Performing Arts

The Journey Continues: Bob Marley kin in Kenya to find inspiration for re-imagined classical reggae icon's songs


James Malcolm and producer Rayzak Hassan with the pupils of Magoso School in Kibra, Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

“I remember where I was standing when I first met him and I remember where I was standing when I last saw him,” says James “Jimmy” Malcom, in reference to his first cousin Bob Marley.

“To me, he was Nesta, my older cousin,” says the pianist, composer and producer during an interview with the BD Life in Nairobi last week. “I see the legend in him through other people.”

Malcom and Grammy Award-winning musician and producer, Stephen Marley, the second-born son of Bob and Rita Marley, are producing an album called The Journey Continues reimagining the classic Marley songs by incorporating diverse global rhythms.

“We are doing Bob’s songs with an orchestra. I have his voice guiding me,” explains the 62-year-old.

“Of course, I am going to replace the voice with that of Stephen and the rest of the family but I just need that inspiration from Bob directly. I thought when Bob passed, that was it, and yet, here I am, 40-something years later still working with him.”

He has been in Germany working with classical musicians drawn from different orchestras and travelled to Kenya to record percussions and choral singers.

“My cousin affected the world with his music so I want to include sounds from as many countries as possible in this project,” says Malcolm.

During the album tour next year, he plans to perform with orchestras in each of the respective cities, including Nairobi.

“Jimmy is the one with the vision, so after these sessions, he will know how to put the music together,” says Joseck Asikoye of Jabali Afrika.

“After my band recorded the percussions, then I took him to meet the Kenya Boys Choir and the acapella group Ninga Melodies. Michelle Ongaro then wowed us by playing the chivoti flute on Could You Be Loved and Sun is Shining”.

Recently Malcom spent a month with Stephen Marley selecting the songs for the album but the track list keeps changing.

“It could be 12, 14 or 16 from a list of 22 songs but we keep cutting them down. Right now, we are just following the vibes of the universe, we don’t have a set agenda,” says Malcolm.

“We have done Mellow Mood with just string instruments, no drums, just orchestra. Classic!” he adds.

“Everyone else is free to do Bob’s music but we are Bob’s voice, the blood, what we are doing, Bob is doing and he is even picking out the songs,” says Malcolm.

In 1966 when Bob Marley travelled from Jamaica to visit family in Wilmington, Delaware, US, James Malcom was just five.

This was three years after Bob’s mother Cedella Marley Booker had first stayed in the city with her older sister (Malcolm’s mother).

During Bob’s visit, he did various jobs, including working at the Chrysler factory but his passion for music was unmistakable. “He always had a guitar while I was playing the piano,” recalls Malcolm.

Cedella wanted to do a gospel album and Bob suggested that she records the music together with his young cousin.

Even at the height of his success from 1966-77 Bob still came back to Wilmington, after his tours and he even bought a house right next to his mum’s house.

In 1977 he moved his mum to Miami and Malcom too moved there two years later.

“When we were in Miami other families would be sitting in front of their TV sets but not us, we would be in the back room with Bob as he’s writing songs and playing his guitar,” he recalls.

In 1977 Malcolm asked Bob Marley if he could accompany him and the Wailers on tour but his cousin insisted that he remains in Miami to complete the long-delayed album with Cedella. “I will send for you,” Bob said.

Six months later the call came, but before Malcolm could leave, he received the news that Bob was sick and was going for treatment in Germany.

“When he said, “stay and finish up with mum”, I interpreted that to mean that I should work with all the children and I have worked with each one of Bob’s children since then.”

Bob died in May 1981 and two months later, Jimmy and Cedella were in the studio in Kingston working with the Wailers on the album Mother Don’t Cry (title taken from Bob’s last words to his mother).

In 1995 Malcolm and Cedella Booker performed at a New Year’s Eve concert at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi.

He toured with another of Bob’s children, Julian Marley from 2008 to 2015 and has worked on projects with Ziggy Marley, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and the grandchildren, notably Skip Marley.

The Journey Continues is a progression of a performance of orchestra, choirs and dancers that Malcom curated in 2012 depicting the family’s journey from Africa to the Caribbean.

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