Stephen Marley reveals why he founded the festival, what he loves best about it, and who he’s most excited to see.
For eight-time Grammy winner Stephen Marley, April 20 is an important day on a few levels. There’s the 4/20 nod to cannabis, for one. It’s also his birthday. And it is the third annual Kaya Fest, which was his brainchild. “It started from wanting to do something special on that day,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to educate people about the plant and celebrate at the same time.”
This year, Kaya has found a home in Miami’s Bayfront Park. A celebration of cannabis culture and Bob Marley’s legacy, the festival’s 2019 line-up is a testament to the game-changing impact of the Marley family on the music industry. As for what Bob Marley would say about the festival? It’s simple, says Stephen. “He would say, ‘Let’s rehearse. Let’s go.’ This is what he was about.”
Performers include Stephen and his brothers Ziggy, Damian, Ky-Mani and Julian Marley, as well as sets from grandchildren Skip Marley, Jo Mersa Marley, Yohan Marley, Mystic Marley, and DJ Shacia Päyne Marley. “I am always excited to perform with my brothers,” says Stephen, who explains that, due to their busy schedules, Kaya Fest is the one day of the year when they are able to play together. “It’s a cosmic vibe. We are aligned so much, musically. It’s an effortless bond, and it transcends through us on the stage. The audience can see the pure vibe.”
In addition to the multi-talented Marley family, this year’s fest will also feature reggae-influenced stars like Pitbull, Sean Paul and Busta Rhymes. Some of the most exciting performances are buzzy acts coming out of Jamaica—like Protoje, who’s gained acclaimed for his “reggae revival” style that combines hip-hop and roots reggae, and up-and-coming Koffee, a 19-year-old phenom whose debut EP dropped in March 2019. “And Davido,” Stephen adds. “I’m pretty excited about that. We are thrilled about the whole lineup.”
An important part of the festival is Kaya Village, which is, Stephen explains, “everything Marley from grandchild to grandad. It’s all about what’s going on with the family.” That includes Cedella Marley’s cookbook, Cooking with Herb: 75 Recipes for the Marley Natural Lifestyle. There are also artisans selling their art from all over the world, and a kids’ area. “The whole thing is family-oriented,” says Stephen. “Not just for my family but for all families, for advocates of the plant.”
There’s a national conversation happening around the legalization of cannabis and hemp products, and who gets to benefit from those changing laws. That’s just one of the topics touched on at the Kaya Fest’s free Education Before Recreation symposium, which takes place April 19 and aims to bring a broader understanding of the plant and its uses to the community.
“I want our mission to draw light to the many different uses of the plant,” says Stephen. “I want people to know the benefits, so they can decide whether it would be beneficial to them personally. Since starting the festival, I have heard so many testimonies about how much the plant has helped. One kid would have 100 seizures a day, and because of CBD he now has maybe one a day. I don’t know why more people don’t know the benefits. It baffles me. I want the festival to reach as many people as it can reach and be a force in that way.”