It’s spring break, but Cedella Marley is far from chillin’. Between shuttling her 14-year-old son to basketball practice and keeping her fingers on the pulse of her 20-year-old son’s fledgling music career, Marley can hardly find time for herself to think.
“But it’s fun,” said Bob Marley’s oldest daughter with his wife, Rita. “I can’t complain. It’s been a lot, but it’s been very gratifying.”
Marley has so many jobs and roles, the singer-dancer-fashion designer-mom-actress-entrepreneur brings to mind the hardworking fictional Jamaican family, the Hedleys, made famous on the ’90s sketch comedy series In Living Color.
But Marley’s work life is far from a joke. As the Marley brand has grown worldwide, she has grown with it, keeping her eyes and ears peeled and making sure that the Marley name is not compromised, abused or misused.
“I was just getting off [the phone] with our trademark lawyers,” said Marley, who is CEO of The Bob Marley Group of Companies. “There’s a company that calls themselves Three Little Birds and they’re using lyrics on their T-shirts. You will find people who will try to go around you using the marks, and it’s costly to fight everything that just pops because [as] you get one now, 10 other ones pop up — so you have to pick and choose your battles,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s a phone call. You don’t always need a lawyer — I can actually make those calls — it’s just that people don’t always believe it’s me on the phone, so then I have to get the lawyer to write a letter to tell them that it really was me (laughs).”
With so many careers and offshoots of the brand, it’s close to impossible to control or manage everything — and everyone. “[The brand] has grown from when I was 19 till now,” she said. “This year I’m going to be 50, so it’s been a long time since I’ve been doing this. I tell my kids, ‘You know I’m going to be 50 this year?’ And, they’re looking at me, like, what? And they say, ‘You’re supposed to be 50 — and look a different way and sound a different way.’ And I tell them, ‘I’m a Jamaican-black-woman 50; there’s a big difference.’ ”
Brother Ziggy Marley works closely with his big sister; he’s been witness to her growth. “Cedella is integral,” said Ziggy, who is a year younger. “She’s been doing this for a long time.”
‘They were being ignored, and … I don’t like that’
It was 2014, just another day in the life of Cedella Marley, when her son brought home a flyer he’d gotten from his soccer coach. She looked at it, and her interest was piqued. She called the coach, who happened to be Jamaican and whose daughter was an under-17 player. That was Marley’s first encounter with the Reggae Girlz, Jamaica’s women’s national soccer team, which at the time was in danger of folding.
“They were getting ready to disband the entire team just because of the lack of funding — although we know there is funding in the Jamaica Football Federation, but it’s just that the women were not being prioritized,” she said.
The Reggae Girlz had been disbanded before, in 2008, but the JFF had started a new effort to revive the program, gathering the most talented junior and senior girls to try to make a run at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
This would be no easy feat. If all the stars aligned, they’d be the first women’s team from the Caribbean to qualify for a World Cup. Marley felt a calling to help; she loved the game, of course, and holds fond memories of playing soccer with her ultracompetitive dad and siblings. She jumped right in to help raise funds, lending her personal brand to support the Strike Hard for the Reggae Girlz! campaign, which sought funds to cover the initial costs of training camps, nutrition, travel and housing for the 26-woman team.
Soccer, whether male or female, is an expensive sport; costs can hit upward of $30,000 for air and ground transportation, meals, housing and coaches just for a training camp.
“I felt very passionate about it,” Marley recalled. “They were being ignored, and … I don’t like that. They were very talented and not being given an equal opportunity. Never liked that, either, so I just jumped in and started raising some funds and awareness.”
While Marley knocked on doors, the women went to work, starting in April 2014, when they trained together for the first time in six years. Barely 60 days together, the Girlz eased through the Caribbean football qualifier rounds, obliterating the Dominican Republic 7-0 and St. Lucia 14-0 en route to the Caribbean Cup in August, where they placed second to Trinidad and Tobago.
In World Cup qualifying, the Girlz continued riding their wave, trouncing Martinique 6-0 on Oct. 16. Their next match, two days later, was a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, followed by a 3-1 letdown against Mexico on Oct. 21.
The Mexico loss was the crushing blow that halted their World Cup run, but if you’re Marley, it’s hardly the end of the world — her sights are set on 2019.
“We almost got there, as a matter of fact,” she said, sounding undaunted. “I’m just happy that we changed the narrative around women’s football — and women’s athletics, period — in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. I was very happy with that.”
Football was very much personal for Cedella
If her effort seems to be personal, that’s because it very much is. Even though she grew up in Jamaica with the cache of being a Marley, she remembers some very unpleasant times.
“The football thing really just brought me back to a place that’s not very cool,” she said. “Even growing up as a girl child in Jamaica, when I was fat, it was, ‘Hey, fatty bum-bum.’ When I was skinny, it was, ‘How you so mawga [Jamaican for skinny]?’ It’s like you can never really please people, so you have to kinda say, ‘F— everybody’ and just try to please yourself.’ ”
She continued: “There’s a stigma around women’s football, and it’s kind of silly, [but] I think corporate Jamaica would rather see girls in skirts, not in shorts and kicking a ball, and [would prefer to see] girls with a certain physique, and it’s a bit of body-shaming too,” she said. “It’s something that I thought we had outgrown, but apparently not.”
Even with Marley championing their cause, the players, she said, had their doubts — slow to believe that somebody would support them with such vigor. “You could see that they were already broken. I remember one girl saying to me, ‘You really believe in us?’ I told her, ‘I believe in you, and it’s a real thing — a personal thing. I want to see you succeed, and I want the program to succeed.’ ”
Marley’s efforts have not gone for naught — not even close. A handful of former players in the program have done well, playing abroad in places such as Israel, London, Iceland, Sweden and France. “And the head coach at Navarro College in Texas is one of our former captains,” she said, glancing at her notes.
She gets her work ethic from her parents — her “hero and she-ro,” as she calls them — and even though the Marley name is revered worldwide, Marley still feels a sense of responsibility to keep it sacred.
“You have to remember, my dad for a long time was looked upon as this downtown ghetto boy who smokes weed and has dreadlocks. That’s what I was told in high school, that that’s my father. That’s who he is,” she said. “A certain part of me — and it could be because I’m a Virgo-Leo — that still wants to show people that he was much more than. I don’t think I have to, but I still want to.
“The good thing about Daddy is his message is more relevant today than 30, 40 years ago, and that’s powerful. That’s what I still admire about my dad — and my mom, too.”
Though in the background as one of Bob Marley’s I Threes backup singers, Rita Marley has quietly shepherded Bob Marley’s legacy since his death in 1981, something Cedella Marley doesn’t want to go unnoticed: “I don’t want us to lose how important Mummy is in all of this,” she said. “After Daddy’s dream, she was the one who made it come to reality. So let’s not forget Rita; she’s The Undefeated one, know what I’m sayin’?”