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Ziggy Marley is a four-time Grammy Award-winning musician, philanthropist, and founder of the independent record label, Tuff Gong Worldwide. Known for his international work with children, Ziggy is the founder[…]

A conversation with musician and son of Bob Marley.

Question: What is Jamaica like today?


Ziggy Marley: Well, Jamaica right now, it’s… the politics don’t play such an important part in terms of violence anymore, you know, it’s not so much about the politics. I think now it’s more about, you know, different gangs, you know, whatever.

People just try to make some money and that’s where the violence comes in. But otherwise on that, I left Jamaica a little bit and I went back home and I keep going back. Still the vibe in Jamaica is a vibe that can’t beat still, you know what I’m saying? Especially in the country, you know? In the city, not so much but once you leave the city, there’s something there that’s nowhere else, you know?


Question: How has the country changed?


Ziggy Marley: It’s different, it’s much different. We have a lot more outside influence in Jamaica now in terms of cable TV and, you know, the different types of… you know, the Burger Kings and the McDonald’s and stuff like that. So the culture is kind of diluted and I believe that a lot of the traditions have been lost. When I was growing up, there were a lot of traditional events that we would see or take part in, now, it’s much less.

You know, and us… so when I was growing up with my father, the consciousness and there was a movement for change, there was a rebellious nature but rebellious in a positive way, but now it’s a rebellious nature but in a kind of negative way. But I think, it’s the same with the younger generation, I see that now all the world, you know? The kids are not as disciplined, not as respectful of things, you know, it’s just… the way the world is changing and what the young people are looking up to, you know, they’re looking up to the materialistic, the bling and the blang and all that type of stuff, it’s happening everywhere so Jamaica is no different, you know what? Again, I say, there’s still greatness there in Jamaica that you know the vibe… there’s something there that’s still great, that those things will never overshadow, the negative will never overshadow the positive things of Jamaica.


Question: How do you communicate Jamaica to your listeners?


Ziggy Marley:I mean, I do have ideas to kind of find some way to keep the younger generation in tuned with their past in Jamaica ‘cause as a musician, there’s something on my mind that I want the younger youths to know about, the generation of musicians that were before even me. And somewhat… they don’t… I’m telling you right now, they don’t even know some of the greats who led the way. I mean, you know, my father is a popular icon and they know him but there are others that who’s in this generation that I don’t think they even understand who they are and where the music is coming from. So that’s another… that’s another kind of… another purpose that I would like to get involved with… involved with making music.

It’s had nothing to do with that on this record, it’s a children’s record, you know, it’s called “Family Time.” There’s a song on it that I did called “Hold 'Em Joe” which was the first song I ever did on stage and it was a part of what I was telling your before, it was part of our cultural event where we learned Jamaican folk songs and I remember that this is the first song I ever sung so… and it was a… it’s a song about a donkey and stuff like that so I think it was appropriate for a kid’s record. But it’s something like that that is missing and I would like to do more to… so I can keep the culture and let the kids know the history and make the music alive, you know?


Question: What was it like working with Paul Simon?


Ziggy Marley: Yeah, with Paul, I didn’t… we weren’t in the studio together but it was kind of unexpected in the way that he got involved in the record ‘cause I wasn’t thinking of him, I wasn’t… I wasn’t even thinking that it was possible, it’s Paul Simon, you know? His… I love him but I think he was way above my, you know, whatever, my grade or whatever you want to call it. So I wasn’t thinking of asking, you know, how Paul Simon got involved was… I got a phone call from someone saying that Paul wants to talk to me, so I said, “All right, let me talk to Paul Simon, that’s great.” So we spoke and he called… he wanted to ask me about getting… if I have any suggestions for a drummer, he was working on some songs and he needed a drummer, if I had some suggestions.

So I was like, “Yeah man, let me make some calls and get back to you,” so at that point in the record, we were almost at the end of the record, like you know, we had everybody and we had this one song which I wanted someone to sing and I was like, “I wonder if Paul would sing on it.” So I said… I was too shy to ask myself, you know, I’m not that… I’m very… I’m not that type of person so I was like if the person that called us could ask him if… so it worked out that way, unexpectedly but it was a great privilege and pleasure. With Willy… Willy, again, Paul and Willy Nelson are like… is like my father, you know, they’re my father figures in my world, Willy… someone that I always wanted to do something with and who has inspired me to write songs also, Willy.

