Ziggy Marley Makes ‘More Family Time’

Larson Sutton on September 24, 2020
Ziggy Marley Makes ‘More Family Time’

“It was a sudden thing,” says Ziggy Marley, explaining the somewhat surprising release of More Family Time–a child-centric collection of songs–11 years after Family Time, his Grammy and Emmy-winning first album of family-friendly tracks.  After initially turning solo in 2003, the reggae superstar has since amassed a catalog of six studio albums, apart from the two Family releases, that are dotted conspicuously with critiques of social inequities and failing political leadership in and amongst persistent themes of optimism and love- romantic and for humanity.  Marley admits the current tumultuous global conditions were providing plenty of motivation for new material addressing contemporary concerns.  Yet, here is More Family Time, written and recorded in the past six months during Marley’s COVID-19 quarantine, repeating its predecessor’s template of bright and sunny melodies shared by guest appearances from friends and family; including Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, and Tom Morello, among others, as well as several of Marley’s own children. 

Why is now the time for More Family Time?

The first song I wrote for this record was “Goo Goo Ga Ga.”  Most of my life I trust my intuition; the voice that guides me.  For me, it’s a spiritual guidance I work under.  I work under orders from higher places.  When I make a record, it is the record I’m supposed to do because that is what the higher forces want me to do.  The reasoning I don’t fully understand, but I can speculate.

And have you speculated?

I did speculate: Why am I doing this record now?  I was writing some tough songs; some revolutionary songs.  Why did I switch to “Goo Goo Ga Ga”?  (Laughs) I feel like the situation that we’re in, from my perspective, the children need some attention.  Because we’re in a quarantine we’re literally spending more family time together.  It’s not just the name of the album.  It’s what was happening to us at the time.  We need some lightness because the darkness can be overpowering to the youths and the family.  There’s a lot of anxiety, and stress, and issues we have to solve.  I’m here to bring balance.

Did you feel like you were writing these songs for your children?

It’s for all children.  My writing is coming from a perspective for a child.  And I enjoy the songs.  I love the songs.  “Play With Sky” is one of those songs that just makes me feel good.  It’s music for all age groups, really, coming from the children’s point of view.  My four-year-old (Isaiah) inspired me.  He was kind of the catalyst that started the flood of songwriting for this album.

As the songs are coming to you, are you ever conflicted as to whether you should keep them for your next Ziggy album, rather than for the children’s record?

With “Everywhere You Go,” I was writing the song before I went into the children thing.  Sometimes that issue comes up: should I change it to this or that?  To tell you the truth, I said to myself, Just let it go, man.  Don’t overthink it.  Let it be what it’s supposed to be.

Like Family Time, this album has a full roster of guests.  Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Angelique Kidjo, and Tom Morello to name a few.  Did you have a wish list of artists you wanted for this project?

I didn’t have a wish list.  I didn’t think about that before the record started.  As the songs came together I started hearing them, their voices, because we’re all connected.  I know these people.  I can hear them on the song.  So I took a chance and reached out to see if they want to join me.  And they did join me, which I appreciate immensely.  [Their participation] helps me reach more people, more kids.  And, it helps me as an artist and a singer.  Like, I’ll hear what Ben does and then I maybe adjust what I do.  It was a great experience.

I was particularly pleased that you sang “Jambo” in Swahili.  How did that come about?

On this album, we needed a traditional, cultural song.  From a friend from Kenya, this song came up.  I’ve always been interested in African music.  I try to sneak it in quietly into some of my tracks.  But, I’ve never sung in an African language before- or in any other language before- on a full song.  I want to do new things all the time.  I don’t want to repeat things.

At a time when so many people are turning inward, I found it inspiring to be reminded, in a subtle way, that the world beyond us here in America is still there.  Were you motivated by that notion?

I didn’t think about it before.  The ulterior motive always shows up after.  The music will live and do what it does.  You can’t think about the reason before.  You just have to do it.  The good thing is I hear my children singing it.  If you listen to it enough- the melody- you start to speak Swahili.  That’s the quote unquote trick of it: listen to it enough and you will speak African.  I feel good about exposing that to people who don’t know.

