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Monday, October 8, 2012
House of Marley goods

By Jon Coen

House of Marley
House of Marley sustainable goods (left to right) Get Up Stand Up sound system, Scout bag, and Positve Vibrations headphones

Bob Marley is arguably the most recognized musician around the globe. Now, we're talking the world -- not just the developed world. From tribal villages in Africa to Scandanavian cities, his songs uplifted generations and transcended reggae.

And sure, his message of chanting down Bablyon has been watered down more than cheap well drinks at happy hour, with his knock-off image plastered on dorm room walls and bootleg t-shirts. At keg parties and pop music festivals, it's easy to forget the spirit of Marley -- the true equality, emancipation, uprising, self-awareness, and politics of the common man.

We recently spoke to Bob Marley's son, Rohan, who is the face of House of Marley, the audio and accessory company that has launched to rapid success with true Marley branding. Despite his blood relation to that most righteous of musicians, Rohan Marley's story is pretty interesting in his own right. Born in Kingston and part of the sprawling Marley family, he came to the states as a boy and would go on to be a relentless linebacker for the University of Miami, leading the squad in tackles his senior year.

Following a stint in the Canadian Football League, he was led by a man he refers to as "an elder of the Rasta brethren," to a farm in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. This would later become Marley Coffee, an organic, fair-trade business run by the Marley ethos. The House of Marley, a project with his siblings Cedella, Ziggy, and Stephen, is a further extension of those principles.

This is more than just mass produced junk splashed with the red, green and gold. These are quality goods, designed to last, made to respect the earth, and better the lives of people in developing regions of the world. And of course, it looks dope.

ESPN Surfing: You come from such an amazing background. Did you spend much time at 56 Hope Road as a child?
Rohan Marley: I grew up in lot of different places. I lived with my mother when I was very young. I was what they call a street boy (laughs.) And on Friday's, I would go over to the Hope Road house. One time I went over and there was no one home. I waited and waited, but no one came home and it was nighttime, (another hearty laugh) so I had to sleep in the new fowl coup that Georgie (as in "Georgie would make the fire light...") had just built.

Rohan Marley
Rohan Marley is the face of House of Marley.

How did you wind up in Miami?
Well, when I was a boy, I would have to leave the house at 5 a.m. on the same bus with my grandmother when she was going to work, and take three busses to school. Sometimes I would let her get ahead of me, take a different route, and never make it to school. I ended up playing soccer all day. But then one day, my mother wondered why I never had any homework, so she came with me to school. When she got there, a teacher told her that the principal wanted to see her. So she went in and the principle said, "Miss Janet, we cannot accept Rohan back in school. We haven't seen him in three months."
So they bought my brother Steven into the office and asked if they could call his mother to see if my other grandmother would take me in, up in Miami. That was Mama Rita. (Cedella Booker Marley, Bob's mother.) She was very loving, but strict. And she said, "Yes. That's what his father would have wanted. Send him to me."

Now tell me about the transition from soccer to American football.
So Grandmother took me to Miami when I was in sixth grade and I saw this oblong ball and was like, "What's this?" (hearty laugh.) I saw the kids throw it like that and I said, "I have to learn how to throw this thing." So I started playing football with them for the Optimist (recreational) Team. Every ball I caught, I took to the house.
That was at the same year that the Miami Dolphins went to the Superbowl with Dan Marino, Mark Duper, and Mark Clayton. And then I went out for the team when I was at Sunnyland. They gave me number 83, which was Mark Clayton's number because I caught the ball like a pro (laughs again.) But I learned from watching Duper and Clayton. The coach used to say that I caught every ball because was used to catching coconut in Jamaica. So "Coconuts" was my first nickname in Miami.
Then when I went to Miami Palmetto High School, I tried out for quarterback of the JV team, but I couldn't keep my hands underneath the center. I always wanted to stay in the shotgun. So they moved me to strong safety and I would run right through the running back. It was just helmets crashing. And when the strong side linebacker got hurt, they said "Move Marley to linebacker." I still feel like I can run through walls.
When I was there, we were district champs and fourth in the state. I got the last scholarship to Miami. And people would say, "Oh, he's here because he's Bob Marley's son." So I knew I had to fight. They moved me to cornerback and eventually to linebacker. My son is going through the same thing at Cypress Bay High School right now in his senior year.

It seems like you're really throwing yourself behind the House of Marley brand.
Well, there's a great sustainable movement right now and we were already on that with Marley Coffee. We had an opportunity to do something in electronics. But we wanted to do something that would make us feel gratified, take our life in a different direction. Sustainable is something inherent to Rastafari -- organic, the ital food, and the natural earth. Other companies were talking to us about making headphones, but it was plastic mess. We just said, "This is not Marley."
We got into the audio electronics about two and a half years ago, and we wanted to do it right. House of Marley is all about sustainability. We're using organic materials, recycled plastics, organic hemp, and FSC-certified wood. It's about more than just ourselves. Part of the proceeds go to to make a difference around the world with our actions. We have to do this in the spirit of my father. We can't just put his name on a product without a conscience.

And it seems like you've had pretty good acceptance in the surf industry.
Yes. Surfers get it. They're out in the water, connected to the elements. We've reached out to people who appreciate nature, so there has been a great acceptance by the action sports community.

Rohan Marley
Marley, doing his father's work in Etheopia.

Are you surfing these days?
Well, I had the opportunity to get in the water in Brazil recently. I just bought a new longboard. Years ago, I went to Jamaica to interview Billy Mystic of the Mystic Revealers (who now runs a surf camp.) I learned how to paddle from Isabeli, my lady I was with. The first time I picked up a board and got out there, but I didn't know the mechanics of catching a wave. (Laughs) Can you imagine how I looked with these 12-year-old kids surfing around me?
But if you look at my father and see how he lived, how he was giving to the real people in need to make sure that people didn't go hungry and had a proper education. Surfers understand that we're creating jobs and opportunity. It really inspired me to do it more. You don't need much to go surfing. We're helping people in these countries put food on the table. That's what it's about, not how much wealth you have. You can only sleep in one bed!