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From Bob Marley to Rihanna: when R&B meets reggae

Amanda Parris

In this week’s episode of Marvin’s Room, we’re exploring the moments when soul sounds meet with reggae rhythms.

Listen to Marvin's Room, July 7th 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


Across Canada there are a number of enclaves filled with newcomers who create identifiable communities, giving everyone who visits a taste of the place they came from. There is a neighbourhood in Toronto, often called Little Jamaica, that fits this description. It’s a community that, for decades, has housed numerous immigrants from the Caribbean, but in the past few years it has been going through a lot of change. New subway stations are being erected, and construction has disrupted business as usual. Unfortunately many of the grocery stores, barber shops and restaurants that used to line Eglinton Avenue West are closing down. Fingers are crossed that one thing will stay constant in the midst of all this change: the consistent sound of reggae music.

No matter the season, at almost any time of day, you are almost always guaranteed to hear the sound of reggae spilling out of storefronts, apartment windows and cars parked along the roadside. From roots to lovers rock, dancehall to dub — you name it, you hear it.

So in this episode we are celebrating the sounds of Little Jamaica through a Marvin’s Room filter. Wherever you are in Canada and around the world, I am welcoming you to my neighbourhood. We’re going on a journey through some of the moments when the soul sounds of R&B flirted with the island rhythms of reggae.

Stevie Wonder, 'Master Blaster (Jammin’)'

The year was 1975. The place was a benefit concert in Jamaica. And the two people meeting were Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley. The two reportedly became fast friends and shared their visions for creating music that would do more than entertain, bringing people of the world together. Wonder and Marley made a plan: they would hold a huge concert together to unite the audience through this message of peace. Unfortunately, Marley and Wonder never got a chance to test their theory. The year the concert was supposed to happen, Marley fell sick. Wonder, hearing of Marley's condition, wrote a song as an ode to him. A few months after its release, Marley passed away.

Rihanna, 'Man Down'

When Rihanna released the video for her song “Man Down” the controversy was immediate. Most of the debate centred on a single scene where Rihanna kills a man who has sexually assaulted her. As soon as it premiered, parent advocacy groups petitioned to have the video removed from television. In her defence, Rihanna argued that she was trying to create a PSA on the silence with which many rape survivors live.She referenced her own experience as a survivor of abuse, and said the video wasn’t something to be taken literally but a warning to girls and women to be careful.

Bob Marley and the Wailers feat. Lauryn Hill, 'Turn Your Lights Down Low'

When musicians die, their music continues to live on, and sometimes the music keeps coming long after their funeral. Duets with people who have passed away have become a strange ritual, often performed by artists who felt a deep connection with the deceased musician. Natalie Cole did it with her father, Nat King Cole; Nona Gaye with her father, Marvin Gaye. Justin Timberlake did it with Michael Jackson. Barry Manilow released an entire album of duets with late musicians. And in the late '90s, Lauryn Hill recorded a duet with one of the most legendary musicians of all time: the late, great Bob Marley. The result was a reimagining of a reggae song, now given a dose of soul.

Corinne Bailey Rae, 'Is This Love'

We weren't able to include this song in this week's episode, but we at least wanted to add it here. Corinne Bailey Rae acquired many new fans when people heard her take on the classic Bob Marley song “Is This Love.” Her version resists being a simple cover, and instead is a jazz-influenced makeover that will have you listening to the song in a whole new way.

The Marvin’s Room playlist for July 7, 2017

  1. Stevie Wonder, “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”
  2. Rihanna, "Man Down"
  3. Bryson Tiller, "Run Me Dry"
  4. Bob and Wisdom, "I Believe in Music"
  5. Shi Wisdom, "Long Walk Dub"
  6. Faith Evans, "You Used to Love Me"
  7. Bobby Caldwell, "What You Won’t Do For Love"
  8. Jacksoul, "Love TKO"
  9. Bob Marley & The Wailers feat. Lauryn Hill, "Turn Your Lights Down Low"
  10. Melanie Durrant feat. Exco Levi, "Addicted"
  11. Zaki Ibrahim feat. Hallie Switzer, "Oh Love"