, R&B and jazz songs. “When I was on the road, somebody told me that I would make it big someday because Bob Marley used to shop his music the same way.”
Jones wants to give credit and acclaim to reggae music and culture, a part of the industry that he says is 100% overlooked. This is what his parents aimed to achieve in their careers, and he is committed to carrying on. “My biggest fear in life was losing my mother and that has happened and it’s something I’m working through. It’s contributed to more bravery, more honour, and more purpose.”
He’s interested in analyzing how the next generation of individuals born to immigrant parents see the world in Canada, and how he can unite their voices. The Tribute To The Legends of Reggae experience is just the first step for him. Each week in February new content will be published online from Canadian artists. Interviews will be hosted by radio and television personality, Master T.
Jones, Levi and Stewart all agree that audiences should pay more attention to Black artists throughout the year, and echo each other in saying it’s not just about paying attention during Black History Month.
“A month can never display what the Black community has done,” Levi says. “School and church are the first places for learning, it should start there. Black youth across Canada need to be informed on some of the great things Black people have done.”
Stewart has travelled the globe, performing at reggae festivals in different continents. “It’s awesome as a Jamaican to see how much this little island has affected the whole world,” she says, as she expresses her excitement about the light that this online experience will shine on her culture.
Tribute to the Legends of Reggae: The Bob Marley Edition is a partnership with Universal Music Canada, The TD Ready Commitment and is produced by The House of KUUMBA. Watch the content on The House of KUUMBA’s YouTube channel and at select media outlets. For more information follow the initiative on Instagram at @thehouseofkuumba.
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