How Stephen Marley continues to uphold his father’s legacy in reggae and beyond at Cali Vibes

A man with dreadlocks plays the guitar and sings into a microphone
Stephen Marley
(Michael Lue)

More than 40 years after Bob Marley’s death, it’s become easy to associate his music and likeness with college dorm rooms, brownies and billowing smoke. But for his son Stephen “Ragga” Marley, reggae music will always be about survival amid adversity — precisely what the last two pandemic years have been. That hopeful message is what he and his brothers — Ziggy, Damian, Julian and Ky-Mani — are bringing to their family performance this Saturday at the inaugural Cali Vibes Festival in Long Beach.

Taking place Feb.4-6 at Marina Green Park, Cali Vibes features a stacked lineup of reggae, rock, hip-hop and dub acts, including Sean Paul, Slightly Stoopid, Shaggy, Sublime With Rome, Koffee, Soja and Protoje. Capping off the experience is a special Sunday performance by Wu-Tang Clan and a performance celebrating what would have been Bob Marley’s 77th birthday.

Recently Marley talked to The Times about his upcoming Cali Vibes set, preserving his father’s message through music and why reggae is a “go-to” in divided times.

How does the Marley family typically celebrate your father’s birthday?

Well, most of the time, we have a little concert, we used to have it in Jamaica. And we’re still doing some live-streaming from here to Jamaica on his birthday. At his house in Jamaica, there’s always a gathering there. Everyone celebrates Bob.


What are your earliest memories of your father growing up?

Well, I was 9 when my dad moved on. I have a good amount of memories. It’s not just one memory or two memories. You try to remember everything that you can remember, you know what I mean? It’s quite a few. I remember him being a father, I remember him being a role model as a musician. Music was always our go-to as well, so he was always mentoring us in that way. We wrote our first song, a song called “Children Playing In The Streets,” that we did as the Melody Makers, which was me, Ziggy, Sharon, and Cedella.

How has your collaboration with your siblings as musical partners evolved over the years?

Well, you have the older set, so to speak, of Bob’s kids, which is Ziggy, Cedella, Sharon, myself, Rohan and Robert. You have the younger set: Karen, Stephanie, Julian, Damian, Ky-Mani. The older set, we had a group, the Melody Makers. We were siblings, so we’re just being ourselves. We had a little band and such forth. All of that evolved as a family — we’re very close as a family and just as everyone grows and becomes their own person, you get together and you help nurture that.

Five men with their arms around each other on a stage
The Marley Brothers, from left, Stephen, Ziggy, Julian, Damian and Ky-Mani Marley.
(Zach Weinberg)

What have you, Ziggy, Damian, Julian and Ky-Mani discussed in terms of a set list for Saturday’s show?

I usually did a festival before this pandemic — Kaya Fest, that’s my festival. I curate that festival. And every year, the brothers are on that festival. We would celebrate our father as well as play some of our own music in our set. So we’re quite used to playing together. But we’ve had a little moment [since] playing those festivals — three years. In this particular show, though, it’s really a tribute to our father. So we’ll be doing his songs, mostly. Celebrating his life. Talking about some of the songs before we sing them. Having a good time. Celebrating Bob, you know?


What song of his do you think will resonate the most in 2022?

I think “One Love” is what the world needs. That equal love for everyone.

“Wake Up And Live,” “Could You Be Loved?” “Redemption Song” is one song where my father says, “Have no fear. You cannot stop time. We will get through this together.”

How has the pandemic affected your ability to work over the past two years?

Us musicians are like everyone else. We’re staying at home, basically. We had to reinvent how we go out there. Now it’s opening up again, but one thing I can say, for reggae music and the pandemic, reggae music is the music that gives you hope and spreads love and encouragement and enlightenment. Definitely going through these unsure times, it’s a go-to music.

What else are you currently working on?

Well, the performance is part of several things geared to Bob. That day is livicated to Bob. We don’t say “dedicated,” we say “livicated.” So that day is really livicated to Bob. We’ll just be enjoying our father’s music and legacy with the people that love him.

As far as releases go, the brothers, we actually have a song coming out on Friday in tribute to Bob, one of his songs that we did over. I can’t really tell you too much about [that].

How do you see live music evolving in the face of this, as you said, adversity?

Well, I’ve done a handful of festivals. You know, me and Ziggy came out and did the BeachLife Festival and such forth. Gradually, we as human beings, we’ve been through so much adversity, we’ll get through this. I have no doubt that we’ll get through this as a human family, and things will progress. Just be safe, vigilant, optimistic and be wise. Be aware of what’s going on. But we will get through this. I don’t have any doubt. Things will progress.

What does it mean to you to uphold your father’s legacy throughout your career?

It’s a great honor to be a seed of that fruit.