Ziggy Marley - In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Reggae Spirit
Five-time Grammy winner and Jamaicas much-loved son, Ziggy Marley, shares his philosophy on roots, shoots and spirituality.
Words by Juliet Austin.
In our modern-day culture of celebrity, where fashion icon, Suri Cruise, battles the Jolie-Pitt brigade for the latest front cover, there is an unspoken understanding that some kids are just born to fame. By all accounts 44-year-old musician, activist and humanitarian, Ziggy Marley, as the eldest son of reggae royalty, Bob and Rita Marley, could justifiably sit back in his all-star genes and hawk his father’s legacy. But then… Ziggy Marley is not that kind of guy. Deeply spiritual, with “a keen awareness and driving compassion” (not to mention 30 years in the music industry), his easy smile and profound humility denote a man of substance. All that is bred in the blood of this showbiz son are his religion of love and his birthright – the uplifting music that channels positive change.
Photo by Arthur Gorson © Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica’s Trench Town on October 17th, 1968, David Nesta Marley (a.k.a. Ziggy) was raised in the same Rastafari crucible that stoked the creative fires of his father and fellow reggae peers: Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Jimmy Cliff. With parents touring and on the road to international superstardom, his grand aunt assumed responsibility for the Marley brood. “Auntie did well for us,” Ziggy recalls. “She was a strong Christian. Although she was poor, her generation was smart and educated. Life was humble – there was no running water at her house and we had to catch water to bathe, but she taught us the right things.” From this foundation of truth and spirituality, music became his constant. Drawing on Christian gospel, roots reggae, Nat King Cole and the stirring Nyabinghi drumming of Rastafari ceremonies, the soundtrack to his youth expressed not only the simmering social and political undercurrent of the time, but hope for change – a notion that resonated with the young Marley for years to come.
Marley Family Illustration: by Overton Loyd © Tuff Gong Worldwide
With Bob Marley and the Wailers’ success, the family left the ghetto. “But,” says Marley, “we never forgot to go back.” Taught guitar and drums by his father, at ten Ziggy was attending recording sessions, making his own music debut in 1979 alongside Bob, brother Stephen and sisters, Sharon and Cedella as The Melody Makers. Donating royalties from Children Playing in the Streets to the United Nations Children’s Fund, the young Marley began his career as both artist and altruist. By twelve, the ‘Honour Rebel’ Bob Marley's physical form had passed and Ziggy became heir to a legend.
Photo by Peter Murphy © Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd.
Performing at the funeral, it was evident that expressing meaning through music was in Ziggy’s DNA. “If I was not a musician,” he explains, “I’d still be a musician. It’s not a choice; it is who I am naturally.” Perceived, initially, as little more than “a scion of the Marley dynasty,” Ziggy trusted intuition in his quest to find what friend and producer Don Was called, “his own voice within the framework of tradition.” Infusing his music with rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, African percussion and reggae rhythms, he offered a unique artistic vision. “I am not reggae,” he contended. “I am me. I am bigger than the limits that are put on me.”
“If I was not a musician,” he explains, “I’d still be a musician. It’s not a choice; it is who I am naturally.”
Delivering three Grammy Award winning albums with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, his 2003 solo album, Dragonfly, preceded the 2006 launch of his solo career with Love Is My Religion. Recorded on his independent label, Tuff Gong Worldwide, not only did it garner a Grammy for Best Reggae Album, but also notched up a victory for independent music, of particular poignancy to the Marley legacy. “My father was near the end of his contract when he passed away,” Ziggy explains. “Music independence was his dream.”
Collaborating with artists from Paul Simon to “ancient spirit” Willie Nelson, his fifth Grammy came with his children’s album, Family Time. Ever championing the cause of the young, proceeds supported Chepstowe Basic School in Port Antonio, Jamaica, one of many beneficiaries of Marley’s not-forprofit organisation U.R.G.E. – Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment. “Money is ancillary,” he explains. “Before that, you have to be who you are. For me, success is about the ability to love.”
And love he does. Married to Orly, former VP of the William Morris talent agency-turned-Manager, with whom he has three children (plus three from previous relationships), family is a driving force in Marley’s life. Embracing child-centred projects from recording the theme song to Arthur, the voicing of Ernie the Rasta jellyfish in Shark Tale and even a duet with Dora the Explorer, Ziggy balances the dog-eat-dog commercialism of his industry with the need for personal integrity.
Environmentally and socially conscious, his non-GMO verified Ziggy Marley Organics include Coco’Mon Organic Coconut Oil and naturally flavoured hemp seed – the versatile resource that he believes is underutilised and demonised by association with its cannabis cousin, marijuana. Advocating, as only he would, for the decriminalisation of both plant species, his 2011 graphic cartoon, Marijuanaman, issues forth a superhero for a new generation – one who gets his power from “a magical source.” Equally, on the title track to his latest album, Wild and Free, Marley swaps verses with actor Woody Harrelson, to envision, “hemp fields growing wild and free,” calling on people to recognise the wider issues and more far-reaching benefits of legalisation.
Transcending superficiality, Marley’s platform is the personal politic. In the documentary, Marley Africa Road Trip, Ziggy and brothers, Rohan and Robbie, journey across Africa by motorcycle to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Celebrating their father’s legacy and the unifying power of reggae, their tour becomes a call for the unification of Africa, the land of “rich vibrations.” In the same vein, his monthly Sirius XM radio show on The Joint, Legends of Reggae, and his annual concert in California of the same name, honour the foundational fathers, paying respect to those who, along with his father, paved the way for coming generations.
Photo by Mark Painter
It is in this uncanny propensity for connecting past, present and future, that Ziggy’s gift lies. Co-producing the recently released feature length documentary, Marley, alongside Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell and Academy Award winning Director, Kevin Macdonald (of Last King of Scotland fame), Ziggy presents his father, not just the reggae legend, but the man, seeking to give viewers, “more emotional connection to Bob.” With the intimate involvement of family members, the movie provides the definitive word on the man behind the myth; the man whose ‘One Love’ transcended race, creed and colour; the man whose natural spirit – like his son’s – communicated through music and across time.
Watch Ziggy Marley perform, and the parallels are unmistakable. He is evolution. He is revolution… absorbed in the moment, eyes closed, head flung back, dreadlocks swaying; part of something larger and more universal than he might ever have imagined. “I feel completeness,” he admits. “I am at peace with my father’s legacy. All of this is not about me. It’s about the message… the music.”
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