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Interview: Ziggy Marley – Singer, Songwriter and Producer

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As the son of reggae's best-known and best-selling artist, it should come as no surprise that Ziggy Marley's life has been transformed and inspired by the power of music.

Between 1986 and 2000, Ziggy served as the leader of the Melody Makers, a genre-defying musical group that included three of his Marley siblings: Stephen, Sharon and Cedella. Together, the collective would garner 3 Grammy Awards over the course of their celebrated career: back-to-back wins in 1988 and 1989 for "Best Reggae Recording"—following the international success attained from Conscious Party and One Bright Day — and a "Best Reggae Album" win in 1997 for Fallen Is Babylon. Several years later, with the release of Dragonfly (2003), Ziggy would embark upon a solo career.

After the GRAMMY-winning success of Love Is My Religion (2006), Ziggy Marley's sophomore solo set, the artist shifted his creative gears and used his celebrity to focus attention on "the future"—the children of Jamaica and beyond. Upon review of Family Time, his third solo album, Ziggy Marley managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on the work of his father, Bob Marley, his professional relationship with Jamie Lee Curtis, and the experience of recording with his daughter, Judah.

Coming off the Grammy-winning success of Love Is My Religion, I am curious to know what life events led you to record a children's album for your third solo project. What inspired the vision behind Family Time?

It seems like a transformation, when I think about it, from Love Is My Religion up to this record. But I was inspired by little things here and there in the world of children, especially music entertainment. I thought I had something to say that children might find uplifting and positive and inspiring. So I wanted to say to the children: "Family – that's what life is all about." 

Well, if nothing else, the album is definitely a family affair. Family Time features guest appearances by your mother, [Rita Marley], your sister, [Cedella Marley], and even your daughter, [Judah Marley]. When you listen to the title track, what emotions do you feel when you hear your daughter on the record with you?

Oh, joy and happiness and laughter. I can't help but feel that.

How did Judah enjoy the recording experience? I know she's quite young.

She loved it. She's been in the industry with me during my sessions. And she was there for Love Is My Religion, too. So she just loved it.

On "Family Time" you state: Now the world gets busy but it's not hard to see family means the most to me. How difficult is it at times to balance family life with your professional work?

Well, I think it's difficult for most people living in this world. There are so many things that people focus on, in order to survive. But my family is a part of me. And you just have to remember to get back to basics every now and again. Family keeps you grounded. It keeps you going. It keeps you conscious. It's good to get back to basics every now and again.

Since the album is entitled Family Time, please share one of your favorite memories with another member of the Marley family.

It's hard to think of a favorite memory, because everyday is filled with so many new memories, you know what I mean? There are no favorites. I have a good time with my family. I love my family. I like playing with my kids. I like chasing my kids around the living room. I guess that's one of my favorite memories… chasing my son in the living room.

Family Time also features several guests outside of your family. How did you go about selecting them?

"Selecting them" sounds a little bit too much of a process. When I first started making records, I never had that big intention of asking anybody to do this thing with me. After a while, somebody must have said to me, "What do you think about this?" I said, "Yeah, that would be good." Somehow it's people who I feel, who I have a connection with, and musical experiences, vibe-wise. I'm a vibe kind of person so I reach out to the people I have a vibe with. Jack Johnson, Paula Fuga, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eliza Mitchell, Toots Hibberts, Paul Simon, Laurie Berkner, Willie Nelson – grandfather Willie, you know. That's how I work.

Jamie Lee Curtis makes two separate appearances on the album's final two tracks. Is there a special bond that the two of you share?

Yeah. Jamie Lee was one of the first persons who said, "We should make a kids' record," nine years ago, I believe. So when I was finishing up the record, I said, "I have to call Jamie Lee," because she was the one who wanted to do a kids' record with me back in the day. She had started doing kids' books. So she was right up the alley for the kids' record. So I said, "Jamie, come read. I wrote a little story myself and read one of my stories on here." She loved doing it.

What kind of impact do you hope that this album will have, since it is your first foray into children's music?

I have big, old faith in children because I want children to grow up in unity and peace and non-violence and the sun shining and love. So I hope I inspire children to speak of these things and have these things be in their lives. And then pass down to their children and their children's children until eventually, I won't have to make another children's record. This could be the only one ever and it's enough because the message is there. I hope it inspires generations and we are doing something that will inspire children to be better – better than we are as a whole in this human race in this time. The future generation can be better than what we have done here.

