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Kaya Fest: Stephen Marley on Marijuana, Music and More

Sara Brittany Somerset



Stephen Marley, the driving force behind the upcoming first annual Kaya Fest, was inspired to create an annual event as a platform to “educate people about the [cannabis] plant, and to advocate the plant.” Instead of one event, a series of events has taken shape, starting on Stephen’s birthday, 4/20 – which he insists was no accident – and ending on the 22nd, in Miami, Florida.

First, there will be a press conference on April 20th at the Hard Rock Café. Four pieces of Bob Marley’s music, pressed on new vinyl, will be presented for display in the Hard Rock Café’s permanent memorabilia collection.   

On April 21st there will be a free symposium on the medical and industrial uses of the cannabis plant, at History Miami Museum. The symposium will feature two panels of guest speakers, moderated by Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast.

“Being chosen to be the moderator is a joyful and humbling experience, because this really is a family-run festival”, Donisha tells HIGH TIMES. “To be able to moderate and deliver truthful and meaningful insight from the Marley family, about a plant that people have continued to associate as purely for recreation, is critical. People often see us as ‘stoners’, or random ‘revolutionaries’ on a soapbox, not realizing that there is a whole culture and impetus behind the movement and why it moves.

“I think it was also important for me to moderate the panels, for the first year of the festival, because I am a woman. To have a female moderator on a topic that is being handled a lot recently by a white, male, corporate perspective is important.

“The woman’s voice has not really been heard in this whole cannabis conversation, globally.”

Donisha Prendergast

Donisha Prendergast (Photo: Ashlee Hutchinson)

Women have played an integral role in protecting the plant, preserving its heritage and continuing to explore in indigenous ways, how it heals. “But she isn’t given any kind of acknowledgment for that,” Donisha elucidates.  “One thing I hope to do, as moderator, is to give a little bit of emphasis to the feminine elements of the plant. Ganja, cannabis, pot, marijuana has many names, but when she is referred to as Kaya, we are reminded of the feminine elements of the plant.

“As we platform this plant to heal the world, let us also remember that women have been a part of this healing in a very overshadowed, but undeniable way. Let’s honor mothers and grandmothers who have been giving their children cannabis, as medicine, for years.”

A Sympathetic Symposium and a Cannabis Concert

The first panel of the symposium on April 21st is about the cannabis plant. It will feature Dr. Nadine Gourkow of Veterinary Herbal Medicine, a vet, researcher, educator and animal rights activist, who uses the cannabis plant to treat animals. Will Kleidon, founder of health and wellness company Ojai Energetics, will also participate, as well as cannabinoid researcher Dr. Jeffrey S. Block of the University of Miami.

Jacel Delgadillo, founder of Cannamoms, will “testify to the effects medical marijuana has had on reducing the frequency of her son’s seizures,” according to Kaya Fest’s event coordinator Stella McLaughlan.

Derek Kesek, CEO and founder of Hempearth Group, whose “mission is to create global awareness for the hemp plant,” will discuss, among other things, his project to create an airplane, made mostly out of hemp. In the meantime, he sells his own custom-made hemp guitar picks.

Panel two will discuss the legalities of cannabis. Speakers include Scheril Murray Powell – General Counsel for Minorities for Medical MarijuanaMichael Minardi – National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) legal committee, and Karen Serb Goldstein – a representative of NORML of Florida. Additional speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

Finally, on April 22nd, there will be a highly-anticipated, super-star-studded concert, featuring performances by the likes of Sean Paul, Wyclef Jean, and special guest Miss Lauryn Hill. (That could either be awkward, or provoke a competition of amazing sets, from the two former Fugees.)

Naturally, there will also be plenty of Marleys. In fact, all hands will be on deck. For the first time in 20 years, all the musical Marley brothers—Ziggy, Julian “Juju”, Stephen “Ragamuffin”, Damien “Junior Gong”, and Ky-Mani— will perform together, along with the younger generation of Marleys, Skip and Jo Mersa.

Q&A with Stephen Marley

“We use music to bring ones and ones together,” Stephen Marley tells me, on the phone from Tuff Gong studio in Jamaica.

“Some of the artists gather a good vibe and are aligned with the cause, same way,” Marley says of Kaya Fest. “Music, the festival part of it, brings people together; the gathering, the symposium speaks on the different benefits of the plant, not strictly medical, but industrial as well.”

Why did Kaya Fest decide to partner with Live Nation?

“Live Nation operates Bayfront Park, so we got in bed wid dem fi use d park. But next year we will bring Kaya Fest to L.A. (California), and move it around the country, in a different destination annually. So many places need a festival like this, with a symposium.”

The State of Florida recently legalized medicinal marijuana. Did you have a vested interest in legalization in Florida because you reside there part-time?

“I have a vested interest in legalization all over the world! Not just about Florida, or nuttin’ like that, it’s really about the plant. It’s a miracle plant. The medical benefits of this plant are amazing to me. It’s not about one state. It’s about the world.”

So you are not advocating smoking, per se, but all forms of distillation, such as CBD oil?

“That is exactly what we are trying to put across. Even the growing process, what you put into plant, whether it be fertilizer or whatever, you have to respect this, partly because it has so many benefits to mankind. The plant is so versatile. At one time it was used to make cars, gasoline, and all types of things. Once upon a time in America, if you had a certain amount of land, it was mandatory [by the US government] to grow hemp. We are really trying to emphasize on educating people about the plant. We say ‘education before recreation’, to respect the plant.”

Credit: Sara Brittany Somerset

Credit: Sara Brittany Somerset

Do you have any personal experiences with, or recollections of medicinal marijuana use?

“Herb is a big part of life. My grand auntie used to cure d herb with some rum, pimento and other bushes, and when she had arthritis, she would take it as rubbing. So we always noticed the medicinal benefits of the plant. Here in Jamaica, we always knew it as a healing plant in our culture.”

So, smoking cannabis is a given, and Kaya Fest is clearly about the myriad other uses for the cannabis plant?

“Exactly. Smoking herb is a natural part of our culture. We nuh have to emphasize that part. It’s a sacrament that gives a good vibe.”

Well, your father used to say, “When you smoke herb, it reveals you to yourself.”

“That is our outlook. It gives you a good state of mind and balances your thoughts. Of course we are going to burn herb, but we want to enlighten people with a lot more than just the smoking of the plant. If mankind utilizes this plant, it will help mankind. That’s what me a say.”

Sacred Healing

Donisha confirms Stephen’s memories of his grand auntie’s marijuana ministrations. “I remember I had really bad monthly cramps, when I was growing up. It was hard for me to go to school because of the pain. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t walk. Here came grandma, with a bottle of white rum, containing all these herbs and spices, a scorpion’s tail and some ganga. It had been sitting in that bottle, aging for years probably, but that’s nothing strange in Jamaican culture. Any time you have an ailment you go for the bottle of rum ‘round the corner and you sap it. My grandmother poured a little bit out and she sapped it. She rubbed my back with it, and made me smell it, inhale it. She rubbed my forehead with it, to cool me down. It helped a lot. Long before I was smoking ganja, it was medicine for my cramps.”

With such a world-renowned group of talented artists and trail-blazing, pot professionals coming together to extol the virtues of medicinal and industrial uses for cannabis, Stephen Marley’s vision to enlighten people will soon become a reality with Kaya Fest, this 4/20.

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