Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley: Jamrock cruising on the ocean
In 2005, Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley released the song Welcome to Jamrock (the title track to his Grammy-winning album), a gritty introduction to the tougher realities of the isle of wood and water.
In the first verse, he contrasts the resort and inner-city experiences, the differing perspectives of visitor and resident:
"Some bway no know dis
Dem ongly come around like touris'
On the beach with a few club sodas
Bedtime stories, an pose like dem name Chuck Norris
An' don' know de real hardcore
'Cause Sandals a no Back To..."
It is a lyrical rejection of the idyllic view of 'the islands' perpetuated in stereotypical tourist brochures. And the cruise organised by the Marleys, named after the song, is a physical refashioning of the combination of music and tourism which has served Jamaica very well.
For while there are a few concerts and festivals which attract visitors to Jamaica and numerous events worldwide where Jamaicans perform, often to people who have never been to the country but are intimate with Jamrock through song, the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise is unique. It is a five-day festival of Jamaican popular music on the high seas, which takes the cruisers from Miami, USA, to two stops in Jamaica, then back to Miami.
Started in 2014, last year, the cruise was expanded to two trips, the Norwegian Pearl doing back-to-back voyages, beginning on November 30. The first cruise docked in Montego Bay, St James, and Ocho Rios, St Ann, while the second offered landings in Falmouth, Trelawny, and Ocho Rios.
REGGAE, DANCEHALL PERFORMERS
The line-up of performers was the same for both, including Protoje, Christopher Ellis, Ky-Mani Marley, Stephen Marley, Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley, Busy Signal, Shinehead, TOK, Third World, Bounty Killer, Popcaan, Jah Cure, Tanya Stephens, Tarrus Riley, Super Cat, Capleton, Mykal Roze (with Sly and Robbie) and Barrington Levy, among others. Each was given 45 minutes to an hour, facilitating strong, in-depth stage stints on the open-air Tahitan Pool Deck of the Norwegian Pearl.
Sound system culture was not to be excluded. Lloyd 'King Jammy' James and his son Jam 2 doing live mixing, Foota Hype, Razzarella, Kurt Riley, Stone Love Movements, Kingston 12 (with Shinehead and Butterfly), Black Scorpio, Saxon (with Papa Levi and Tippa Irie) and Renaissance delivering the jams, sometimes with live performance.
One of the memorable moments was on the final night, when rain cut the outdoor session short and Capleton worked on the sound system indoors, to outstanding results. A sound clash among Bass Odyssey, Mighty Crown and Metromedia had the audience engaged in the battle of barbs and dub plates.
It was not all music, as the cruise extended its reach into Jamaican film culture, Third World Cop and Shottas among those shown on big screen in the Norwegian Pearl's large Stardust Theatre.
Added to that was a taste of the country with Walkerswood sampling, as well as memories of Bob Marley in images and words by graphic designer Neville Garrick.
Despite the sounds and images, though, perhaps one of the most striking elements of the 2015 Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise was a stem cell donor sign-up campaign, where cruisers were asked to be a part of a project to assist people needing bone marrow transplants. It was especially poignant, remembering that Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981.
The international character of the cruise, with about 4,000 people on board, was emphasised when Shinehead said, in an extended, interactive mid-afternoon performance, that there were over 20 languages being spoken on the cruise. And that did not include the universal language of reggae.
During the first leg of the 2015 cruise, the dates of the 2016 renewal of the festival on the sea were announced, as well as part of the line-up.
This time around it will be a bigger ship, the Royal Caribbean, sailing from Miami and stopping in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios before returning to Miami on November 19.
So far, the performers named are Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley, Stephen 'Ragga' Marley, Toots and The Maytals, Steel Pulse, Sean Paul, Tarrus Riley, Bounty Killer, Mavado, Mr. Vegas, Junior Reid, Collie Buddz, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Romain Virgo, J Boog and Kabaka Pyramid.
There is a notable change for this year's staging. There will be one ship - a bigger one - bringing together a critical mass of celebrants for a voyage named for a song that became an album title which has become a festival on the ocean incorporating a visit to the land of reggae's birth, unfettered by the restrictions and regulations of land.
There is no Noise Abatement Act restrictions (the fish don't seem to mind the thumping of the excellent sound system), no sponsorship signage and dictates and the party stops only when the cruisers want.
Welcome to the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise. Welcome to freedom.