Ziggy Marley- Life on Mars?
By Shelah Moody
Photos by Lee Abel
“I don’t want to escape to the moon/Even if the world went boom/I just want to be with you/and do the right things to you,”— Ziggy Marley “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars”
Don’t let lead track on Ziggy Marley’s fifth solo album “Fly Rasta” fool you.
“I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars” has nothing to do with him being the first Rasta on the Red Planet. As the Grammy winning singer/songwriter/musician/producer confirmed during a recent interview, “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars” is actually a love song for Mother Earth.
“I wrote that song with the environment in mind, but I didn’t wanna sound too preachy,” said the eldest son of reggae icon, Bob Marley and singer Rita Marley. “So I found a way to talk about (protecting the earth) in a way that was not preaching or promoting any kind of ideology. The earth represents an entity that I love; and I am saying that I would never leave the earth for any other entity. I speak of the earth as a woman, and I wouldn’t leave her for any other woman.”
“Even if the world went boom?”
“I’m still sticking with her.”
On Nov. 6, 2014, the city of San Francisco is beaming with civic pride and bathed in orange and black hues, a week after the Giants won the World Series for the third time in five years. As Marley’s “Fly Rasta” tour wraps up in California, the seasons are transitioning from Indian summer to mid-autumn, and the weather in the Bay Area is less conducive to an evening stroll and more suited for rushing inside from the cold.
We met with David “Ziggy” Marley for our interview after sound check at San Francisco’s historic Fillmore Theatre. Marley, who turned 46 on Oct. 17 and spent his birthday performing in Atlanta, is currently one of the most in demand artists on the touring circuit, and next to his iconic father, he’s arguably the world’s most recognized reggae artist.
The Fillmore, the house that Bill Graham built in the late sixties, still has its signature Dead Head charm; you get a shiny red apple on the way in and a commemorative poster on the way out. Every time he plays the Fillmore, Marley plays to a packed house, and each time it seems, a new legion of fans.
Backstage in his dressing room, the Fly Rasta is bundled in a black puff jacket. He puts away his electric guitar and settles on a leather couch that has probably hosted some of the most famous derrieres in rock, hip hop and R&B.
We discuss the video for “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars” –the first music video to feature his family—his wife, Orly, daughter Judah and sons Gideon and Abraham. It was shot, as Marley explained, somewhere in a barren stretch of the California desert. The video has a sci-fi motif; and you’ve gotta admit, Marley and Judah do look kinda fly in their white space suits.
“The idea behind the video is that it’s actually earth that we’re on, not Mars,” said Marley. “If we don’t correct the direction that we are headed in now, that’s what the earth will look like. In the video, I’m searching for surviving plants and trying to replenish the earth with plants.”
During our conversation, I compliment Marley on a beautiful, classically inspired cover of “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars” that I saw on YouTube. It is performed by the children of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit founded by Michael “Flea” Balzary and Keith “Tree” Barry of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in Los Angeles, CA. I asked how this unique production came about.
“Someone liked the song and performed it and sent it to us,” said Marley. “It just came about. We always like to show how the song lives beyond me; it’s about everyone else and how they feel about the music; and if they interpret the music, I always appreciate it. That’s how the music is supposed to live.”
On that note, I asked Marley about the possibility of a classical production in the future, perhaps a “Ziggy Marley with Strings” concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Oh yeah, mon, we should do that,” Marley laughs. “I’m open- minded, so anything is possible.”
Although the title is indicative of flight and ascension, Marley explained in his “Making of Fly Rasta” video that many of the songs on the album, such as “Moving Forward,” “I Get Up” and “Sunshine” are motivational songs about overcoming obstacles. Indeed, Marley has overcome his own set of obstacles, transcending the boundaries of race, nationality and musical genre—his world has reached far beyond reggae. He and his wife, Orly, have built a Tuff Gong Worldwide empire which includes a Ziggy Marley line of clothing, film and books. His line of non-GMO foods, Ziggy Marley Organics, includes a line of cooking products such as flavored coconut oil and roasted hemp seeds.
“Try the Caribbean Crunch,” he says.
As part of the third generation, Ziggy’s eldest son, Daniel “Bam” Marley and his nephew Jo Mersa Marley (son of Stephen), who used to rap, sing and dance with Ziggy and the Melody Makers as children, are now touring and recording independently and continuing the Marley legacy of making conscious music.
