NEW YORK — RITA MARLEY, who has been called the "matriarch of the first family of reggae," is emerging from her role as supporter (to her late husband Bob Marley and her children, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers) and moving back into the spotlight. Mrs. Marley has just come out with her first album in seven years, "We Must Carry On," (Shanachie Records) a self-produced collection of songs that embrace political and social messages, as well as love and human relationships.
The songs include several written by Mrs. Marley, as well as four Bob Marley compositions, two of which have never been released before.
But Rita Marley hasn't really been away from the music scene all these years - far from it.
"I have been in it, you know, working along with my kids," she said in a phone interview on the eve of a world tour in support of her new album.
"I try to keep that fire burning inside of me. I'm always a part of the music, and even though I'm not always doing Rita Marley, I'm always working with the kids, I'm in the studio with them, I sing on their records, I work with the I-Threes [Bob Marley's original backup vocal group], and I do a little now and then in Jamaica."
But she admitted that it's a "great feeling" to be doing her own thing - a new album and a tour - again.
"We give so much to others that sometimes we tend to forget our own feelings."
Born in Cuba, Rita Marley (then Rita Anderson) was raised from early childhood in Trenchtown, a ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica. She started her singing career in the early '60s in an all-female vocal group called the "Soulettes."
Through her involvement with music she met Bob Marley, and the two were married in 1966. At the time, Rita Marley never suspected that her husband would become a legend, leading a musical movement whose influence would ultimately seep into the pop music of cultures around the world. Bob Marley's songs of freedom - spelling out the plight of the Jamaican underclass and imbued with the faith of Rastafarianism and the rhythm of reggae - were unique in the global music market. For seven years and as many al b
ums, Rita Marley was right there, supporting Bob, touring with him and his group The Wailers, singing on her own or with the I-Threes, and raising her family.
"Bob was so real. It wasn't m singing this today,' and tonight I'm going to be funking. She laughed. I asked her to explain "funking" to readers. "You know," she said, "Going into another bag [another style]."
Rita Marley believes strongly in the power of music. "Its main purpose is to bring about changes in the system, in the society." She went on to talk about the impact of Bob Marley's music specifically. "It has made a change in my life. I have heard people giving different testimonies about what the music has done for them, for their children, for their life, for their marriages. It's a strength to people."
Referring to one of her own songs, entitled "There Will Always Be Music," she said, "As the song says: 'All things shall perish from under the sky but music alone shall live.' Whatever time we're passing through, there will always be music."
When Bob Marley died in 1981, Rita Marley determined to carry on the Marley legacy. But the multimillion-dollar Marley estate was left in a tangled mess. According to Rastafarian custom there was no will, and Rita Marley was left to sort out the endless squabbles among relatives and the questionable tactics of her lawyers. She hopes that it will all be settled before the year is out, but, she said, "The lawyers would like for it to go on for another 20 years."
To get through this difficulty, as well as other problems in her life, Rita Marley turns to her religion for inspiration.
"It's the good overcoming the evil. I believe in that. It may take awhile, but in the long run the victory will be for good."
What is the essence of Rastafarianism, to Rita Marley?
"It's having faith in God, and being strong about what you believe in, what you stand for, what you're not going to be giving in to. God gives you strength, because the one thing He loves is when you let go and let God ... giving Him that privilege of doing what's His."
* Rita Marley's world tour began here on May 18. It will take her around the US, to Europe, and Africa.