A chip off the old Bob

Ziggy Marley, reggae’s prodigal son, will be headlining the Return to Zion music festival in J'lem next month.

Ziggy Marley 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ziggy Marley 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica as his father and his band The Wailers were establishing themselves as The Beatles of reggae music, Ziggy Marley was already sitting in on recording sessions and concerts by the time he was 10. But, as he recalled in a phone call from California last week, he never felt pressured about going into the family business.
“To my parents [Marley’s mother Rita was also a member of the Wailers], education was the most important thing. Music was a huge part of my childhood because it was always around, but the pressure on me was to get a good education,” he said in a thick Jamaican accent, untarnished by years of living in Florida and California.
The elder Marley, who died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, propelled the rhythmic island music into the rock mainstream – and since then nobody has come close to filling his shoes in combining the rootsy authenticity of the music with the commercial chops and Lennonesque magnetism that he brought to the game.
The younger Marley has gallantly tried to keep the reggae mast flying, first with siblings Cedella, Stephen and Sharon in Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers throughout the 1980s and 1990s and more recently in his varied solo career.
On the eve of his departure to France for the beginning of a European tour in support of his new album Wild and Free, the 42-year-old Marley stated that his father didn’t leave him with any concrete career or life advice before his death.
“He never sat me down and told me something deep, but his whole life was an example to me,” said Marley, who was touted as the heir apparent to the reggae music throne.
The Melody Makers were always more than reggae though, combining elements of pop, blues, R&B and hip-hop on albums like 1988’s Conscious Party, produced by Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, and subsequent releases including the Grammy-winning One Bright Day (1989), Jamekya (1991), Joy and Blues (1993), and Spirit of Music (1999).
After two decades as the driving creative force behind The Melody Makers, Ziggy’s stepped out on his own, first on a solo tour in 2002, then with solo albums Dragonfly, and 2006’s Love Is My Religion, another Grammy winner. Wild and Free, produced by rock pro Don Was and featuring collaborations with songwriter Linda Perry, rapper Heavy D and even hemp-loving actor Woody Harrelson, who contributes novelty vocals to the pro-weed title song, which was written in support of California’s Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana. The album’s been called his most authentic reggae record and its anthemic qualities hearken back to the heyday of his father.
“I was trying to make music I could play live, without any changes,” he said.
“And I think this record translates live very well.”
In a press release, the album’s producer Was offered his own take on the songs.
“The thing that makes this new album special is that Ziggy has embraced the more traditional and familiar textures and rhythms of reggae, while further defining the unique artistic vision that sets him apart. His quest to find his own voice within the framework of tradition is the real story of the album,” he said.
SINGING ABOUT the virtues of cannabis is certainly part of that tradition which Marley has not only kept alive, but has adopted as his pet campaign. Like his father and many reggae artists, Marley (who is named after the slang term for a marijuana cigarette) is a practicing Rastafarian which believes in using marijuana – known as ganja’ – as a sacrament that pulls a person closer to God. He’s even written a recently published comic book about an action hero Marijuana Man, which he describes as a “metaphor for the cannabis plant.”
“The message is that this plant like many other natural elements on planet Earth was put there for a use – God made this plant for a reason,” said Marley.
“It’s there to serve man, the planet, the people, and we see the hypocrisy of not taking advantage of its natural qualities beyond smoking it and beyond recreation.
It has medicinal uses, industrial uses, it can be used for bio fuel, fabric for clothing and material for building houses.”
“But this plant has been oppressed and criminalized.
You know, alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical drugs, all these things are fine, but this plant that is natural, there’s something wrong with according to man’s laws. We need to fight for the right to use it,” he said, adding that due to his last visit to Israel in 2006, he was aware of the country’s medical marijuana program which has been operating under Health Ministry supervision for years.
Lest one thinks that Marley is solely concerned with introducing marijuana to our children, rest assured that he also won a Grammy in 2009 for Best Musical Album for Children for Family Time, a reggae-inflected collection of songs featuring his mother and guests like Paul Simon and Willie Nelson that never once mentions reefer. And the younger generation might never have heard of Bob Marley or reggae but they know Ziggy Marley for his role in the 2004 film Shark Tale. In the film when Oscar (Will Smith) tries to sing the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds”, Marley’s character Ernie zaps Oscar on the head and says “That’s not the way you sing that song, mon.”
The father of six, Marley said he enjoys writing and performing for children, but with an ulterior and altruistic motive.
“If we’re going to change the world and to get rid of strife, we have to start with every kid and give them the right philosophy and right ideas,” he said.
“It’s important for us to address children directly and not talk down to them – they’re open-minded spirits, they haven’t been indoctrinated one way or another yet.”
Indoctrination is not on Marley’s agenda when the issue of boycotting Israel comes up either – something that has reared its head before his show here in 2006 and again this month.
Marley will be the main attraction for the Road to Zion festival at Sacher Park in Jerusalem on July 21, the same night that Paul Simon performs in Ramat Gan and George Benson plays in Caesarea. Also on the reggae show’s bill will be The Easy Star All Stars, the New York-based band that has reggaefied classic rock albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Radiohead’s OK Computer.
Marley dismissed the calls for him to boycott his performance in Israel outright.
“I come to sing for the people, not for the government,” he said. “God made the sunshine for everyone and made the moon for everyone.We have to follow his example so we have to play music for everyone too We have a message, and in order for our message to reach the people, we have to play.”