And Don who was I was working with on the record, you know, he had done some song with Willy before, so I was like, “Don, you know check Willy if he’d like to jump on the record,” he said yes and we met Willy in San Diego, we went to a hotel room and we recorded in the hotel room and that was a great experience for me to finally meet Willy and just be around his vibe and energy, very special. Jack Jensen, I didn’t see him, you know, we exchanged some e-mails and it was cool but I think what really made me cool with asking other artists was that it’s a children’s record, I don’t think I would’ve asked if it’s just a regular Ziggy Marley record, that’s just not my thing. I would have never asked anyone to come and do it. I’m not like that but because it’s for children and stuff like that, I said, “Maybe people would do it because it’s a children record,” and that went well for me.

There was so many things that inspired me to do this and I think one of the main things was having young kids and being exposed to this world of children, music, and what’s on TV and it really started I’m having an idea, I want to do an animation series for kids that’s going to teach them concepts like unity, love, charity and things like that, trying to… as I see it, put more consciousness into the children’s world of entertainment and music so that’s where it started and then, I’ve always been a part of that world anyway, I’ve done songs for Dora the Explorer, I’ve done songs for Arthur… I’ve been on Sesame Street so I’ve always been a part of it and, you know, eventually with my younger kids, I thought I could add something to that world that would be a little bit different than what’s out there now and a little bit more conscious in terms of putting across my philosophies and ideas of the world and children and things like that for kids that the family could relate to as well, not just the children. So it’s not just music that children alone so it’s not like The Chipmunks are, it’s not like that, it’s music that the whole family can enjoy but the songs were written with children in mind to get across certain ideas, you know, in a simple way that a child might understand it.


Question: Are you a political musician?


Ziggy Marley: Not anymore, I used to. It used to be a part of me but now, I’m a spiritual musician, I think there has been enough political musicians and I think everything that can be said has been said about political, social things, you know, and there’s still some more to be said but not much. A few years ago, I decided to change direction, I was inspired to change directions just by searching and reading and trying to understand what’s my purpose here on earth in this music business.

I decided to focus more on the spiritual side of our lives in music so that’s why the last record, it was “Love is my Religion.” I think… I think if I’m serious about affecting people with music, I have to affect people on a human to human level, not on a grand social idea or political idea, it has to be a human being idea so it has to be what’s inside a human being. Each of us has some change within us, we cannot change the political or the social system of the world unless we change inside of us as individuals and that’s the direction I am in now which I call spiritual, you know?


Question: Is Rastafarianism your religion?


Ziggy Marley: Love is my religion, that’s… you know, that’s after years of research, you know what I’m saying? Years of research and years of thinking and actually, that song and that idea just came within a flash of a second. It was a conversation, you know, I had a lady working for me in my house and I was like, “What type of religion are you?” and she said she was Catholic and then she asked me the same question and I go, “I’m not Catholic, I’m not Orthodox…” and I wouldn’t even say Rastafarian, that still divides people, I don’t want to divide people so anything that I say is something that must be so big and great that it did encompass everyone and it’s love.

So that’s why I put it and I think that that’s the ultimate concept or idea that we can have in terms of what we think God is about, you know, our… whichever name you want to call it, you know, these other things like these are the… Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all of these are branches, the root is love and that’s where I went. I went straight to the root, I forgot the branches and I went straight to the root so that is how I see it, that is after I said of research and study and going through different phases of mental evolution, mental and consciousness evolution, not just believing in a book, believing in a certain idea, being willing to think for yourself and formulate your own ideas, not… you know? The other stuffs are good fundamentals but it’s not… we still have to evolve, that’s how we’re created, we’re created to evolve so you can believe in that the answer is in this book or in this one idea that the masses most believe in, each individual must evolve themselves, spiritually and consciously.


Question: How important was Rastafarianism in the Marley family?


