This year, music and cultural icon Bob Marley would have turned 70 years old. To celebrate his father’s legacy, fellow reggae artist Damian Marley has embarked on his Catch a Fire tour, named in honor of his late father’s most successful album with The Wailers.
The tour kicked off last month in Philadelphia and features a stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl on September 25. Joining him on the tour will be Barrington Levy, Morgan Heritage, Tarrus Riley, Black Am I, and Jo Mersa, as well as Damian’s older brother Stephen Marley.
Thanks to a career that has spanned three decades, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley has achieved eminence in his own right while staying true to his family roots. Although his older brothers Ziggy, Stephen, and Julian have preferred to produce traditional reggae music, Marley has expanded the genre by collaborating with hip-hop, Indian, EDM, and rock artists. “It’s really about being myself and making the music that I like,” said Marley about carving out his own niche in the music world.
As his father’s youngest son and the last of his brothers to enter the music industry, Damian Marley has never been fazed at the prospect of growing up in such an iconic family. “Being in a family where you’re exposed to music at a young age and exposed to being in studios, they encourage it more than [anything else],” he said.
His earliest experiences involve working with drum machines, and Marley has said that as an artist he feels more of an attachment to working on rhythms and beats than to playing instruments like guitar or singing. Jr. Gong started his career as a teenager performing with The Shepherds, a group that opened the 1992 Reggae Sunsplash festival in northern Jamaica. In 1996, Marley released his debut album, Mr. Marley, with the backing of his father’s label Tuff Gong. Marley received his first critical acclaim when he won the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for his sophomore effort, Halfway Tree, an album he coproduced with his brother Stephen.
After his third studio album, Welcome to Jamrock, won him another Grammy in 2006, Marley commenced a decade of working with other notable artists; 2010 saw the release of Distant Relatives, a collaboration with famed hip-hop legend Nas. In 2011, Marley made public his work with SuperHeavy, a supergroup composed of Marley, The Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger, and Indian composer and songwriter A.R. Rahman. He dipped into electronic dance music in 2012 by joining Skrillex on the single “Make It Bun Dem,” which Rolling Stone called “a monster mash up of dubstep and dancehall.”
Marley has hinted at a possible reunion with Nas on future productions. “We speak about it,” he said. “It’s something that we both have been thinking about and something we want to do. We intend to [collaborate] again.”
As he inches closer to his 40th birthday, Jr. Gong is well aware that his music and personality have grown since his teenage beginnings. “I was all alone when it started. Longer beard … longer locks … It’s just how it goes,” he laughed. “There are sides of life itself; growing as a person in turn affects the music.”
Like many other touring artists, Marley has found a second family on the road with his band, a group he has been working with for more than 10 years. “It becomes a part of life, really. Being on tour is almost like being at home now … at home on the road.”
No matter where he takes his live act, Marley’s fans can rest assured that his innovation and creativity aren’t going away. As mentioned in an interview earlier this month with NorthJersey.com, Marley confirmed that he plans to release another album soon — his first solo project since 2005. “I’m very excited about recording a new album,” Marley said. “After 10 years, I thought it was time to get back to just me.”
The Catch a Fire Tour, featuring Damian and Stephen Marley, comes to the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) Friday, September 25. For tickets and information, call (805) 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.