Ziggy Marley on His Mom’s Musical, Philanthrophic Legacy and ‘Lioness of Reggae: The Best of Rita Marley’

Larson Sutton on April 11, 2019
Ziggy Marley on His Mom’s Musical, Philanthrophic Legacy and ‘Lioness of Reggae: The Best of Rita Marley’

As he plots his spring and summer tours, Ziggy Marley is also prepping Lioness of Reggae: The Best of Rita Marley, a special, vinyl-only release for his Tuff Gong Worldwide label.  The compilation set, produced by Ziggy and out May 3, collects for the first time his mother’s finest work from her enduring, yet dormant, Grammy-winning catalog.  “It was there, and the labels weren’t doing anything with it,” Ziggy said of his matriarch’s various past releases.  “So I said, Let me do something.”  Ziggy spoke to us as he was putting the finishing touches on the album, issuing the classic track, “One Draw,” as a preview.

Though your mother continues to actively support charities in Africa and Jamaica, she has otherwise kept a very low profile.  How is she doing these days and what was her level of input in putting together this album?

She’s fine.  She’s had some health issues that she’s working on, but she’s a strong woman.  She had input, of course.  We had to pass it by her.  This is a first thing we want to do in exposing her music to a wider audience.  Probably a first step.  We’ll do this one on vinyl which, I think, is cool.  It’s a raw, natural, authentic way to do it, and it’s worth it.  If you want this thing you have to come get it.

How long have you thought about doing something like this?

We’ve been thinking about this for a while, really.  A lot of times, she’s overlooked in a way.  Her importance and her music are not as well known, but she is a very influential and important artist in the whole growth and expansion of reggae music from the early days until now.   Her voice deserves to be discovered, explored, and put on a pedestal so that people may recognize it and gain inspiration from her songs and her music.  Her music is very unique.

In what way is it unique?

To me her music is very explorative and theatrical in some ways.  She brought something to the table that I don’t think had been brought to the table in the reggae genre.  On her best albums, like Who Feels It Knows It or some of the songs on Harambe, her music speaks to a lot of different influences.  I appreciate an artist that wants to keep making music that is living, that is creative, and that isn’t repetitive.  I want people to discover her artistic expressions.

Do you think there was a prejudice against her, being a woman in reggae- a genre known at times for being misogynistic?

Maybe not prejudice, but we are in a male-dominated world.  Things are changing now, but in the past, those years had been male-dominated in all the musical genres.  The strength of my mother, and women like her, cannot be denied.  It can be overshadowed, but it cannot be denied.  She has done her part, regardless, whether there was prejudice or chauvinism in the industry.  She doesn’t give any excuses or ask for any excuses.  She knows who she is.  I know who she is.  People love her for who she is.  The music speaks for itself; we need more people to discover it so they can hear this voice.

What did you discover about her music as you were putting this collection together?

Her music is always surprising to me.  My father’s music dominates our lives, basically.  So every time I listen to my mother’s music, it’s something new, even though I’ve heard it before.  The message, the instrumentation- it is ahead of its time.  Listen, let me tell you, she’s a creative individual, an artist.  She not only did music, but also acted in local pantomime in Jamaica.  She was a part of the cultural society that would educate the younger generation.  Her music has influences of the theatre, in a Jamaican sense.  Her lyrics, her songs, are quietly powerful, like a stream that runs quietly, but when the dam bursts it floods the place.  A quiet power; subtle, but the message is very strong.

You have your own spring and summer tours approaching.  You have played some of your father’s music in your sets previously.  Will we hear any of your mother’s on this tour upcoming?

Yes, for the first time I’ll be doing that.  It’s one thing that will be different on this tour; I’ll be doing some of her songs.  I’ve never done her songs live so I’m excited about that.  It will be so cool for me and the audience.