“Play I on the R&B – wo-oh! Want all my people to see:
We’re bubblin’ on the Top 100, just like a mighty dread!”—Bob Marley, Roots Rock Reggae
In 2013, Marley made history by performing a tribute to Bob Marley with the likes of Sting, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and his brother, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley (also a multiple Grammy winner) at the 55th annual Grammy Awards telecast at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Fly Rasta is a soulful mix of contemporary reggae, rock, blues, African, rock and folk music—a mélange that the artists refers to as “Ziggy Music.” In January, 2014, Marley won the Grammy (Best Reggae Album) for his live recording,“Ziggy Marley in Concert.” On Dec. 5, 2014, it was announced that “Fly Rasta” received a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album. One of the most provocative tracks on “Fly Rasta” is “You’re My Yoko,” which is “Livicated” to his wife and Tuff Gong Worldwide’s CEO, Orly Marley, as well as an homage to the Beatles.
“The song is correlated to the relationship that I’ve heard about between John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” said Marley. “Relationships can play an important role in artistic expression, because love is one of the most basic artistic expressions there is. Open-mindedness, and finding ways of expressing yourself–if you have the right partner–embellishes it and makes it grow more. I feel that it was something that I could relate to after understanding Lennon and Ono’s relationship, and how, when they met, (Lennon) got into a whole different kind of vibe. I can relate to that.”
The alternative rock flavored ballad, “Lighthouse,” which Marley co-wrote with Sam Martin, is also somewhat Beatlesque and was a favorite on the “Fly Rasta” tour.
“I’m holding up the fire/lighting up the sky/like a lighthouse on the ocean/bring you home alright,”– Ziggy Marley, “Lighthouse.”
“Lighthouse” is a nice song; it’s a very personal song,” said Marley. “I think the song has yet to be fully defined. “It’s a little mysterious.”
I first interviewed Ziggy Marley on a warm October afternoon in 1988, on the “Conscious Party” tour with the Melody Makers (which included his siblings, Stephen, Cedella, Sharon and backing vocalist Rica Newell) at the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, HI. The story was published in our college newspaper, “Ka Leo O Hawaii” (“Voice of Hawaii’).
The 19-year-old star was unpretentious, wearing worn sneakers, baggy corduroys, a white T-shirt emblazoned with the African continent and shoulder length dreads. He had dark, gentle eyes, an ebullient smile like his father’s and his boyish face boasted a slight mustache and goatee.
“Conscious Party,” one of my top ten favorite albums. Conscious Party, produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads went on to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 1989.
“The theme of the album and the other albums that we have put out is that in everything you do is the truth,” Marley said. “That is the only way to succeed—if what we are doin’ is the truth. With falseness and negativity, there is no success.”
“Conscious lyrics can be danced to,” Marley continued. “You can have fun, and you can have a party with conscious music.”
Fast-forward to 2014, Marley is still keeping people dancing to conscious music in an age of social media. Marley takes an active role on his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, posting his milestones and reflections on life after his shows or during down time. And yes, he does read the comments from his followers.
“Back in the days we never had a connection to our fans, we relied on popular media,” said Marley. “Now, we can reach out to them. It’s very good, very important and very beneficial for me to understand my fans better and for my fans to understand me better.”
At the moment, Marley said that he has no desire to contribute to the growing pool of celebrity autobiographies. “Eh, my music is my book,” he said.
Like “Fly Rasta,” most of Marley’s solo albums as well as his past albums with the Melody Makers allude to the concept of repatriation or returning, spiritually and mentally, to the Motherland. Incidentally, his mother, Rita Marley is a citizen of Ghana and now holds the title of Nana Afua Adobea (Queen of Development) in the South-eastern Akwapim Region of Ghana.
The Fillmore show literally ended in Africa. As drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis (drums), Ian “Beezy” Coleman (guitar), Rock Deadrick (percussion) and Pablo Stennett (bass) held down the rhythm section, backing vocalists Tracy Hazzard and Chantelle Ernandez performed African dances during the intro to “Conscious Party.” During “Look Who’s Dancing,” the spirit overtook Marley as he interpreted the story on the djembe, a West African hand drum. Marley had literally taken flight! After the show longtime Ziggy aficionados would describe it as one of his finest performances.
I asked Marley about his plans after the “Fly Rasta” tour wrapped up.
“After the tour is over, I’m going to take care of my compost pile,” said Marley. “Get the land ready fe plant some food next season. Relax, spend some time with the children. Write some more songs. Get ready for another record, and LIVE!”
Enjoy the slideshow!! All photos © Lee Abel