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Getting to Know Jo Mersa Marley

Ghetto Youths Crew Join Stephen, Damian Marley in S.B. on June 29


For longtime Santa Barbara Bowl patrons, Bob Marley holds an extra-special place in this town’s heart. The reggae icon’s 1979 show in S.B. was not only his last filmed performance before his death; it’s easily one of the most commonly traded memories in Bowl history. (If you’ve yet to see it, go snag a copy of Bob Marley: The Legend Live on DVD. Trust us.) Fittingly, the venue has taken to hosting many of Bob’s musical offspring over the years, and this season they’re returning in full force. On Saturday, June 29, Bob’s sons Damian “Jr. Gong” and Stephen “Ragga” Marley take to the Bowl’s stage alongside a handful of rising artists on their Ghetto Youths International, Inc. record label. Among them: Stephen’s son Jo Mersa Marley.

At just 22 years old, Jo is already staking a claim in the music industry and making a strong argument for the next generation of the Marley clan. On the phone from a tour stop in Oregon, he spoke about his influences, as well as growing up around so much music.

“There’s more than a handful of names that I would call magicians,” he said, “a lot of reggae legends, other than my grandfather, folks like Jimmy Cliff and Beres Hammond and Cocoa Tea. When I was younger I was also influenced by Michael Jackson and Biggie Smalls. That was magic to me.”

As a kid, Jo imitated his musical heroes and spent a good deal of time in his father’s famous Miami studio, the Lion’s Den. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before he was accompanying his dad and uncles onstage, much in the same way they performed with their father before his death.

Nowadays, Jo is creating his own music, though, a beat-driven mix of reggae, dancehall, and the hip-hop he grew up with. While he only has two singles under his belt — 2010’s “My Girl” and 2011’s “Bad So” — Jo’s debut EP is slated to drop later this year. As for sharing a stage with Damian and his dad, Jo confesses that it’s an honor that still intimidates him a bit: “I look up to them so much, so I’m looking over every second thinking, ‘I hope I don’t mess up.’”

Jo Mersa Marley joins the Ghetto Youths Crew, Damian Marley, and Stephen Marley at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, June 29, at 6 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com for tickets and info.

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