For over thirty years, Ziggy Marley has carried the musical legacy of Jamaica on his shoulders. In the grand tradition set by his father, Marley has made a career out of not just bringing Jamaican culture and music to the rest of the world, but bringing the world cultures he’s experienced full-circle into his own sound.
And nowhere is that more evident than on his 2014 record, Fly Rasta. A product of Marley’s vast talent as a musician, social, political and environmental passions and experiences as a touring artist, Fly Rasta celebrates life as much as it seeks to improve upon it. We spoke to Marley about his new album, his feelings about modern Reggae, the state of the world and his show at this week’s Luminato festival.
This is your first album in eleven years with Sharon and Cedella (Marley). Beyond background vocals, how have they contributed to the album’s creation?
Well, they just brought a tone – like a mood and an energy – a vibe. Even though it was just background vocals, it was something that’s very special – and you could feel it. They were also a big part of the arrangements – so more than just background vocals for sure.
How collaborative is your creative and recording process? How has it changed over the years?
Very collaborative. See, I’m open-minded so I try to involve people in that process and not be so egotistical about it. I love totry out different ideas and I think that I’ve become more open-minded from experiencing life, so the more I experienced, the more people I met, the more the process changed.
While Fly Rasta’s unmistakably a Reggae album, there are elements of other genres in there as well. Which genres and artists influence you the most?
Everything, really. There’s no doubt about that. Rock, hip hop, pop. Jazz, blues. In the studio, we were listening to a lot of records by the Beatles, Grateful Dead and quite a bit of Afrobeat. It’s a very multicultural process.
Would you call your song “I don’t Want to Live on Mars” a cautionary tale? What were its key themes and the key themes on the album?
You can definitely call it that, for sure. I wrote the song from the perspective of the future. You have young lovers in a time where earth – because we didn’t do something about it – became a terrible place to live. And so Mars became the new place where everyone went. These two lovers have been separated, and one of them is saying, “you know, I don’t want to be on Mars – I want to be with you.” It became a love song for the planet itself, so there’s two ways to look at that song. The theme of being conscious about the planet is very, very important. It’s something we’re not taking seriously as a species.
What should someone who’s never experienced your live show expect to see on stage at Luminato?
It’s not just what you see, I don’t think. It’s what you feel. You should expect to feel something deep inside of you. Not just the music, but also a voice. Something that moves you – it’s not just physical – it’s something spiritual too.
Who would you love to collaborate with on your next record?
I don’t really think about that right now. Collaborations are a funny thing, because it has to be something real. On my last record, I did a track with Woody Harrelson (2011’s “Wild and Free”), and you know – that was real. It also worked for the studio because commercially, it was a good idea. You know, they figured it’d get more airplay, but it felt real. It always has to come together organically.
You’ve toured the world several times over. Where haven’t you been? Where are you dying to get to?
Russia, Eastern Europe, and a lot of Asia and India.
The Marley name is synonymous with Jamaica. What’s one thing you’d want Canadians to know about Jamaican culture that they probably don’t?
That’s a good one… What don’t they know? Jamaica is a very deep place. There’s a very deep energy and creativity that comes out of Jamaica. One thing maybe they think is that everyone there smokes marijuana, but not EVERYONE does (laughter).
What’s changed about Reggae since you first started making records?
Technology kind of came in and helped to get more of the kids involved. Not all of them were learned or accomplished musicians, but with the help of computers and machines, they could make those sounds more easily, which made the music more accessible. So now, youths – in Jamaica especially – are making more music. And because of that, Reggae has become more widely known and widely loved since we started. Or since my father started. It’s just grown so much wider, you know? There’s a lot of Reggae outside of Jamaica now, which is really special. It’s touched that many people.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in 30 years of touring?
Get sleep. Get as much sleep as you can. I only realize that now (laughs).
What advice would you have for someone just starting out?
Practice, practice, practice. It takes X amount of hours for you to get good at what you do, and that’s what practice is about. Do the work. It’s not something that comes easy; you gotta put in your time.
What are the best things about Reggae in 2014?
The thing about Reggae is that most Reggae has a message in it. For us, that’s the most important thing – it should have something to say, not just for entertainment. It’s music for your mind, your soul, your spirit – and the best Reggae today still is.
For me, it’s the lack of appreciation. The lack of appreciation from the new generation of the past. It’s more a lack of knowledge, I would say. There’s a lack of knowledge of the history of the music of the past. Reggae music still has to fight to get on the airwaves. We’re still the black sheep of the musical family, so every now and again one of us might make it to the radio, but it takes a lot of work. Almost too much.
Catch Ziggy Marley on his “Fly Rasta Tour” at Luminato tomorrow night (June 14) at David Pecaut Square. Buy your tickets here.