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Why We Still Love Bob Marley

Canadian reggae stars Reggaddiction and Lazo share their thoughts on the lasting legacy of the Jamaican musical legend. 

by Ben Boddez

Photo courtesy lazomusic.com

He’s known for a variety of endlessly quoted messages about peace and unity, but reggae legend Bob Marley’s notion of “One Love” – meaning, for him, a universal love for all living things – stands out among them all. Since the upcoming biopic on Marley’s life story is subtitled with those iconic words, it only makes sense that it would come out on Valentine’s Day. 

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who memorably directed Will Smith to a Best Actor win for 2021’s King Richard, the film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir as Marley and Lashana Lynch as his wife Rita. It will focus on Marley overcoming the struggles of his early upbringing in Jamaica, ultimately achieving a music career that inspired people across the globe.

Although Marley has been gone for 43 years, that kind of inspiration and influence is still permeating today – and we don’t just mean through the musical output of the many family members and descendants following his creative path. His messages still ring true in today’s political climate, and as reggae reaches more and more ears with global music’s continued boom, it’s nearly impossible to mention the genre without Marley’s name following close behind. 

Kinglsey Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

When it comes to the reasons why people might be interested in a Marley biopic in 2024, however, who better to ask than some local reggae stars? Drummer Oz Saunds and guitarist Jay NuFunk have been covering Marley songs and putting on tribute shows in Toronto for over a decade, joining the band Reggaddiction together in 2019, while Lazo, originally from Dominica, is recognized as one of North America’s finest Marley tribute acts and formerly toured with his timeless backing band, The Wailers. All three spoke to RANGE about Marley’s legacy and what he means to them. 

“I grew up in a Jamaican household, and Bob Marley’s Legend album would get played every Sunday at dinner,” Saunds says. “There was a picture of the Pope above my fireplace when I was growing up, and right next to the Pope there was a picture of Bob Marley.” NuFunk, on the other hand, was more attracted to Marley’s status as an icon of counterculture, consuming his work alongside Grateful Dead and Jack Kerouac as a youth. Proving Marley’s power in a variety of areas, Lazo speaks on yet another different sentiment: “The lyrics were expressing sentiments very close to my heart, like equal rights and justice for all, freedom from physical and mental oppression, and Pan-Africanism,” he adds of his first reactions to Marley’s music.

Reggadiction is a 10-piece reggae band that fuses the spirit of Jamaica with Canadian sensibilities.

When it comes to the state of the kinds of reggae music that typically get platformed today, Lazo was quick to note the steady shift in the messaging from when Marley was around – stating that instead of staying true to the reggae movement’s original goal to fight against injustice, the focus has shifted to “money, fun and party.” Saunds and NuFunk also speak to the generational divide, but their thoughts on it are a little more technical.

“His albums are recorded in an insanely layered way, the music is timeless in the way that it’s recorded – it stands up to anything that comes out today,” NuFunk says. “The songwriting is impeccable, there are no chord sequences that are pedestrian, nothing is a throwaway line – every lyric matters.” 

“The 70s were a totally different time,” Saunds adds. “As a musician, you had to be in that recording studio for hours on end to get it right. Because when you’re recording the tape, you’re pressing ‘record’ once, and what you get is what you get. We live in a time now where we can manufacture things, you can make mistakes here and there, you can overdub it. Also, the problems [Marley sings about] still exist, and they still need addressing. If you listen to his words of wisdom, sometimes you can hear a path forward through Bob. And I feel like that’s why his music is still so great today.”

Whether it was his more political output or the love songs that have lasted through the generations, everyone has a different answer when asked about why their personal favourite Marley songs have remained so compelling to them over the years – and as performing musicians, sometimes the answer reflects those comments on the technical intricacies of his music. 

A favourite track can be for reasons as simple as how much fun the guitar solo on “No Woman No Cry” – which NuFunk anoints “the best solo ever” – is to play. He names “Trenchtown Rock,” which reflects on Jamaican poverty and contains the quote “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain,” as his all-time favourite. Saunds recalls his dad singing “Buffalo Soldier” around the kitchen table and praises the entirety of the Catch A Fire album, but settles on “Concrete Jungle,” while Lazo pinpointed a difference between favourite songs to perform to see the joy on audience’s faces – “Is This Love” and “Three Little Birds” – and “more thought provoking and conscious” ones that he listens to personally – “Redemption Song,” “Babylon System” and “Africa Unite.” 

Lazo and Reggaddiction have performed together on multiple occasions, and NuFunk and Saunds have nothing but praise for Lazo’s work. When asked about the essentials to nailing Marley’s essence in a performance, they pointed to Lazo’s visible passion when delivering the emotion behind the messages as the gold standard. But although they dubbed him “the best Bob Marley act in the world,” Lazo doesn’t see himself as an impersonator. 

Lazo is a Juno award-winning reggae artist based in Toronto, Ontario.

“I am not a fan of impersonators,” he says. “I do not try to impersonate Bob Marley, as this would be an impossible task. There can and never will be another Bob, like there will never be another Jesus Christ. All you can do is try to channel his spirit and be a conduit for his message of love, truth, and togetherness.” 

“If you try to sing it the way Bob sang it, you are going to fail,” Saunds adds. “You keep the same melody line, but you have to let your own personality shine. If you hear our lead singer Dave, he’s Jamaican, but he also comes from a soul background. You hear influences like The Temptations coming out of his voice. You hear it authentically like Bob, but you also hear the soul from Dave, and that wows the crowd and engages people.” 

Producer Ziggy Marley and Kingsley Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

When it comes to the upcoming film, although Saunds comments that he would have liked to see a Jamaican actor playing the lead role despite his respect for Ben-Adir and happiness that he’ll get more people in the cinema to watch, all three acts simply hope that the Marley legacy is protected and that the storyline is validated by the reggae community. It’s something that they have confidence will be the case due to the Marley family’s involvement as producers.

“As someone who has been involved in putting on Bob Marley tribute events in Toronto for 18 years, I read a lot of his biographies,” says NuFunk. “Reading his story is fun because his story arc is incredible – growing up in Nine Mile, being a really spiritual young kid growing into this mega superstar. To see that up on the screen from his humble beginnings to the superstar status is going to be fantastic.” 

Reggaddiction are playing their 18th Annual Bob Marley Birthday Tribute show, with an appearance from Lazo, at Lee’s Palace in Toronto on Feb. 10, 2024.