Interview: Cedella Marley - Relaxed Intensity
by Larson Sutton
Cedella Marley is the 21st century definition of busy. The 44-year-old CEO of Tuff Gong International, Bob Marley Music Inc., and 56 Hope Road Ltd and mother of three is also a successful musician, clothing designer, children’s book author, movie producer, and entrepreneur. On this day in late-May, she is hours away from boarding a flight to London to reveal to the world her outfits designed with Puma for the Jamaican Olympic Track and Field team.
I think the first time most people remember seeing you was as a singer in the Melody Makers. With all that you are doing in your life, do you still have room for music?
I have to prioritize. I always say Bob Marley is the man who made sure I was born to do this job. He has to come first. Of course, music is music. When I type, I sing or hum.
Any thoughts of a Melody Makers reunion?
We brought this up recently when Ziggy was here for some dates. We both said, ‘Next year.’ It’s just been a busy year for all of us combined, but I would love that. I miss the stage.
And your solo album?
Let’s talk about your recent notable endeavor as a designer. Where did the creative process begin for you when designing the Olympic outfits with Puma for the Jamaican Track and Field team?
Not only is it Opening Ceremony and Podium-wear, but it is also on-track, so I had to think about form and function. Seeing as how Puma is my partner in this, I really didn’t have to think outside the box too much as far as the function of the on-track pieces. When I started to design the collection, the first thought that came to my mind was the movie, Rockers. Even now I still don’t know why, but I think it was the element of the Rude Boy, Jamaican stylee, and the musical influences of the 1970s- Michigan and Smiley, Althea and Donna, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley and the Wailers. I really wanted to show, especially for the Opening Ceremonies, that part of our rich culture. Jamaicans, on a whole, are some of the most fashion-forward people ever. From the ‘70s until now, you see the girls rocking the dance hall, you just can’t help but say, ‘Wow, how do you they get away with that?’ But, they do.
I heard an interview with a legendary Jamaican track coach who talked about the idea of teaching a kind of relaxed intensity- to perform at one’s most intense in a sprint is to be relaxed. That idea of relaxed intensity instantly reminded me of reggae music.
As you were saying this, I was thinking that Daddy had that relaxed intensity. Stephen has it. Ziggy has it. Damian, Julian, and Ky-Mani, they all have it.
How was the photo shoot with Usain Bolt?
I was pretty relaxed. (laughs) It was our first time meeting.
Do you have plans to attend the Olympics?
I want to go. I have to go. It is something my kids and I are very much looking forward to. Actually I’m leaving today to do a showcase (of the outfits) for all the European editors. That’s going to be exciting, to see the reaction of the Europeans to it. I definitely want to go to the Opening Ceremony and the 100, 200, and Relay.
How secretive were you about the designs?
At this showcase, the embargo will be lifted. I don’t talk about my projects unless I’m asked about it, and Puma did ask that we not talk about it. We did keep it under wraps. If you compare it to what they did four years ago, this collection brings to life our Jamaican motto, which is, ‘Out of Many, One People.’ The aim was that no one would have to look the same. Everybody has four, five, six different pieces that they can choose from for Opening Ceremony and Podium. We’ll see how it goes. I think we’ll see our motto represented really well.
That spirit of individuality that will be on display comes at the same time Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence. What does that mean to you?
What does independence mean, really? I think we are getting ready to sign a new deal with IMF, so I don’t know how independent we are. We have to have independence in our heads, in our minds, because the reality is Jamaica is not independent.
Do you plan on attending on any of the Jamaica 50 concerts in London that coincide with the Olympics? I imagine you are on somebody’s guest list.
I hope so. You can never tell. (laughs)
What’s the day-to-day work like at your desk at Tuff Gong?
It varies. I oversee approvals for merchandise, to publishing, to musicals, to movies, coffee, food. The approval process, it comes here. It stops here. That’s it. Almost anything to do with Marley has to land on my desk, and I go over it with a fine-toothed comb or pick. It’s a 24-hour business, really.
Can you give a State of the Company address?
We have different arms of Tuff Gong. We have the distribution company that distributes Bob Marley records and also distributes the Universal catalog. We have Tuff Gong Books which just released the children’s book, One Love, and we’re getting ready to release another. We have Tuff Gong Pictures who was involved with Shangri-La and Cowboy Films to do the Marley documentary. And Tuff Gong Clothing along with Cedella Marley Design, we just designed the Olympic collection for the Jamaican team with Puma. So, everything is doing pretty well. Can’t complain, knock on wood.
How did you arrive at the decision to be CEO?
My father came to me in a dream and he told me what to do.
When was this dream?
