Though it may unsettle fans who believe the struggle against political and social injustice is a crucial component of the best reggae music, Ziggy Marley, eldest son of reggae’s most transcendent figure, Bob Marley, doesn’t quite see it that way.
Marley says his struggle is “spiritual,” unlike the “physical” striving embodied in the protest anthems that gave hope to the downtrodden and made an international superstar of his late father, who died in 1981.
“That generation that had that fight made a good fight,” says the 38-year-old singer-songwriter and keyboardist, who as a child often sang and danced with his father on stage. “But that time for physical struggle is now changing into a spiritual struggle. That is where I am.
“The solution for mankind is of a spiritual nature. It is not a political or religious solution. It’s the ability to love each other. That’s the only solution I see.”
The message is all over his second solo CD, “Love is My Religion.” Generally, the disc, released last July, is a genial collection of modern-sounding ska- and R&B-influenced reggae tracks. It won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in February.
To be sure, “Love is My Religion” has several ear-catching tracks, including the sprightly “Into the Groove,” originally meant for the 2005 film “Into the Blue,” and the slinky, seductive “Make Some Music.”
But it is the title track, written by Marley midway through recording the disc, that Marley points to as “the father figure of the album.”
“When it came out, it was like it completed the album,” he says. “It kind of put its arms around the other songs and gave them a big hug, like `We are one. We are all together here.’”
On it, Marley sings, “I don’t condemn, I don’t convert ... I don’t want to fight,” sentiments that might make more militant reggae fans blanche, especially coming from Bob Marley’s son.
Marley says his beliefs really began to change during the recording of 1999’s “Spirit of Music,” his final disc with the Melody Makers, the three-time Grammy-winning group he formed with three siblings, singer-guitarist-drummer Stephen and vocalists Cedella and Sharon.
But the seeds of change were sown a few years earlier during a conversation with Alpha Blondy, an Afro-reggae musician from the Ivory Coast and a staunch supporter of African unity.
“We were talking about changes in Africa,” Marley recalls. “We were asking, `Is it possible for you to change millions of people on the physical level? Or is the mission more to sing music so people can look into themselves?’ I was about changing things, but things weren’t changing, not at the rate they should.”
Marley says that he tried solving “the physical struggle” in Jamaica by giving money and material goods to people. “But that did not solve the problems.”
Eventually, Marley came to the conclusion that “using political tools to change social conditions won’t work. It’s spiritual conditions that need changing. It’s what’s inside of people that counts. I’ve spent my whole life’s journey realizing that fact.”
That is not to say there can’t be music about social issues, he adds.
In fact, “Love is My Religion” ends with an incisive one, “Still the Storms,” about the debt still owed to the victims of slavery, and the countries on two continents that people would prefer to forget.
“It’s the black sheep of the family,” Marley chuckles. “It may not fit in the overall concept, but there was so much inside of me I couldn’t not put it on the record.”
In the song, he explains, “I talk about the spirits of slaves, African people killed and murdered and their spirits still not at peace. Nothing has been done to make up for that calamity, that holocaust. It’s a struggle I cannot forget.”
“Be Free” is another track that unbottles a deeply held Marley belief - that the willingness to speak out in the U.S. eroded noticeably after 9/11.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in America since Sept. 11, 2001,” says Marley, who has been living in Beverly Hills for three years and also has homes in Jamaica and Nassau. “Being here I was noticing that the people, who in the `60s used to voice their opinions about their rights, are much different today. People are afraid to voice opposition to the government in a mass way. Before the war in Iraq, I thought, `How come nobody’s asking this question? Why aren’t news organizations asking that question?’ How did the Patriot Act pass without people asking any questions?”
On a lighter note, Marley takes up the cause of the underdog on “Black Cat,” a sure-footed ska track based on an experience at a Beverly Hills recording studio.
“There were a lot of scary cats around and at one point a black cat walked across the doorway,” Marley remembers. “My friend made a superstitious comment, and I totally reversed it on the spot. `I told him, `Stop being stupid. It’s just a cat. It’s doesn’t mean to hurt anyone.’ ...
“It started from that, and (the song) means don’t judge people without knowing them and don’t be superstitious.”
Though purists may carp about Marley’s attitude toward his father’s legacy, he draws inspiration from dad in a way that may surprise them - Marley recorded and produced “Love is My Religion” independently, and negotiated an exclusive yearlong distribution deal with Target.
“They were lessons I learned from my father,” says Marley. “He was an entrepreneur. He was a good businessman. He started the Tuff Gong record label and record stores in Jamaica. There were always rumors of him wanting to own his own music, so the idea was always in my subconscious. When I had the opportunity, I did it.”
// Notes from the Road
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