Ziggy and Stephen Perform on Their Father’s Hallowed Ground
By Matt Kettmann
On Friday, August 11, the Roots, Rock, Reggae tour brings Ziggy and Stephen Marley, as well as Bunny Wailer and Ozomatli, to the Santa Barbara Bowl for a night to celebrate the musical legacy of Bob Marley. (Incidentally, another Marley man named Damian comes to the Bowl next Tuesday and Wednesday, August 15 and 16, as the opener for Ben Harper.) In anticipation, both Ziggy and Stephen spent some phone time with The Indy. What follows is a short piece on Ziggy and a Q&A with Stephen.
Though born David Nesta Marley, the world knows him simply as Ziggy, the nickname he was reportedly given by his legendary father Bob as a nod to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, a peace-and-love rockstar who comes to Earth and gets ripped apart by his fans. The firstborn of Marley’s children, Ziggy, 37, began playing music with his father when he was 10 years old. In 1979, he joined brother Stephen and sisters Cedella and Sharon as background singers for the Marley song “Children Playing in the Streets.” The siblings became known as the Melody Makers, played at their father’s funeral in 1981, and then cut albums that eventually won them Grammys due to such hits as “Tomorrow People” and “One Bright Day.” A few years ago, Ziggy went solo and dropped an album with RCA. But after that, “we parted ways and I didn’t even think about looking for another record deal.” He was disillusioned with the big companies, explaining, “It’s not about art anymore, it’s business … a lot of artists are being stifled by the record companies who put them on the shelf and that’s it.”
Instead, he wanted to be independent. “I wanted to own my own masters,” said Ziggy. “That was the dream of my father and it has come to be my dream also … I want to be as free as I can get with my music.” So he made his latest album Love Is My Religion — producing, playing most of the instruments, writing and singing it all — and took the road rarely traveled: He signed a deal with Target — “yeah, ‘Tarjay,’ ” Ziggy joked — that made the budget mega-retailer the sole seller of Love Is My Religion (other than the Internet, of course).
Why? Target gave Ziggy the “most freedom and most rights.” Plus with CDs fetching $15 and up these days, Ziggy explained, “I’m happy that Target could sell the CD at an affordable price (of about $10). They have a good business ethic.” Though proud to see his father’s legacy cross the world, Ziggy — who has worked with the United Nations and helped found the Ghetto Youths Crew label for young musicians — doesn’t necessarily see reggae as inherently revolutionary. He explained, “I just make music because my inspiration is to make music. I’m not thinking about politics and the state of reggae and my responsibility in reggae.” Yet at the same time, Ziggy knows the force that music has, especially for the oppressed, whom he supports with humanitarian causes in Jamaica, Ethiopia, and other downtrodden countries. “Music is something that uplifts the spirit,” he said. “Even the slaves used to sing, even during the worst of times. Music has always been that type of instrument that uplifts us out of physical oppression.” But he also knows that music is about having fun too. When asked if he was excited for his show at the Bowl on Friday, Ziggy replied, “Ya mon, it be the summer of love again.”
Stephen Marley, in Conversation
Stephen Marley was born on April 20, 1972. He began playing music with his father when he was 6 years old, which may explain why his voice is a dead ringer for Bob’s. Since then, he’s lived the life of a Melody Maker, enjoyed increasing success as a producer (namely on the hip-hop meets Bob Marley album Chant Down Babylon and last year’s Welcome to Jamrock, by brother Damian), and gone solo, with an album called Mind Control due out soon. He offered some thoughts from his recording studio in Miami.
Do you see reggae music as having a mission to be political and revolutionary? I guess life itself has many pieces and reggae music depicts life as a whole. And within that, there are political aspects, and spiritual aspects, and social aspects. It’s not binded by one particular thing. It’s just political music? No.
Some of the albums you’ve produced have an urban edge. Is reggae going in that direction? Not necessarily do I see it going in there. The youths of today who are influenced by hip-hop, back in the old days it would have been Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. I see the influences of today in reggae, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s heading in that direction. … I like that music also. Being around music all my life, I wasn’t subjected to one type of music. It was a variety of music, so, ya know, that’s the influence of our lives.
So has reggae broken into the urban American scene? Yes, very much so. It was not easy, but it’s consistently good music coming from Jamaica, and it just break through and people like it.
You sound so much like your father. Do you feel him speaking through you at all? Yes man, definitely. Let me put it to you this way: I have my children and I see me speaking through them. I don’t say [do it] this way or that way. It’s what’s in the blood. It’s not a conscious thing that I could say. There’s some spirit inside.
What can we expect at the Bowl? On this tour, well, this is Roots Rock Reggae tour; to me, it’s a celebration of my father and the music, you know what I mean? So you’re get a lot of Bob and some of me.
How’s it playing with Bunny, one of your dad’s original band mates? It’s great. It’s the essence of those days. You get the essence of the 1970s and that time, that time comes back again.
How does it feel to have your dad being embraced by people all over the world? I have a lot of pride and gratitude and gratefulness to be able to be mentioned with such a man.
Will you and your siblings leave as great a legacy? That is the beauty of this family: We understand that together was can conquer, but if we divide, then you’re just gonna get pieces.
4•1•1 The Roots, Rock, Reggae tour comes to the Bowl on Friday, August 11. And next Tuesday and Wednesday, Damian Marley comes to the Bowl as an opener for Ben Harper. Visit sbbowl.com.