Reggae Singer Naomi Cowan On Why She Was Destined To Join The ‘One Love’ Cast

Featured image: Courtesy of Paramount
The Jamaica-born artist discusses growing up around Bob Marley and her role as “Auntie” Marcia Griffiths in the Bob Marley: One Love biopic.

Many movies have been made about the life and music of legendary reggae artist and songwriter Bob Marley. But the latest, Bob Marley: One Love, which releases in the United States on February 14, just feels different. For one, the film is produced by Marley’s wife, Rita Marley and two of his children, Ziggy and Cedella Marley.  

Then there’s the portrayal choices, which were made with great intention. Naomi Cowan, who plays Marcia Griffiths in the film, says joining the cast was a no-brainer. Cowan comes from a musical family whose ties with the Marley legacy go way back. Her father, Tommy Cowan, worked closely with Marley—he was a former road manager and helped set up Marley’s label, Tuff Gong. Her mother, Carlene Davis, is a successful gospel singer. 

Following in the footsteps of her parents, Cowan lives and breathes the music created by her beloved Jamaica, and is now counted among the ranks of reggae’s biggest and brightest stars. She most recently performed at the 8th Annual Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise created by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, along with Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Nadine Sutherland, Wayne Wonder and Capleton along with Marley’s children Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and Ky-Mani Marley. It was a five-night celebration of Jamaican culture, dancehall and reggae music.

Marcia Griffiths and Naomi Cowan. Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Cowan
Tommy Cowan and Bob Marley. Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Cowan

Portraying Marcia Griffiths—an original member of the backing group for Bob Marley & The Wailers—is a true full-circle moment for Cowan. 

Sweet July caught up with Cowan onboard the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise to discuss her role in One Love, the legacy of Bob Marley, and how Marley’s music and mission have inspired her both personally and professionally. 

When you think about Bob Marley as a pioneer of reggae music, which is now celebrated all over the world, how does that make you feel as a reggae artist?

Naomi Cowan: You ever notice when you hear reggae playing, your body starts to move and it takes you into a bit of a trance, and you feel energetical oneness with yourself? That’s the reason why I chose to pursue my path through reggae. The core of what that music represents is unity, and I’ve always wanted to reach as many people as possible. Everybody connects to it, and I wanted my career also to encourage people to be free and to be themselves. I feel privileged, honestly, to be born on the soil of Jamaica, to be of the culture, [and] to be of that nationality. It feels divine in a way. 

How did you come to play Marcia Griffiths in the One Love movie?

NC: I’ve done commercials before, [but] I never ventured into [acting] because I always viewed it as a whole different craft. And then when I heard about this film…I was like, I have to play Marcia Griffiths. Throughout my career, I actually have been channeling her a lot. I’ll cover her songs, or I will just study her music and watch her old performances, just because of the impact she’s had on the industry. And for one of my biggest songs, “Paradise Plum” in 2018, the album artwork is a tribute to her. So when I heard about [the role] I was like, well, I have to go for it, because it felt like I’ve been doing that work. And every time I see her it’s just so much love. She has [three] sons, but she doesn’t have any daughters, so every time she sees me she’s like, “You’re my daughter I never had.” It’s a motherly connection. What I love about her is that separate from her involvement in Bob’s life, she has had this incredible career, and she really paved her own path. That’s what I want to become synonymous with; that’s also the inspiration I pull from her.

Naomi Cowan with Kingsley Ben-Adir. who plays Bob Marley in "One Love." Photo: Courtesy of Paramount
What does Bob Marley’s legacy mean to you personally?

NC: Bob’s legacy is a part of my legacy too, because my dad worked with him. He was marketing manager of Tuff Gong Studios, and then he managed the last tour [Bob] did before he died, which was the Uprising Tour in Europe. So my access to the story of Bob Marley is so different because of my dad, who also produced the One Love Peace Concert, which is in the film and a big part of it. They were friends—Bob Marley was just a part of everything. [My dad] would say Bob always woke up before the band when they were on tour. He would go for a walk or a run or whatever, or take his guitar and go write in the morning. And he would share things about his character—that all of the band members, all of the crew were well paid and that everyone was able to invest in a home or take care of their kids. That’s the kind of heart I want. I’m not just doing this for me. We’re doing this for Jamaica, we’re doing this for our culture. We’re doing this for the community of creatives that are working and building together. That’s what he inspires in me.

Naomi Cowan performing on stage. Photo: Tizzy Tokyo
Bob Marley fully embraced his musical mission and, in doing so, changed the world. What’s your musical mission?

NC: I just released a double single, one is “Starlight” and one is “Champion Bubblah.” “Starlight” is very confident, very self-assured, but it’s sweet. “Champion Bubblah” is a more hardcore dance song. The reason why I did both is to show people both sides of who I am, as well as remind women that we have duality to play with, and we shouldn’t be afraid. I think sometimes when you go through different things in life, you sometimes forget parts of you that are really important to who you are. But all of those things can exist at the same time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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