Maybe the best moment on record in the history of Ziggy Marley’s long and storied career comes on—of all things—a soundtrack to an Adam Sandler movie.
In addition to being a mildly overlooked charming little flick about amnesia and great weather, 2004’s 50 First Dates offered up an eclectic collection of reggae-inspired cover tunes from a wide array of artists, the most notable of which came from Rita and Bob’s oldest son when he took on The Cars’ “Drive”.
The painstakingly beautiful performance is the most accurate way to describe how contradicting Marley’s personality seems to be when speaking with him. His tone is stern and soft. He uses words delicately and wisely. There is an air of flippancy to his voice that is honest and thoughtful. He has convictions that are mild-mannered and unaware of consequence—statements that could be mistook as hostile. Kindness is displayed, but only in phrases, not presentation.
In other words, Ziggy Marley is the living, breathing epitome of an approach centered around making the brightest, happiest music in the world sound as sad as a Sunday in the middle of winter.
But that doesn’t mean he’s careless. During a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, Marley, 44, touched on everything from his new live album, Ziggy Marley In Concert (out digitally on December 18 and in stores January 15), to the possibility of reuniting the original Melody Makers lineup, to exactly how important it is for him to be involved with charitable causes all around the world.
And about those charitable causes ...
The singer recently made headlines when he donated his song “Personal Revolution” to End Polio Now, a benefit CD aimed at raising funds for the Rotary’s PolioPlus program that also features the likes of David Sanborn, Angelique Kidjo, and Itzhak Perlman, among others. The goal for the campaign is to rid the world of the disease that cripples victims by spreading through the brain and spinal cord, eventually causing paralysis. Currently, the sickness is 99 percent eradicated, and as Marley pointed out, the group won’t stop until the world is completely void of the deadly disease.
“When I was asked to join the campaign, they asked me to do some art,” he noted. “But that eventually evolved into music, which I was glad to do. Whatever I can do to help, that’s what I do. I am a compassionate human being—it’s inside all of us. Even if I didn’t know anyone with the disease, I would do what I can to help. It’s who I am.”
Also part of who Ziggy Marley is lies within the 30-plus years he has spent in the music industry. From the first time he appeared on record during 1979’s “Children Playing in the Streets” with his father, to the rise and dismemberment of his Wailers-esque band, the Melody Makers, all the way up to his latest live collection, a 14-track set that was recorded during the singer’s Wild and Free 2012 tour, one thing has been certain: the man born David Nesta Marley sure knows how to walk that fine line between spirit and soul. Because while one may embody the positivity and good-willed nature of the human kind, the other can embody the more difficult elements of life that sometimes can become haunting and lonely.
That unique talent is all over In Concert, an album that came together after Marley realized he and his band were having a string of good shows and the singer became eager to document the performances. A song like “Welcome To The World” is punctuated by the cynical refrain “Welcome to the world / I don’t promise it’s a good place” despite its sunshine groove, all while the singer’s left-turn into “War” toward the end of “Justice” makes its case for the most honest 90-second tribute to Bob that any of his sons have put on record. There’s a darkness to Ziggy’s light, and that’s a through-line that runs amok both in concert and conversation. It makes for a type of beauty that seems almost exclusive to the Marley family, and it’s a type of beauty that Ziggy argues is lost on art today.
“Music is so different than it is from when I was growing up,” he explained. “Back then, it was real and it meant something. Today, music is great for entertainment, but it is lacking soul; it’s lacking substance, and it’s difficult to find good stuff. There are too many corporate interests. It’s not about the actual music because it’s about the corporation and music just becomes part of a package.
“It’s like there is this culture spell,” Marley continued, his voice raising in volume and contempt. “Everything is driven by profits. It’s not about making the world a better place, like it should be. Old music used to mean something. There is none of that today.”
So, what about his own music and his own art? Is there hope that he may one day reunite his Melody Makers with brother Stephen and sisters Sharon, Cedella, and Erica?
“There is a chance,” he said skeptically, “but we don’t know.”
OK, then. How about his next non-live record with all-new material?
“I’m in the studio now,” he noted faintly, “but it takes patience. It all has to come together right. It can’t be something forced.”
Any thoughts on the influence and legacy of his iconic father within his own work?
“It’s not a name,” he said tersely when asked about preserving the Marley brand. “It’s life. It’s action. This is how we think. Nothing can make me change.”
But, you see, that’s the genius of Ziggy Marley and his approach to creating his form of art—for as positive and forthcoming as his music may sound, there is a constant level of cynicism that creeps its way into his words and thoughts. It’s what sets him apart from other reggae music contemporaries, and it adds a layer of intrigue to his existence as a child of the most important revolutionary to ever come out of Jamaica. It’s also why he was able to turn a 1984 synth-pop single by Ric Ocasek and turn it into one of the most heartbreaking reggae music performances in the history of movie soundtracks.
And if you ask him, it’s that combination—that willingness to fully experience both the great and awful aspects of life—that makes him the kind of artist he is today.
“I believe we are all connected to other people,” he said unprovoked and almost defiantly. “I am connected to people who are suffering. We all are. Even if I wasn’t making money from music, I would be giving back. It’s very spiritual. That’s how we grew up in Jamaica. I want to do good things in this world. Whatever I can do to help is what I want to do. Everything is connected.
“I am a compassionate human being,” his thick accent reasserted after some thought. “I am who I am.”
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.