The Queen of Reggae


Published in LIME magazine, By Sarah Sekula

Rita Marley’s explosive 44-year music career propelled her clear across the Caribbean to the plateaus of South Africa, the crowds of New York, the South Pacific islands of Tahiti and everywhere in between.

But Jamaica is where her heart is.

It’s the nation of her youth and where the crooning songstress met and wed legendary reggae musician Bob Marley. In turn, their evocative music and life philosophies have intertwined ever since.

After Bob’s premature death in 1981, Rita began lobbying to make a full-length feature of his extraordinary life. Now, it’s becoming reality. As executive producer of the first-ever biopic of her late husband, she will chronicle his rise to international superstardom, the turbulent times in their relationship and his strong Rastafarian roots. The debut: 2010. Just in time for the 65th anniversary of his birth.

And, that’s not all she’s up to. With her wide-ranging endeavours — Tuff Gong International (now one of the leading record companies worldwide), Rita Marley Music and the annual Bob Marley Birthday Celebration — it is clear she is not going to topple from her reggae ambassador role anytime soon.

Away from music, “Nana Rita,” as she is known in Africa, works to eradicate poverty and empower communities like the Konkonuru village in Aburi, Ghana, where she currently lives. Thanks to her philanthropic group, the Rita Marley Foundation, the rural community has been radically transformed with paved roads, a medical center, street lights and even a state-of-the-art studio to inspire new musicians.

Beyond the village and across the continent, her altruistic efforts extend to Ethiopia, where she adopted 35 children in 2007. Not surprisingly, her undying efforts throughout Africa spurred another affectionate moniker — Queen of Development.

Add it to a long list, starting with mother and rounded out by entertainer, entrepreneur and writer. This spirited humanitarian may have a handful of titles, but she has only one thing in mind: keeping a legacy alive.