In 1993. I remember because we were supposed to be going on a European tour. I was supposed to leave on a Sunday. I had the dream Saturday night, and I called everybody Sunday and said, ‘Listen, I can’t go on tour because Daddy said I have to do something.’ That is how it all started, actually.
Was the family all in agreement with this or did you feel any resistance?
You’d have to ask them that, but I haven’t had any complaints.
A most recent Tuff Gong endeavor was the production of Marley, a documentary on the life of your father. How do you feel about how the movie turned out?
Everything has been positive. To be honest, I haven’t been able to sit through all of it. I think it’s kind of an emotional roller coaster, and I think that’s what is good about it. I really haven’t sat and watched any stories told by other people about Dad. I haven’t read the books. I just don’t do that because I think that is somebody else’s story. This one I found interesting. It’s interesting to hear the nurse. It was interesting to hear (Dr. Carlton) Pee Wee (Fraser). That was a part of Dad’s life that we were basically in Jamaica while he was in Germany getting treatment, yet I couldn’t sit through the entire thing and listen to all of it. To me, that’s what resonates. I wouldn’t say I’m not an emotional person. I can be. My brothers love to say, ‘You take after Daddy. Your heart can be soft as water or hard as stone.’ For me, it got me feeling something I didn’t really want to feel anymore. I think it’s an amazing project. I think Kevin did a wonderful job. I think Ziggy did a wonderful job. Everybody interviewed. I think some interviews are a bit long, but for the most part it was good for me. For other people, they’re going to have a different journey. I think the film is awesome.
How involved were you with the movie’s direction or editing? How much was left up to director Kevin Macdonald?
This is what Kevin does. We would say, ‘We don’t want to hear from that person again. We want to hear from somebody else this time. We want you to go to the people we haven’t heard from.’ You give him a direction to go in. When it got down to editing, we might say, ‘Too much of that. Take that out.’ Or, ‘We should keep that in because…,’ and then you think about things, maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, but that was never the situation with Kevin, per se. I was a fan from The Last King of Scotland. I remember when Chris (Blackwell) called me, it was so funny because I’d watched that movie the weekend before Chris had called me and mentioned his name. I said, ‘You have to be kidding,’ but that’s how Jah works. For whatever reason, I’d just watched his film and thought that it was an amazing film. That’s kind of our motto; Jah works. Whatever he puts in front of you, sometimes you can’t even say, ‘No,’ when you want to say, ‘No,’ because you know you are supposed to say, ‘Yes.’ You never know how ‘yes’ comes out of your mouth, but it did.
Was there a specific reason as to why Ziggy and you are the only children interviewed in the movie?
Why myself and Ziggy is because we are the eldest. The short time it was with Dad, we were the ones that had it. What are you going to say to Damian? ‘What do you remember about your father?’ What is he going to say? I think Damian was three when Dad passed. You can’t ask the question when you haven’t lived the life. You haven’t lived with him. I think Stephen was interviewed, but Stephen was little, too. If you want to know what it was growing up the child of Bob and Rita, you have to have lived it. You would have to have experienced it.
What questions get asked when Tuff Gong considers offering a product into the marketplace?
First and foremost, and I don’t know if this came across clearly in the documentary, our father was a very keen businessman. Bob Marley made his own T-shirts. Bob Marley made his own merchandise. So the first thing I would say is, ‘What would Bob do? When Bob does this, what will it help to do? How can we knock this guy out of there when we put legitimate products into the marketplace?’ Sometimes you have to get down to those types of decisions. You have the consumers who just want stuff, and they will go to any lengths to try and get it. So you have to say, ‘If I do what he’s doing, I can knock him out and people will not go there anymore.’ It has to be right, though. We’re not going to do condoms. Condoms are good, but we’re not going to do whatever else Bob wouldn’t do. We have to stick to our DNA. We try and make things with organic, sustainable materials as possible. Actually, we have most if not all of our licensees following our brand book now, where it has to be recyclable material. It has to be sustainable. You have to have a ‘give-back’ component with anything you do with 56 (Hope Road Ltd.), the Marleys. And, it has to have a certain aesthetic. As far as Marley Coffee, it was started by Rohan Marley. There is no Bob Marley face or anything on it. There are certain things that are going to be image-driven, and there are certain things where we don’t need to use the image, because I would still love to keep that as the musician, the artist. When I look back at certain things and I think, ‘Daddy did that shirt himself. That is so awesome.’ So I want to do that same exact shirt and put a sticker of him wearing his own shirt on the shirt so people can see he was a businessman, too.
Is there an archive of your father’s shirts or artwork that you draw from for inspiration?
