“We were basically the only people in L.A. playing his music,” Steffens recalls. “He kind of took us under his wing and told us, ‘This music is not just for jollification, it’s also for headucation. You must always be aware it’s not just boogie music; this is music that’s out to change the word.’ I remember sitting with him at what proved to be his final show in L.A., and he did a three-hour sound check by himself playing all the different instruments. I sat virtually alone watching this and for the first hour he kept singing something over and over that I’d never heard before, about redemption.”
A fan of reggae since 1973, Steffens was nicknamed Rojah by the Jamaican legend.
“I don’t know whether he couldn’t pronounce Roger or he did his own little trick with it,” Steffens explains. “Rastas like to turn everything into Rasta parlance, so I become Ras Rojah.”
A noted author and lecturer, Steffens now travels the world paying tribute to reggae’s greatest artist with his “The Life of Bob Marley” show. In locales as diverse as the Smithsonian, the Havasupai Indian Reservation and Aboriginal communities in Australia, Steffens enthralls audiences with rare film and recordings from his exhaustive collection.
“Basically it’s all unreleased footage, home movies and rehearsals and suppressed documentaries about the assassination attempt on his life, and live shows that have never been released,” he explains.
Through lectures, books, magazine articles, radio, and television, Steffens has shared his knowledge as a premier archivist and collector of reggae memorabilia. His reggae “Ark-Hives” contains the world’s largest collection of Bob Marley material, filling six rooms of his home in Los Angeles.
A Rolling Stone magazine article on the Jamaican music style initially sparked Steffens’ passion for reggae.
“It said reggae music crawls into your blood stream like some vampire amoeba from the psychic rapids of Upper Niger consciousness. I had no idea what that meant, but I went out and bought ‘Catch a Fire,’ and the next day I saw Jimmy Cliff’s movie, ‘The Harder They Come,’ and my life changed forever.”
The co-founder of the authoritative Beat Magazine, Steffens has written a number of books about Marley and reggae including his latest, “The Reggae Scrapbook.”
“It weighs five pounds and covers the entire history of the music in anecdotal form,” he notes. He also co-authored “Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Definitive Discography,” compiled over a 15 year period.
“It was exhaustive research because nobody kept any notes in the studio,” he adds.
His accomplishments include penning the liner notes for album releases by many artists including Peter Tosh, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, Barrington Levy, the Mighty Diamonds and the Skatalites.
And he happens to be chairman of the Reggae Grammy Screening Committee, a prestigious role that occasionally makes him the target of artists’ ire. A recent article in the Jamaican Observer described how some reggae musicians like Eek a Mouse have blamed him when they’re not nominated.
“The Recording Academy asked me to put together a committee and be the chairman, and I’ve been the chairman since its inception 24 years ago,” he explains. “But I don’t choose the nominees or the winners, and I don’t even vote to maintain my neutrality.”
Reggae fans may have heard that Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, having completed the Rolling Stones film, “Shine A Light,” had agreed to work on a new documentary on Bob Marley. Steffens reports he’s just heard it’s not happening.
“It’s fallen apart,” he says. “My inside sources tell me it’s not going to happen after all. Both Rita Marley and Martin Scorsese demanded final cut and one or the other was going to have to give in. I think finally Scorsese realized it was a losing proposition.”
Ebb & Flow Arts will present another innovative concert in their North South East West Festival 2008 series on Saturday at The Studio Maui.
Renowned contrabassist Mark Dresser will headline, and the evening will also feature multimedia experiments with audience participation. Maui artists Tony Walholm and Piero Resta, dancers, Lisa Gagnon and Jamy Woodbury, and musicians Robert Pollock, Paul Marchetti and John Zangrando will participate.
Well known to avant-garde jazz audiences for his tenure in composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton’s quartet, Dresser is one of a handful of acoustic bassists advancing the instrument’s role in both contemporary composition and improvisation. His trailblazing involves not only a broad variety of extended arco and pizzicato techniques, but also a radical assortment of custom-made electronics and preamplifiers.
“Mark Dresser is an inventor, he also may be the most important bassist to emerge since 1980 in jazz or classical music,” praised the Boston Herald. The New York Times hailed him as “one of the great instrumental forces in recent American jazz outside of the mainstream,” and a San Diego Reader review noted: “He has proven to be one of the master bassists of modern jazz, perhaps even the most exciting.”
This Grammy-nominated artist makes his Maui debut on Saturday, visiting Hawaii to perform at the Hawaii Contrabass Festival.
“Mark will basically do a 45-minute solo set,” notes Ebb & Flow’s Robert Pollock.
“He has a whole new world of sound that he’s discovered for contrabass.”
The Maui show is part of a three-island tour by Ebb & Flow artists, which includes a “Music of the Spheres” concert at Hilo’s Imiloa Planetarium, and a “Modern Contrabass” performance in Honolulu.
“The Music of the Spheres program has to do with my wish to see electronic music in a more interesting atmosphere than two speakers on a stage,” says Pollock. “We’ve matched up video with electronic pieces that will be projected on the dome. It should be pretty exciting.”
The North South East West Festival 2008 concert will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Studio Maui in Haiku. Admission is $8.
• Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org'>email@example.com.
Different faces of Bob Marley, backstage at a 1979 San Diego concert with bandleader/bassist “Family Man” Barrett
ROGER STEFFENS photo0
Fact Box• WHAT: “The Life of Bob Marley” a film presentation by Roger Steffens with live music by Marty Dread and the Kryptones and One Vibe
• WHERE/WHEN: Hana Bay, Friday, 6 p.m., Casanova, Saturday, 10 p.m.
• TICKETS: $10