Stephen Marley Keeps Da Riddim Alive at Belly Up

The red, gold and green flag of Jamaica at the side of the stage ensured any novices knew whence came Stephen Marley. The 46 year old son of Bob and Rita Marley came to the Belly Up to give a seated performance, which meant he and his back up quartet were in chairs for most of the evening.

Stephen (also nicknamed ‘Ragamuffin’) has collected eight Grammy Awards across a range of pursuits (solo artist, producer of his younger brother Damian’s album and member of older brother Ziggy’s band).

At the Belly Up, Stephen delivered a spirited set that traversed his career. The quartet behind Stephen included a horn player, whose alto sax layers allowed for many ska inflected melodies. An elder statesman on bass kept the crucial lower register beats solid and infectious. Having seen Ziggy on the same stage, I was curious if the siblings have some sort of understanding about how much of their dad’s songbook will be played. Ziggy certainly assayed classic Bob songs.

Stephen’s first foray of the evening into his Dad’s songs was a heartfelt version of “Three Little Birds.” The delicacy and universality of the song’s message was embraced by the audience, which sang along lustily.

Stephen expanded his father’s oeuvre with the dub step and ska rhythms. Stephen’s voice proved the power of genetics, the raspy tone took us back many decades. Toward the end of the set, Stephen intertwined his “Jungle Fever” with his Dad’s “Could You Be Loved” to fine effect. The band flipped back and forth between the melodies, and it was intoxicating.

A fairly raggedy cover of “Jammin’” opened the second set, furthering the extension of father Bob’s influence.

The tour is somewhat in support of Stephen’s recent EP “One Take: Acoustic Jams,” which features a handful of very irie tracks.

(Live photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.