Ziggy Marley: :Very serious, I mean, you know, we… I grew up in it. My father and mother, I grew up in a… we moved around a lot but I went to schools that were just for Rastafarian kids, you know? I grew up in communities that was just Rastafarian and I went to ceremonies and stuff like that and my father… I learned from my father and that’s where it all begun but I must say that what I am saying is not… is not to put down other misconcepts, of what… whether it be… what do you call it Rastafarian, Judaism or Christianity, whatever.

What I’m saying is to complete it, to complete the concepts, those concepts are unfinished, love is a completion of the concept and that’s what I’m saying as to not put them down but to complete them, to fulfill them and make them grow into this love which is a real… which is the truth, you know, we grew up pretty thick in our culture.


Question: Why does religion continue to divide us?


Ziggy Marley: Yeah, things like lack of leadership and a lack of the willingness to evolve, they’re so used to keeping people within the constraints of the idea that has been the same idea for a thousand years. They believe that there’s no room for change, there’s no room to grow and if we’re talking about this idea of God which is the infinite then there’s no way that there’s no room to grow because infinity is endless.

So there must be more room to understand more and to evolve the way we think about this idea. So that’s… it’s a lack of leadership in this world of religion and in this world of idea of God, where it is very stagnant. And it can’t be that way. We’re... You know, it’s so well-made in the image of God and one must be able to evolve and grow. But, you know, I don’t want to get to much into…


Question: What are you doing to help the poor in Jamaica?


Ziggy Marley: Well, you know, from I was growing up with my father. We always… You know, we come from Gutters of Jamaica, Kingston. I was born… I was born in the Gutters of Jamaica. My father comes from Gutters Jamaica. My mother, my aunt, my whole family, that’s where we came from. And as we moved up… As my father had more success on whatever, we moved all the time. We went to a better house, better schools, whatever, but we would always go back. And that’s the example I learn, that, you know, we always remember where we’re coming from and we always give a helping hand to those who are less fortunate. So that’s the seeds that were planted in me as a child.

And as we grew up, you know, we started to do the music. We started making some money for ourselves so we continue that example that we have learned. We did it first, we don’t have any official title to it. You know, we just did it. And then, I was like… Then we found this charity, just call it U.R.G.E., Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment, and let’s see if anyone else is willing to help us in what we’re doing. Basically, know… what I’ve done is after doing it for many years and realizing that, you know, given… You know, [IB] use to give money to people but that don’t work. Given money to people don’t work, you know, it doesn’t satisfy people and it’s not a good long-term concept. Let’s say, here’s a thousand... you know, it don’t work so I kind of change the focus to focus on children. Because I believe that that’s the only things are going to change in my country, yeah. Is if I can help to educate children so that we are… They go into adults with better thinking, you know. So that’s what we focus you know educate children in Jamaica.


Question: What is your charity work in Africa?


Ziggy Marley: We’re doing a few charities with… which is HIV related. I’ve done… Aldo de la… The shoe company, Also de la [campaign] which are a part of… including… people [H&V de la campaign] that was a part of… The Red Campaign, I’ve been involved with for a couple of years now. And that’s about it. But Africa… You know, my mother… We do a lot of charity work in Africa. My mother has a big clinic and things in Ghana. And we try to support not only the AIDS thing but we are trying to support the concept of Africa… unity in Africa which we believe is the solution in Africa.

If African countries can unite and pull resources together, then that will be the best thing we could ever do for the problems in Africa including AIDS. So that is the… that is where we… that is where I see my effort going into more than the specifics, you know, HIV or the malaria thing. I see my effort going into fixing… I do an analogy that, you know, we can fix the windows and the doors but if the roof is leaking… I want to fix the roof so that... at least we have, you know, the shelter, then we can fix the smaller things in the house. So Africa and unity is a roof to me. And if we can get that done, and until we get that done, we’re not going to solve the problems in Africa. That has to be done, you know. So that’s… that’s where I want to put my effort in.

Question: What is your mother like?


Ziggy Marley:Yeah, mom… You know, she’s a… Well, she’s the main force behind who I am, you know, because obviously, you know, it’s the mother that really raise the child are the mother that directs the reason on the children. And from a young age, although she went on tour with my father a lot, she left us with her aunt, who was very disciplined and… So she knew that we will get a good upbringing when she wasn’t around.