There is. What we’ve just done with this company Worn Free is something so cool. We’ve researched different images of Dad, and this company actually reproduced shirts that he was wearing. So, we’ve found a way to still do merchandise, but it’s like, what would Bob wear. It’s not just a Bob Marley T-shirt, but is actually what would Bob wear. What would Bob eat. What would Bob drink. The Worn Free T-shirts, I wear them all the time around the house. They are one of my favorites. You have the Sparta Health Club, to that famous artist that did the Rasta face with two lions on the side. There’s one where Daddy’s wearing a shirt that says, ‘Ganja University.’ So, we have found creative ways to work not only with Bob Marley images, but with images of what Bob was doing or wearing at that time.
How active are you and the company in policing the sale of unlicensed and bootleg merchandise?
We’re very active. I can’t tell you how many raids I’ve gone on personally, how many companies I’ve shut down personally. You shut one down, the next one pops up. Now, we can reach fans through different social media, Facebook, whatever. They’re bringing the stuff to us and asking, ‘Do you know about this?’ That’s how we got to find out about that incense that the kids are smoking now that was branded as Marley. It was actually my brother that went to the gas station, and he picked it up and brought it over and said, ‘See, look at this.’ And we put it up on Facebook and right away I got people saying, ‘Oh, they’re selling that on Sunset,’ or, ‘They’re selling that in Fort Lauderdale.’ Because of what is happening with social media, people are more exposed now. We spend millions of dollars doing this, too. It’s not a fun thing, but it is an important thing to get done. We are working well with Customs, stopping things before they enter the United States. France. Different countries have different laws and somehow we need to try and change some of those laws to protect people’s intellectual property.
If you are walking down the street and you see someone wearing an unlicensed piece of clothing, for instance, do you stop them and ask where they got it?
No, I just take a picture. (laughs) No need to invade somebody’s privacy.
I have seen things ranging from bobbleheads…,
We just won a case against that guy in Vegas last year.
And I have been given unlicensed product as a gift. What should consumers do in that case?
It’s difficult. Even when we confiscate bootleg stuff, we give it away to charity. We’re not going to burn up 50,000 Bob Marley T-shirts or 50,000 Bob Marley posters. We find homes to give it to. It’s hard for me to say throw it away. I would say take it to a hospital where kids might think it’s fun, and it might cheer them up. It’s not easy.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?
Bedtime. (laughs) I really enjoy doing everything. I won’t say I enjoy fighting, but to take a quote from Dad, I do have a war thing in me, too. I wouldn’t say we spend 30% of the time fighting people who have come out of the woodwork, or who are in the woodwork but have decided to pull their claws out. I would say we are down to about 15% of that bullshit happening. Most of the time it is about creativity. What can we do next? Can we do Chant Down Babylon Part Two? Who would we want on that album? Steve, what kind of ideas do you have? I’ll run around being a secretary to my brothers, ‘Okay, let me jot that down.’ We really spend a lot of time being creative. We don’t have to re-invent Bob Marley. We don’t have to make him cool. We don’t have to do anything for Bob Marley. He’s done it all. That book, One Love, is for the younger generation, for my nieces and nephews who are still in diapers. That is why we do something like One Love. So they can learn about Bob Marley and what he stood for in his music. Most days that’s what I sit down thinking. Do they know Daddy in China? Should we do One Love in Chinese? Most of his music really doesn’t play over there. They still pick and choose what they play on the radio, so how can we get into a place like that? Then you think about it and you say, ‘Daddy is really everywhere.’
Will there be a day when Tuff Gong functions as a business that represents the ideas of the whole family regardless of any direct relationship to Bob Marley, himself?
The Marley name is about the entire family. When you do anything as a Marley, you don’t have to have the relationship (to Bob). It’s going to be there anyway. You can’t run away from it. We put out headphones. I think they are the best headphones. The bass is heavy. That’s what we love about our headphones. That makes it the Marley sound. Most of us Marleys were bass-driven in our music. If we can use his message and still bring the people in, once you have the box, there is no image on the box. It’s just about the ‘M.’ I think Marley on its own can stand up for itself. We can’t get away from it and we’re not trying. We’re not running from it. We’re proud. Whoever says, ‘They’re using their father’s name…’ What’s your name?
That’s the name you go by every day, right?
Are you using that name?
Anything wrong with that?
That’s my point. There is nothing wrong with that. If people want to feel a certain way about that, what am I supposed to go by? I won’t run away from it because people fear it. None of us will.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BEFORE IN THE FESTIVILLE 2012 MAGAZINE. READ IT ONLINE OR DOWNLOAD THE PDF FOR FREE @ FESTIVILLE2012.REGGAEVILLE.com