- The Roots Rock Reggae Fest marks the first time that all five musical Marley brothers have shared the stage together.
With just a few months before one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in history, the concert trail has sometimes seemed indistinguishable from the campaign, what with the Punkvoter tour, various anti-Bush concerts, and a get-out-the-vote tour scheduled for this fall that will feature Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, and others. Motivated largely by the urge to avert George W.'s reelection, performers have mixed music and message to an extent not seen in years.
But despite the presence of five sons of one of music's great political and spiritual icons -- as well as some rabble-rousers from other genres, like hip-hop acts Nappy Roots and Common -- the Bob Marley Roots Rock Reggae Festival is planned as a respite from politics, not a flashpoint.
"No politics. It's just as it says: roots, rock, and reggae. It's really just about the music," insists Ky-mani Marley. "No one has any different agenda."
If that's a surprise, so is the fact that this month-long tour marks the first time all five musical Marley brothers -- Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, Damian, and Ky-mani -- have shared stages together.
"It's something that we've been talking about for some time now. But nothing before its time, y'know?" says Ky-mani, noting that he and three other siblings once performed together in his hometown of Miami. "This is just the beginning, this is just us testing the waters."
That test will include a generous selection of their father's back catalog, which made him a superstar in the 1970s and introduced reggae to the world outside Jamaica. Plans call for each brother to perform a Bob Marley song, and the quintet will also close with a joint rendition (no pun intended) of a Marley classic.
"We're pondering right now. 'Could You Be Loved,' 'One Love' -- there are many that we're thinking about," Ky-mani says.
Only five years old when Bob Marley succumbed to cancer (at age 36, in 1981), Ky-mani treasures his sole recollection of his famous father.
"I only have one memory, and that was of shooting a slingshot at my older brother Stephen," he says. "I remember using the slingshot, and Stephen telling me I was gonna get in trouble. And I remember walking up to my dad . . . and I remember him just laughing."
He's probably smiling at the brothers' summer reunion, even though they've worked together in various combinations over the years. Ky-mani, the second youngest of Bob Marley's 11 children (his mother is Jamaican table-tennis champ Anita Belnavis), has had a long partnership with Stephen, who produced his debut album, 1999's dancehall- and hip-hop-flavored The Journey.
"I was raised by Stephen, basically. So I was influenced by a lot of hip-hop and a lot of R&B, and you hear that in my music," Ky-mani says. "But roots is really in the lyrics, mon."
It was also in the grooves of the Grammy-nominated Many More Roads, a reverent reggae platter from 2001 reminiscent of his father's work. Now Ky-mani is working on a third solo album, with Stephen again behind the boards and the hope of collaborating with some hip-hop and R&B stars.
"We're talkin' to Brandy. Jadakiss been in town a couple of times, so we're talkin' to him, and we'll see what happens at the end of the day."
However, don't expect to hear much, if anything, from it on the Roots Rock Reggae jaunt. "We're not touring the album," Ky-mani says. "This is a brotherly tour."
Organized primarily by the eldest and best-known of the Marley offspring, Ziggy, and the William Morris Agency, the tour is also an opportunity for the brothers to reach out to audiences from genres they've touched on in their own work. Besides Jamaican legends Toots and the Maytals, and the sound system Stone Love, the tour will feature the pop duo Looner and the Sublime-style rock of Slightly Stoopid, while down-home Kentucky rappers Nappy Roots (who'll appear in Cleveland) and eclectic rhymer Common will alternate dates.
And there may be additional surprises, although Ky-mani admits, "Me, myself, I dunno who there will be."
Before long, American audiences may become acquainted with Ky-mani as a film star as well as a musician. He appeared in the 1999 gangsta flick Shotta alongside the DJ Spragga Benz, but his second movie, One Love, has taken Jamaica by storm, becoming the longest-running film on the island to date.
Set for international release this fall, it's a Romeo and Juliet-style tale "about a Rastafarian fallin' in love with a Christian girl. And the trials and tribulations they go through, with her father bein' part of the church, and the way he look at Rastas. And in the end they find out that, all in all, it's still one love."
Part of the film's appeal, Ky-mani believes, is that "it's a realistic movie" in its portrayal of religious differences. "I mean, the mother of my son and my daughter . . . that was somethin' that we went through," he says. "So me playin' that role, that was like me bein' myself."
How much more famous could a Marley be in Jamaica? Ky-mani is beginning to find out.
"Lemme tell yuh . . . everywhere, everywhere, those that don't recognize me for bein' a Marley, mon," he says with a chuckle, "recognize me for the film."