My favorite track on the album is "My Helping Hands." Since you're involved in a lot of different philanthropic groups and a lot of different humanitarian efforts, many of which are related to HIV and AIDS, pick one of your most recent or cherished efforts and give me a little bit of insight on what drives you to keep on working with it. 

Well, some proceeds from this record will help me to continue developing a school that I adopted, [Chepstowe Basic School in Port Antonio, Jamaica]. For me, I believe that the problem in Jamaica and other countries like Jamaica is lack of focus on children, lack of foresight. The problems will not be fixed today, but we must set some kind of foundation so we know that it will be fixed in the next generation. The problem is too big to be fixed, too big for promises that politicians give to people working for them. If we do not prepare the children, all of these problems will continue. That is why I get involved with children so much – to plant a seed for the future, to make it a brighter place. The only way the world is going to change is if we teach the children the right things and teach them the positive things because children have open minds, not like most adults where they already have what they believe and what they don't believe. This is why this record is significant to me. Children are still open to receive knowledge, to receive the true knowledge that's going to help to make the place better. The solution is in the children. We have to set them up and get them ready to make this happen. We can continue to dig at it, but it will only finally come to a reality if we make sure the children are ready by giving them a good education and giving them positive ideas to live by and teaching them truth. 

Although your work is attached to children, what words do you have for other musicians to attach themselves to other social causes? What do you think it is about music that makes it a powerful force to get those kinds of ideas across?

Music is the language we speak and it's global. It spreads wide and it can go wide to many places. Individual drive is important, but it has to be something on a bigger level than self. It's the individual who makes the music. I don't think every artist can do the same thing I do. You don't have to. Anybody in their own life can affect the world in some way. Either they affect a change in himself or help others outside of himself. Everybody plays a part.

On "This Train," you noted that your father used to sing that song when you were young and has, ever since, "lingered" in your soul. How important was it for you to record "This Train" and place it on Family Time?

The only reason I did that song was because my father did a version of it. But the song that I have the most attachment to is the song "Hold Em Joe." Every time I think about, it carries me back in time when I first started singing on stage. 

You also recorded a rendition of your father's "Three Little Birds" and it's been featured in a lot of the programming that you've been working with, including Dora the Explorer. Why do you think so many people and children gravitate toward that song?

The message – what it's saying is very light and simple and positive. My father always said, when you make songs, make a song that even the children can understand. He had a lot of children, so he had some practice. There's no surprise there.

What do you think is the greatest lesson you've learned professionally?

Professionally, just to make music, man, to make music. Have your own identity. Set your own path, you know. This is the only way a true artist must be.

What do you consider to be your legacy?

Love is my legacy. Love is my religion. That is my legacy. That is the message. 

Speaking of Love Is My Religion, that particular album received a "Best Reggae Album" GRAMMY in 2007.  Does that particular win bring any special memories to your mind?

Not really. But you have to take that type of thing very quietly. We appreciated, especially because it was an independent release. It's hard for independent releases to gain a foothold in the market right now. We still struggled, but we appreciate the affirmation.

You have also worked a great deal outside of the world of music.  And some time ago, you started an organization called URGE – Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment. What encouraged you to start that organization and what you see happening in the future with that organization?

We were encouraged to start the organization because we wanted to invite people if they want to help something or care for something. If anyone else wants to come help, then they come to our organization. Sometimes we give clothes and medicine to orphans. We do a little bit of everything, like giving a treat for children in impoverished areas in Jamaica, support all different types of programs for children. It's very simple and very busy but if that's what we can do, we do it and we feel good about it.

For more information on Ziggy Marley, visit his official website.

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About Clayton Perry

  • Kit O’Toole

    Ziggy Marley continues to grow in his career and develop his own style, while of course staying true to his father’s sound and message. Great interview, Clayton! For those who’d like to view my recent review of “Family Time” and a look back at “Conscious Party”.

  • carlton williams

    you’re everything bob wanted and more keep on keepin on,one love/heard me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rwedddog

    remember rita had part in that also!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • sean lewis

    when are the melody makers getting back together to do an album and a tour. i would love to take my 13 year old daughter to see them live. we love their music.

  • Ray Salmon

    Nuf Respect to Ziggy, keep di good nature of your father alive. I was born in Kingston Jamaica & love the vibes di Marley family bring to music.