Interview: Ziggy Marley
Ziggy Marley envisions his music as an overt expression of love, despite the current political climate. In certain ways, the eight-time Grammy winner has come off as a committed community organizer, calling for action, since his hit 1988 debut Conscious Party launched him and his sibling-group The Melody Makers into stardom. Back then, he sang about African freedom fighters, interracial relationships and religious oppression. And now, three decades later on Rebellion Rises, his seventh studio set as a solo artist, he’s turned his attention to chastising failed leadership, encouraging revolution and peace appeals.
In 2017, Marley co- produced a refresh of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus to commemorate its 40th anniversary—remixing, augmenting and shifting tracks to create a unique reissue of one of his father’s undisputed masterpieces—yet Marley has never been one to rest on his family’s laurels. When he tours, it’s for several months at a time, all over the planet. When he’s home, he’s creating the next album—11 records, including four live collections, in the last 15 years.
The Exodus project bled into Rebellion Rises, which Marley wrote, arranged, recorded and produced in his home studio in Los Angeles. There is a resultant urgency throughout the 10 songs, from the opening track “See Dem Fake Leaders” to the closer, “Rebellion Rises.”
“Really and truly, this album is a call to action for all humanity,” he says. “This is a rebellion that every human being can get behind, regardless of your race, religion or what you believe in.”
The sounds that populate the record evoke all periods of Marley’s three-decade development: polyrhythms, biting electric guitar, bluesy twists, heartfelt soul and Caribbean flavors that stretch beyond roots reggae. There’s even a cameo by an intern, Samuill Kalonji, pulled from the hallways of Marley’s Tuff Gong Worldwide record label.
“We’re talking about love,” he says. “If we can love each other, the better it will be for all of us.”
You have resisted calling your music “political” but, at times, this album sounds that way.
To a degree, yes. But, sometimes I wonder what is political? What does it mean? I don’t know. I’m not sure. I guess, yes, I’m expressing certain things that are more than just about me. There are things that are addressing what’s happening in this world and in this country. I guess that makes it a little bit political. These are serious issues.
Are you worried?
I don’t know if worried is the right word. More like energized. More like, “We have to do something now.” More like, “Let’s go!” More like, “Where are we? Where are our voices? Where are the actions of the majority of the people on this earth who want to see this world become a better place?” I know we are here. I know we exist. It’s not about specific issues or causes. I believe each different cause or issue is good enough to be raised. There is the one issue that all humanity, or at least the majority of humanity, is in agreement with, and that is the idea that we should love each other more. This is the rebellion.
How does this rebellion happen?
If we believe in love as human beings, then the political powers, the racist powers, cannot divide or brainwash us into believing in what they tell us to divide us, to hurt us, to kill each other.
The album cover depicts you holding hands with a toddler, looking out over the ocean to the horizon. Is that a way of saying this rebellion is for the future of the next generation?
Yeah, we will be just the beginning of this rebellion. It is they who will actually complete the dream that we’re talking about, the vision we’re talking about. It is that generation—the little naked kid you see on the cover. It’s his generation that will fulfill the final stages of the rebellion. We’re bringing them up. The rebellion rises and our children are a part of it.
Speaking of that next generation, your son Gideon has a vocal cameo on this album. How did that come about?
I work in the studio at my house. This is where I spent most of my time on the record. So, the kids come in and out. Gideon is a very just human being. He’s always standing up for somebody. That’s his personality. Sometimes it’s like, “Mind your own business, man.” [Laughs.] We were in the studio and there was a part we were working on. He was copying what I was saying. I said, “You want to be on the album?” And he said yes. We practiced [the lyrics I had written before] and did it a few times. I wanted him to really work hard. I didn’t want him to just do it one time and think we are done. It was a few days until he got it satisfactorily.
It’s a subtle reminder of the next wave coming.
In my imagination, if I was visualizing it, then I would say that when his voice comes in, that is like my spirit child. He’s a lot like me.
The title track talks about this rebellion rising.
With that song, I thought, no, it’s not “rising;” it’s “rises.” I want to take it to that more affirmative place. It’s not coming; it’s here. It’s not saying it’s going to happen, it’s happening now. This is what I’m inspired to tell the world and how to approach the message in this record. It’s not saying tomorrow will be better. It’s now. I changed my words to represent the affirmative of it instead of the dream of it. The more we reinforce our ideas with the affirmative vibration, the more it makes it what it is supposed to be.
You worked on the reimagining of Exodus last year…
I know where you’re going. I was thinking about it recently. Working on the Exodus tracks really helped me, especially musically, on this record. I’m a student of music. I heard things from that session. I’m listening [on Exodus] to some of the greatest players of music that ever played—my father and the band. Subconsciously and consciously, I’m learning. I heard the way instruments were played, and how I thought things were played were not how they were played. It was like, “Wow, OK, I feel that now.” There was spirit in my father’s music.
How did that influence this album?
On this album, I created most of the instrumentation. I had some other musicians come in and interpret it, copy it. I established the vibe of what the record was going to be and someone else plays it. We work together to make sure the vibe is not lost. Exodus was half message-oriented, but half was kind of love songs. This album has that balance, with five songs having a political edge and five that are softer around the edges.
You sing about “rebels with a cause.” Is that how you see yourself?
Our cause is love, of course. Our cause has been love from ever since—from the beginning of time, from Jesus Christ, we’ve been talking about love. Our rebellion has been about love for one another. I’m part of that lineage of voices through time that continues to spread the rebellion of love. This is the change in the world that cannot be brought by politicians or priests or popes. It is a change that can only come from the voice of the people. And music is the main vehicle of that voice. The people rebel against the leaders—what we call fake leaders. If you’re not spreading love, then you are not leading. If you are spreading war and violence and hate and divisiveness, then you are not leading.
Your brother Stephen Marley guests on “Circle of Peace.” What were your intentions with that song?
There is so much demoralizing negativity everywhere I look. I really want to create a space for the other side of the equation. Who is more willing in this battle for humanity? “Circle of Peace” is about that. Only the willing will see their dreams. Who is more willing? Now is the time to show our willingness.
Who raps on “World Revolution?”
He’s an intern at my office. It’s funny; people say, “Why don’t you get this rapper or that rapper? It would be better for the album’s exposure.” I said, nah, I like the intern. I like doing things organically, not just because.
That is reflected in the lyric: “To know the truth, you’ve got to know the lies.”
I’m a simple person. Love is the foundation of everything I speak about. Everything I relate to comes from love. That line came out of nowhere. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t know what it would mean. If you don’t know the lie, you’re going to get tricked. How do I know this? Really, my friend, it’s from my heart. It’s from my true self. It’s from the part of me that speaks the truth to myself. It’s from the part of me that has no bias. Some people call it your consciousness. Some people call it God. No matter what lie I may try to tell myself, there is a voice that says that’s wrong.
In between this studio album and the previous one, you released two live collections. Do you feel compelled to always be working on a project?
That is just how I am. If I could put out a new song every day, then I would. On this album, we have two songs that I previously released demos of. I want to give out more free music in between records—streaming or download. I never stop creating. It’s not like I’m forcing it. I just let it loose and try to keep the people engaged. I don’t want to disappear. I want to stay in the discussion. As my father said: “The bad guys aren’t taking a day off.So, why should we take a day off?”
This article originally appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.