But she’s a very strong woman and very, very caring about other people. And so, she does all these couple of things in Jamaica and Africa, everywhere she go. She do all this charity work for the kids. And she’s always… And she isn’t afraid to scrounge and stuff, you know, she get… If there’s, like, some tables or some clothes that people don’t want, she’d packed them and send it to Africa. She’s very down to earth. She’s from that place, you know. So she really work hard to help people, you know.


Question: What do you want to tell your mom on Mother’s Day?


Ziggy Marley:What am I going to tell mommy? Know it is love. I love my mother. That’s the most… That’s the greatest thing I can say, you know.


Question: Where is the recording industry right now?


Ziggy Marley: what we see is that the record labels are still trying to hold on to power. But it’s getting less because record labels have the connection with the big retail stores. The retail stores that are left are in business with the record labels so for an independent company like myself, it’s hard to get into a big retail store because they’re already connected with a record label who give them other commercial stuff that, you know, the band. So it’s hard for us but we’re making music a lot less these days in terms of expenses.

And so, I don’t have to make… I don’t sell a million records to make some money from a CD. You know, it’s not… it’s not about that, what… where we make our… where we make our… Our strength is in playing music live. You know, the records are there to help to promote. But it’s live. If you cannot play music live in the future, you know, you’re not going to have a chance. You have… be able to play music live. I think that’s where the future is, playing it live and just not expecting to be… not expecting to sell 10 million records. I don’t have to sell 10 million records to be able to be successful, to be able to be credible, or to be able to be loved by people. I haven’t sold 10 million records but people know me because of the substance of the music that I do and the meaning of the music.

That becomes much more important now and gives us longevity. That is where… those who come and go with the flight of what’s hot and trends, they don’t last forever. What we do last forever because what we’re singing, there’s meaning to it and that is all we see it. We see music becoming more, now, important for what it means to people. And it’s going to get more… It’s going to go in that direction. People want more, more than just the pop, I guess you would call it. And that’s what we see. I mean, the Internet is going to play a big part for us, you know. But, again, it’s live, it’s playing music live. That’s where… That’s how we’re going to connect with people and that’s how we’re going to be around for a long time, doing great live shows, you know.


Question: Should the U.S. legalize marijuana?


Ziggy Marley: Yeah, you should but, I think, whether they’re legalized, they’re not… it not stops at any one. You know I’m saying? I mean, it’s a plant… But, I think, what’s most important than even pot is hemp. Why? Because pot… Yeah, people smoke, you know, marijuana, whatever, but hemp can save the planet, what’s smoking it now. That’s what hemp can save the world, you know. In the Bible, it’s… God give us these herbs that we must use, these plants. This is a gift that we are neglecting to use. So in my mind, the marijuana struggle… marijuana struggle, the pot struggle is good but the hemp struggle… That is what is going to save the planet.

You know, this plant can do everything we needed to do, fuel, clothes, you know… And it help the [IB] of it. It regenerates us. That mean, when you plant… when you plant hemp and you take that grub, when you put in the corn or the peas or the potato, it flourishes]even more. So, I think, there needs to be something going on about hemp too, not just the smoking of this plant. The smoking… For me, the smoking is a… It’s a very spiritual, sacramental, private thing. But if they have the whole earth, were using the hemp plant to do all of these things that it can do. And that is why… that is our problem for governments to legalize the hemp plant itself, you know, when I say so. Think about that. You know, don’t get… don’t let the marijuana side of it hide the bigger side of it. You know, I sit here so, you know, keep that in mind, you know.


Question: How is reggae evolving?


Marley: Well, I think… I think, just as we speak of roots, I think the basic foundation of it will always be there, which is what I do, you know. Everything I do, it is… the foundation is reggae. But as a free thinker and as an artist, I must not be constraint to anyone’s idea of what reggae is because as an artist, I keep the right to make the music, you know, not to… not to feed, what I call, the status quo of what it should be but the right to do what I want to do with the music, you know. And if you… You know, guys… people… they’re listening want to call it a reggae or not, that’s their problem. I call it reggae because I made it and I know what’s… I know what’s underneath it, you know I’m saying? So the progression of reggae will be something that will remain in the individual’s… the individual artist’s hand. I don’t see it been… I don’t want to see the foundation of it changing.

