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"Education Before Recreation": Stephen Marley on His Weed-Centric Music Fest

The son of reggae legend Bob Marley chats with MERRY JANE about his upcoming cannabis music festival, sharing the stage with his brothers, and his undying love for the herb.

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The legendary Jamaican musician Bob Marley and his extensive family lineage are synonymous with love and appreciation for the herb. The cultural icon has passed both his musical talents and relentless advocacy down to his kin. Stephen Marley, the son of Bob and Rita Marley, was infamously born on April 20, 1972. Yes, to repeat that, Bob Marley’s son was born on 4/20. To celebrate his upcoming birthday, as well as the general strength and growth of the legal cannabis movement, Stephen is organizing a next-level party.

The six-time Grammy award winner has announced the first annual Kaya Fest, a full-day music event presented by Fruit of Life Productions and David F. Alfonso. The festival will take place on 4/22 at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami, and features live performances from The Marley Brothers (Stephen, Ziggy, Damian, Julian, and Kay Mani), Lauryn Hill, Sean Paul, Wyclef Jean, and Inner Circle.

A number of cannabis brands will also be on the scene at the Kaya Village, including Herbo, Ocean Grown Extracts, Ojai Energetics, as well as Marley family brands like Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Damian Marley’s Stony Hill Dispensary, and Ghetto Youths International—the reggae record label founded by Stephen and his brothers. Festival attendees will learn about the many health benefits of cannabis plant, particularly for treating glaucoma, epileptic seizures, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments.

The day before the festival, Stephen and NORML will co-sponsor the Kaya “Education Before Recreation” Symposium, an event to highlight and explore the many benefits of cannabis use. The conference will feature an expert panel of medical professionals and advocates in the cannabis industry, and it will be moderated by Donisha Prendergast, a renowned filmmaker, community activist, and the eldest granddaughter of Rita Marley.

In order to spread the word about his upcoming cannabis-centric music festival, Stephen talked to MERRY JANE about playing with all of his brothers in Miami for the first time in 20 years, his undying love for the herb, and using his platform to “educate the world about the plant.”

MERRY JANE: What inspired the idea for Kaya Festival?
Stephen Marley: Everyone knows that we’re advocates of herb, advocates of the plant. I was actually born on 4/20, so you know I always wanted to celebrate the day in more different ways than one. That was the original inspiration behind the herb and music festival thing. We wanted to do something big around that time. When we got more serious about the idea of creating an event and involving the plant, we decided to go on the educational route. Educating the people about the plant and its many uses. Just a whole respect for the plant, not just rolling a spliff to smoke and get high. You know, there are so many other benefits, whether it's industrial, medicinal, and so forth. That’s the whole drive for Kaya Fest, education before recreation. Bringing artists together that align, and using the fest as another platform to educate the world about the plant. Not just one side of it, showing the multiple facets of the plant.

What role will cannabis education play at the event?
At the festival we’re going to have a Kaya Village. You can go into the village and see different aspects of how the plant is used there. The day before the festival, on April 21st, we will have the Kaya Symposium, and there we will have a lot of speakers and pioneers in different areas of the plant as well, from industrial, to medical, and other uses. That’s also taking place in Downtown Miami.

What is the main message behind Kaya Fest?
Come prepared to have fun, but also to let your voices be heard in celebration and advocation of herb, of cannabis, of the plant. Seen? Come and let your voice be heard, let it be known publicly that we’re advocates of using the plant in many different ways. There’s this big, big industrial side to it, too. It has so many benefits for mankind, Mother Earth, and just in general. So, as I said, come out from any which angle you know or recognize that this plant here has many uses. Come out and let your voice be heard in celebration of the plant.

Your brother Damian is getting heavily involved with the business side of cannabis, any upcoming industry moves for you?
We’re definitely looking forward to expanding our horizons in the cannabis business, we’ll be making those announcements in time.

How has the cannabis movement in Jamaica grown since expansive regulations were implemented?
There’s so much more education and information about the plant since it’s been legalized. It’s definitely a great time for us down there, the movement is stronger than ever.

When was the last time all of the Marley brothers played live together?
The last time we played together was in Ethiopia eleven years ago, in 2006, and we did Roots Rock Reggae in 2004. But the last time all of us played together in Miami it was around 20 years ago. It’s always exciting. The most fun I have is when we’re all on stage exchanging lines and vibes, playing instruments together, entertaining and educating the people while having a good time.

Which one of you smokes the most herb?
Out of all of us? [
laughs for a long time].... I hope that laugh can answer your question.

How has cannabis personally impacted your life?
It’s a part of our culture, we grew up in Jamaica. Herb is real big of part of our lives. Not just recreational; it has become a sacrament. We naturally smoke herb so much, but we take the sacramental aspect of herb, too; we take it from that aspect always. When we relax with the chalice and sit amongst our bredren and feel that uplifting, that love, that unity and togetherness, and all of those elements. “When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself,” as my father says.

Any new music on the horizon?
I released the collaboration album Revelation Pt. II: "The Fruit of Life last year. Right now, I’ve got a new album coming out very shortly, so that’s where my focus is right now. [Stephen has also been busy collaborating with his friend Pitbull, who will be featured on his upcoming album Climate Change.]

What can festival attendees expect from The Marley Brothers performance?
Whenever we come together as Bob’s sons on one stage, you’re definitely going to get a large tribute section dedicated to our father, as well as a few of our own songs that fit the occasion. Ones that people know and will enjoy. I wanna tell the folks out there to come out from wherever you are, let your voice be heard, and be a part of this movement here. As far as for the festival in general, look out for a few more surprises to be added to the lineup!

How does it feel to carry on the timeless legacy started by your father?
We definitely feel privileged to be a part of such a movement and such a legacy and we honor it as well. We do our best to keep it real and what it’s supposed to be.

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The Kaya “Education Before Recreation” Symposium will include healthcare and natural earth sciences expert Dr. Jeffrey S. Block, Attorney Scheril Murray Powell of the General Counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Michael Minardi of the NORML legal committee; Will Kleidon of Ojai Energetics, Derek Kesek of the Hempearth Group, and CannaMom founder Jacel Delgadillo. The Kaya Symposium is free to attend, and will take place on Friday, April 21 from noon to 4 PM at the Miami History Museum in downtown Miami. 

Get tickets and more information on Kaya Fest and the “Education Before Recreation” symposium on the festival website.