On the 75th anniversary of Bob Marley’s birth, GTA reggae scene reflects on his influence

Julian King, known as JuLion, proudly calls himself a Canadian reggae defender. He’s passionate about giving local reggae talent a platform through Canadian Reggae World.

“Reggae is a spiritual energy that penetrates to anyone,” he said.

King’s sharing his knowledge on the reggae scene and Bob Marley’s influence on it at the Toronto Public Library next week — just one of the ways the 75th anniversary of Marley’s birth is being recognized alongside Black History Month.

Marley was born Feb. 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, Jamaica.  He died in May of 1981 at the age of 36, four years after being diagnosed with melanoma.

But even though he died at such a young age, he had already penned some of the most recognizable songs, not only in reggae, but all of pop music — songs such as Redemption Song, Buffalo SoldierNo Woman, No Cry and Jammin’. And he became a symbol of the fight for social justice around the world.

“Mr. Marley’s impact on reggae music is obvious,” King said.

“As reggae practitioners and lovers and all that stuff we all grew up on it.”

Julian King, who goes by the name JuLion, founded Canadian Reggae World — a website dedicated to promoting and sharing Canadian reggae artists. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

But King said Marley’s legacy is deeper than the physical music he left behind, and that’s why it continues to be relevant today. He says it’s too challenging to pick one favourite song from the artist because there are multiple gems on every album.

“Bob Marley’s impact isn’t just about music, it’s about a spiritual connection to the planet we live on.”

King says with his website, he aims to get the word out about the talented artists that are currently playing in Canada’s reggae scene. He says he’s working on a compilation to release on vinyl.

The Toronto sign was illuminated green, red and gold last year on Feb. 6, Bob Marley’s birthday. King says this came after a push from Jason McLean of Toronto Reggae. The city says it will be lighting up the sign again in honour of Marley this year. (Submitted)

“What’s really cool is when the artist can actually earn from their music,” he said, highlighting that getting plays on mainstream outlets continues to be a challenge for reggae artists, and he wants to help change that.

King says when it comes to Marley’s lyrics, he can listen to a song 200 times and discover a new meaning.

“He’s the king of reggae, but there’s so many other kings.”

Honouring the reggae legends

Exco Levi, a five-time Juno award winning artist from Brampton, Ont., is performing at a tribute show at The Rose Brampton this weekend. Marley is one of the artists being remembered.

“It’s always a great feeling because I remember growing up in Jamaica and hearing these classic songs,” he said.

“So to sing those songs for an audience is always amazing.”

Songs by other big reggae artists like Peter Tosh, Marcia Griffiths and Culture will also be covered.

Five-time Juno award winner Exco Levi, a Brampton-based, Jamaican-Canadian reggae musician, has been playing at a tribute show to honour reggae legends at The Rose Brampton for the past six years. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Levi admits that Marley may be the only artist he can listen to over and over again without growing tired of the sound.

“He was way before his time,” he said, adding that his music is a go-to when he’s on tour.

As Levi continues to grow as a name in the Canadian music scene, he says part of his mission is getting the reggae genre more plays.

“Our challenge is platforms,” he said. “We sing about freeing the people so our music is always placed on the back burner. People think it’s a niche market.” But Levi says Marley’s legacy and the popularity of reggae music across the world shows it’s a widely appreciated genre.

Music for a good cause

In Toronto, promoter Jay Cleary is putting on the 14th annual Nufunk Bob Marley Birthday Tribute.

Promoter Jay Cleary says he hopes this concert gets local reggae artists more exposure. (Submitted)

“What really drew me to [Bob Marley’s] music was the social messaging,” he said.

“We try to honour his music and social message with a tribute concert that highlights local musicians and local community organizations.”

The event is collecting food donations for the Parkdale Food Bank.

Cleary says for more than a decade he’s done his best to curate a lineup of local talent that shows off Jamaican Canadian reggae musicians.

“Hopefully it’s a platform for artists to build their careers,” he said.

‘Positive vibes’

For Levi, one of his dreams is for A Tribute to the Legends of Reggae to travel across the country on a tour bus, spreading “positive vibes” the same way Marley did.

He cites the lyrics from one of Marley’s most famous songs, One Love, as the key to his enduring appeal.

“‘One love. One heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.’ He wasn’t referring to only black people, he was referring to unifying the people,” Levi said.

“That’s why I love Bob Marley so much. He will forever be my inspiration in this music business.”


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