Toots Hibbert, who passed recently, was a guest on Family Time.  I know you made a public statement in tribute.  Anything else you would like to say?

I was watching a live performance of his, and he’s just life, you know what I mean?  Toots was full of life.  When I watch him, I still laugh and smile.  As a musician, he was a pioneer for us.  A legend for us.  A rock.  One of the foundations for what I am doing.  I respect him a lot on that level.  He comes from my father’s generation.  For me, there’s no other generation like that generation.  I have so much respect for those patriarchs, those founding fathers.  His light will always shine.

Do you feel a sense of being the next block up on the foundation of reggae music at this point in your career?

I wouldn’t say I feel, but I know.  I’m a link.  I was born in ’68 so I got a taste of that world.  I had a nice portion of that generation inspire me.  I’m a bridge.

You have always been a socially and politically-conscious person and artist.  Yet, you have also remained almost exclusively focused on issues rather than candidates.  Do you feel 2020 is a time for you to speak specifically about an individual or an administration and its leadership?

Obviously the truth is there for everyone to see unless you don’t want to see it.  Right?  Reality is reality.  Just look at the experience we’re having in the world today.  Not just in America.  The world.  The divisiveness has been a political tool from ever since.  Everybody’s used it: Democrats; Republicans.  The real problem we have is not an individual.  The real problem is the system, itself.  It causes an individual of a certain character to be able to do things that are not beneficial to the majority of humanity.

Many are suggesting the 2020 Presidential election maybe the most important in the history of the country.

When we think about changing the man for the next man, that won’t solve the problem.  Man is flawed.  We can be some wicked people if we want to be.  What’s supposed to stop us from being wicked people?  There’s supposed to be a so-called system that protects humanity from a person who abuses the power for his own beneficial reasons.  The system that exists causes this.  And it can cause it again.  We need a more fundamental change, not just a cosmetic change.  We definitely need a change all across the board.  We can’t continue this way.

What way can’t we continue?

With the divisiveness and the hate we feel.  That energy, alone, is unacceptable.  I’m talking about what I see here in America right now.  You cannot prosper under that.  You cannot succeed under that.  If you cannot bring people together you are not acceptable, either.  The more unity you have, the more strength you have; as a team; as a family; as a community; as a society.  More unity is better.  Not less.

Recently, you curated a book of photographs of your father, Bob Marley: Portrait of the Legend, coming out in October as part of an ongoing celebration of 75 years since his birth.  Did the collecting of those photos coinciding with making More Family Time bring together any new feelings or thoughts for you about your family?

I would say yes, but I’m not consciously aware of it.  I live in the moment.  I’m not contemplating those things a lot.  I’m just doing things.  But, looking at those pictures was so nostalgic for me.  For Bob, family is his first love, not music.  I remember those days.  Those were some of the best times.  And, it’s also kind of melancholic.  There can be a sadness about it.  The book isn’t about iconic shots, though there are some iconic shots in there.  The book is about real photos.  You can see Bob from a different perspective; get a deeper understanding not just of the icon, but of a regular man and a regular life.

Your philanthropy is well-documented.  A portion of the proceeds from More Family Time, in fact, will go to URGE, the non-profit organization you founded that supports, among other things, providing better educational opportunities for youth.  Why is that issue so important to you?

It’s important to me because of how I feel inside my heart and mind.  I have a good heart.  I can tell you that’s why I do these things.  But I can also tell you we focus on children because I feel the long-term change we want- in Jamaica, with their standard of living- comes from a focus on education.  Education is so important for the youth- using their own minds; their abilities; their intelligence- to help them get out of poverty, out of suffering.  Using their minds, not violence, to help society and help themselves.  And what are we teaching?  Marcus Garvey was a great thinker; a hero for Black people.  As a youth in Jamaica, we never learned that in school.  We are not just slaves who were brought here.  We have done great things.  We want the youth to learn their true identity so that they can be comfortable with themselves.  We want them to be sure they know their life is worth as much as anybody else’s life.