That cannot change. And I don’t see it ever being a move where a whole… the whole music change and everybody doing this, this is reggae now and that’s what everybody is doing. That’s not going to help. Again, the foundation has already been set. All we can to know is put in our individual creativity over that. And that’s… that’s going to be up to each individual. You know, then we can talk more… “Ziggy, what you’re doing with the reggae and…” “I did some African things and I’m doing this and that’s my reggae.” “Hey, mister, whatever, what are you doing with reggae?” “I’m doing this. This is my reggae.” You know, that’s what it’s going to be. You know I’m saying? But it will be… Reggae music will be significant as long as it keeps its soul, which is what I call roots. That’s very important. What… A lot of things happening now in the music industry has no soul. It has good beats and it has a lot of excitement but it has no soul. And it cannot live without soul. You need a soul to live. And so, I think, that’s part of my job, to keep the soul but not to be stagnate. As long as the soul is there, I can be creative and I can be free enough to do other things on that road, on that foundation. You know I mean?


Question: Who are you listening to now?


Ziggy Marley:What have I been listening? I haven’t been listening to anything much lately but I have some few that’s been a… has been my favorite for awhile, you know, and friends of mine too, you know [Ben, Oprah], Michael Franti… you know. And I like Beyonce’s last… which was put a ring on it… put a ring… I like that. I like… That’s a good message for the women, for the girls, you know. That’s the type of stuff I would like to hear more from that side of the music world, something that mean something more than the entertainment but giving the kids a good message, you know, for the younger… the women and that… you know, marriage and, you know, being respected in things that is very important. So I like that. And every now and then there is one song that I like, you know, from the artist but I listen to African music, you know. And I still listen to my father. I love my father’s music, you know.


Question: What inspires you?


Ziggy Marley: Actually, that… everything for a reason in my life. I don’t know what… I don’t know about anyone else’s life but in my life, everything for a reason. And even bad thing is for a reason, that, who knows, it might turn out to be something else. But… You know, I don’t fight creativity. I don’t fight against not being creative. If I’m not being creative, I’m not forcing it. I just… That’s it. I’m chilling. You know I’m saying? What inspire me… I want to say is God [IB] but I want to put it in a different way. I say it’s the universe. You know, it’s this thing that we don’t know what it’s called. Some people call it God and people have different names for it. I don’t know what it… Call it whatever you want to call it, I don’t know. Sometimes, I just said the universe.

That’s what I call it at times. And that’s what inspires me, you know, the universe. So that’s it. You know, I mean, my kids… I say before back in the days… Maybe every now and again, there is some social thing that will spark a song, you know, maybe a song about justice or a song about human rights or… Every now and again, there is something happening in the world where a [song] inspired by what’s happening. But a lot of times though, I’m writing songs that have to do with love, that have to do with establishing or reestablishing our connection to the universe, our spirituality, you know, reconnecting our consciousness to the universe. It has nothing to do with physical things, our social things, our political things. It has to do with spiritual things. And that’s where I find… That’s where I love to write songs the most, in that place, not in the political, social thing. I like to write songs in that spiritual place. That’s… That gives the best feeling, you know.


Question: What is the best advice you ever received?


Ziggy Marley:The best advice I ever receive… There’s been a few. But I must say, today, the best advice I have received is one that, I would say, I received from myself because it’s based upon my experiences. And the best advice I received from myself is follow your intuition, follow your mind ‘cause many times, I have not. And I’ve seen where I should have.

And, you know, each individual… to each is own. It’s not… Sometimes, not everybody’s intuition is one thing but where I am today in my life, my intuition, I should follow it. And that is… That is the advice I get from that inner voice inside of me. You know, that speaks… There’s a voice inside of me that speaks the truth. And I always listen to that voice. If I did, I wouldn’t get… my knee wouldn’t be injured right now. That’s the lesson. That’s the lesson. Ziggy, listen to… That’s the lesson. That’s what I’m talking about. I learn something, you know.