This month, May 11th to be exact marks 41 years since the passing of the King of Reggae—Robert Nesta Marley. After being diagnosed in 1977 with cancer, the iconic reggae singer succumbed in 1981. Whenever Bob Marley was not on the stage or in the studio recording, he seemingly was outside playing football—a sport that he was a huge fan of and no doubt enjoyed playing very much. In that spirit, this past March at the Arts Park in Hollywood, Florida his son, Ky-Mani Marley, held the Maestro Marley Cup, which was an event that combined a football tournament by day with an amazing music festival by night.
The daytime football tournament took place inside the Arts Park itself in a small field. Several teams were announced, and the competition was quite energetic once the matches got underway. The crowd gave a raucous applause once Ky-Mani and his brother, Rohan, strutted onto the pitch with big smiles. All the while, their dad’s music was playing in the background by a sound system with selectors juggling timeless hits, such as ‘Buffalo Soldier’, ‘Jammin’, ‘Is This Love’, and ‘Natural Mystic’—just to name a few. Aside from Ky-Mani and Rohan, there were a number of notables who took part in the football tournament, including: Wayne Messam (Mayor of Miramar, Florida); Chad Johnson (former NFL football star wide receiver); and Jamaican-American rapper, songwriter, businessman, and television presenter—Safaree ‘Stuntman’ Samuels.
The roots of Bob Marley’s love affair with football can be traced back to the 1960s in Kingston, Jamaica. That decade in Jamaican football—particularly at the high school level—was very special indeed. In the 1960s, Kingston College (‘KC’) was a powerhouse in the sports of football, cricket, and track and field. During that era, some of the most popular sportsmen in Jamaica came out of KC. Arguably, KC’s biggest and most talented top-football star back then was none other than Alan ‘Skill’ Cole, widely regarded as Jamaica’s greatest footballer of all time. ‘Skill’ Cole went to KC and, while there, his teammates and contemporaries included the likes: of Neville ‘Sam Brown’ Oxford, Frank ‘Bowla’ Morant, Michael ‘Mouse Brown’ Vernon, Tony Keyes, and Trevor ‘Jumpy’ Harris.
And all throughout those years, Marley made strong connections with those KC schoolboy legends while playing pick-up games of football. In fact, Cole became an integral member of the reggae legend’s inner circle, and also served as Marley’s road manager for the singer’s final tour in 1980.
And apart from the KC network, of course, there was also Tony ‘Gilly Dread’ Gilbert, who was not only Bob’s personal chef, but also a top sparring partner where playing football was concerned. What’s more, Gilly was road manager for Marley’s Exodus Tour—which kicked-off at the Pavillon de Paris, Porte de Pantin in Paris, France, on 10 May 1977.
The Maestro Marley Cup Music Concert That Followed Football Tournament Was Epic
Following the daytime action on the football field, the Arts Park later that evening attracted the masses to enjoy a music concert that featured live performances delivered by an A-list of legend and icons, including The Marley Family Ky-Mani, Damian, Stephen, Julian, JoMersa, Kastin and KJ. What’s more, Yellowman, Protoje, Lila Ike, Jesse Royal, and Future Fambo among many more. Hosting duties were handled by Majah Hype and Safaree ‘Stuntman’ Samuels. Meanwhile, backstage was an event in and of itself, as a number of big-name musicians, celebrities, and officials milled around and chatted while enjoying the festivities.
‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’…King Yellowman Was in Vintage Form inside the Arts Park
Born under the name, Winston Foster, Yellowman aka King Yellowman is a Jamaican reggae and dancehall deejay who was extremely popular in Jamaica in the 1980s. And as soon as he touched down in Hollywood Florida’s Arts Park he was immediately greeted by throngs of friends, fans, and musicians backstage who clamored for photo ops, as well as to shake his hand in a showing of respect for his longstanding career and iconic legacy in the Jamaican dancehall arena.
In the 1980s, King Yellowman vaulted to prominence after recording a litany of song hits that has since inspired so many artists in the industry. Yellowman released his first album in 1982, and it was aptly titled, Mister Yellowman. A year later he released another album titled, ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’, and the legendary success of that album and title song is still alive today.
In fact, the vocal melody and/or riddim instrumental of the song has been heavily sampled by a long list of both reggae, dancehall, and hip-hop songs. For example, in the ‘Player’s Anthem’ (1985), by Junior MAFIA featuring the Notorious BIG aka ‘Biggie Smalls’; ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ (1996), by Tupac aka 2Pac; and ‘Love Me Now’ (2000), by Beenie Man, featuring Wyclef Jean—to name just a few. King Yellowman’s ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’ tune was voiced on the ‘Diseases’ riddim after Michigan and Smiley recorded their song, Diseases, with Henry Junjo Lawes in 1981.
In 1982, King Yellowman was diagnosed with skin cancer and, after a number of surgical procedures he found out that he went into remission. However, the cancer came back and, in 1986, it was revealed that the cancer had spread to Yellowman’s jaw. As a result of that, doctors had to perform invasive surgery on his jaw to remove a tumor that was malignant—which ended up disfiguring Yellowman’s face and jaw permanently.
Gladly, King Yellowman is still here with us, and he continues to perform all over the world with his band. His fans both within and outside of Jamaica are too many to count, and Yellowman’s following stretches far and wide including in countries such as the United States, Nigeria, Spain, Peru, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Britain, France, Kenya, and Canada. And in 2018, Mr. Winston Foster was awarded the Order of Distinction—Officer Class—by the Jamaican government.
The Maestro Marley Cup was founded by Ky-Mani Marley and Big Hair Dave from the Dubplates with the mission aim of raising money for the ‘Love Over All Foundation’, as well as aiding the needs of communities through fusing sporting endeavors together with music. And when the dust settled after this year’s 7 vs 7 Maestro Marley Cup episode, the Arts Park was filled with good vibes and comradery as well as the declaration of bragging rights until the next Maestro Marley Cup tournament is held. More than that, the music festival component to the Maestro Marley Cup was epic in that musicians and performers came from far and wide to join the Marley family in celebrating Bob’s life, music, legacy, and entrenched love for the game of football, which was really a lot of fun for all those who played in the tournament.
All photos (except where indicated as file photo) by Nick Ford, who lives and works in South Florida.