House of Marley Canadian Launch in Toronto

“Come feel the positive vibrations,” promised the invitation to the recent Canadian launch event for House of Marley. We always vibrate positively at the thought of free drinks, and the choice of locale, Ultra, one of Toronto’s elite supper clubs, was another lure. Besides, as a lifelong fan of the music of reggae pioneer Bob Marley, yours truly was curious (if wary) to check out a tech/style enterprise endorsed by his offspring.

The result was one of the most lavish Toronto music industry press events we’ve come across in some time. The packed room did well by Ultra’s non-stop rum-based cocktails and Caribbean-themed food, though we missed the shrimp crackers that were a signature of this space’s earlier incarnation: the much-missed BamBoo.

To business. The House of Marley mission statement promises that the product line was “created from the belief in Bob Marley’s vision of One Love,”and offers “eco-conscious, innovative products that adhere to the Marley family core values: equality, unity, authenticity, sustainability and charity.” Which manifests itself physically as…headphones.

For starters, anyhow. The first HoM product to be launched in Canada is its headphone line, in three hard-to-take-seriously categories: Jammin’, Freedom, and Destiny collections. The good news is that we can report excellent audio quality from our “Redemption Song” in-ear headphones (part of the Freedom line). Designed for the iPod, iPhone and iPad, they also sounded great with my stereo system. The name aside, a chic look, with polished FSC-certified wood and colorful cotton braided cord. Testing them brought back memories of one of my most vivid headphones listening experiences, that of exploring a just-released copy of Bob Marley’s masterpiece album, Natty Dread, a record that really did change the course of music.

On hand in Toronto to confirm the Marley family’s close participation in the enterprise were three generations of Marleys. Bob’s widow (and a reggae star in her own right) Rita was present, along with her daughter Sharon Marley, Rohan Marley (one of Bob’s sons), and grandchildren Donisha Prendergast and Daniel and Joseph Marley. The spotlight-shy Rita addressed the gathering only briefly, noting that “being back in Toronto brings back great memories of concerts here,” while Prendergast seized the opportunity to plug her upcoming documentary film, Rasta: A Soul’s Journey. Rohan Marley was especially effusive, reminiscing about his days as a CFL player (a short-lived stint with the Ottawa Rough Riders) and name-dropping his beverage line: Marley’s Mellow Mood energy drink and Stir It Up Jamaican coffee.

Every speaker stressed the charitable component of HoM. Fair enough: Some of the profits generated will go the family’s 1Love organization, and the company has partnered with the worthy Canadian music education charity MusiCounts. It was announced in Toronto that one dollar from every pair of headphones sold before Christmas will go to MusiCounts.

The fact that charities will benefit, combined with the genuine quality of the headphones, helped ease some of the slightly queasy feelings induced at watching the legacy of a true musical pioneer and spiritual man become a commercial brand. We can’t know what Bob would think, of course. As Rohan pointed out, his father’s image has long been exploited on unauthorized products; can we blame the clan for becoming pro-active?

The Toronto event also made me ponder the musical accomplishments (or lack of them) of his offspring. Rohan is not a musician, though he achieved some notoriety by fathering five of Lauryn Hill’s children. I’d be surprised if you can name more than one Ziggy Marley song, and Damian Marley is now wasting time in the dodgy supergroup SuperHeavy, alongside a long over-the-hill Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart. Daniel and Joseph Marley’s short set at Ultra was, politely, the right length.

Time to put such snark aside, and embrace the right vibe and spirit. I’m off to listen to “Lively Up Yourself” — in principle a good fit for Redemption Song headphones.

Image courtesy of NKPR Inc.

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