Living The Legacy

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Damian Marley has a face and a name that anyone familiar with reggae music should recognize. He is, of course, the youngest son of the late Bob Marley, whose songs are known all over the world as anthems of love, humanity and political struggle.

The young Marley, also known as “Junior Gong”, is carrying on the tradition of his father and older brother Ziggy, while at the same time craving his own niche in the popular music scene.

Marley’s most recent release, “Halfway Tree” (2001), won a Grammy for best reggae album, and you can hear him perform Thursday at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz.

Marley was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in l9?8, son of BobMarley and ]Jamaica’s l9I”? Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare. He grew up knowing two separate worlds, the poverty of his father’s childhood in the country and the “downtown” part of Kingston and his mother’s wealthier life as a “light-skinned, uptown woman.”

Just a young boy when his father died from cancer in 1981, Marley remembers that “the life we had was all family and community. My father would play football (soccer) and feed the poor at his house all day and night.”

Marley began performing when barely into his teens, first singing in a reggae band called The Shepherds, which was made up of the children of other famous reggae artists. The Shepherds performed at several Jamaican festivals including 1992’s Reggae Sunsplash. When The Shepherds broke up, Marley turned his talents to deejaying, the Jamaican equivalent of rapping. He released a single entitled “Deejay Degree” on his late father’s Tuff Gong label in 1993 and followed it in 1995 with “School Controversy,” which was featured on a Sony compilation album in aid of a Jamaican HIV organization. That year, he also toured with Shabba Ranks and appeared at Sunsplash with his brother Julian. His first album, 1995’s “Mr. Marley,” was released to critical acclaim and won him wide recognition.

Marley’s music represents a fusion of old and new styles. Traditional Jamaican reggae and dancehall rub shoulders with rap, hip-hop and other modern elements. In contrast to many contemporary artists, Marley’s lyrics show a responsible approach to relationships (“I wish you cats would understand procreation instead of using it as recreation,” from “Where Is The Love”) while maintaining a sense of fun, singing praises of “fit and bouncy girls” on “Cool And Dandy”.

Like his father, he also can be outspoken. He is one of only a few musicians who openly sing about the suppression of ganja (marijuana), which is a sacrament to those of the Rastafarian faith in Jamaica. Of his lyrical content, Marley says, “Ya want to sell records and give positive feelings to the people so they can move their body but ya also have a message of righteousness.”

Many audience members have remarked on the experience of seeing Damian Marley live as being so similar to seeing Bob perform that they almost see him as his father. “I feel Bob in me every day, every hour, every second,” Damian Marley said. “His blood runs through me. His heart beats in me.”

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, February 20, 2003

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