Ziggy Marley on Politics, Positivity and Exodus
by Larson Sutton on April 10, 2017
Fresh off his Grammy win for Best Reggae Album, Ziggy Marley is back with a new single, “See Dem Fake Leaders,” and a new live set. He’s also a newly-minted author of his first cookbook and preparing for a busy summer on the road that will include festivals in Europe and a special appearance with an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Ziggy took some time to speak about his latest endeavors, including a reunion in April with the Marley brothers, as well as his father’s influence on his most important work: his childr
When we spoke last year you told me that you try and not be political as an artist, but your new single, “See Dem Fake Leaders,” is a pretty bold political statement.
What prompted that?
It’s been a long time that I’ve had those certain thoughts in my mind. I’ve chosen not to express certain things from a political point of view, or express them less than my other spiritual or human-experience point of view. I’ve wanted to say things very clearly, not artistically. I wanted to say what I meant. When I look at the whole world—where we’re coming from, where we are, the leadership in this world, in religion and politics—the wars are emanating from leaders. We need leaders who talk about love, and not killing and war, hating and dividing. I know it seems like it was written purposely now, because of Trump. It’s not about that. We’ve had bad leaders for a while. I just wanted to say it. That’s all.
So much of your work has insisted on positivity, and this is a strong critique.
I’m a multi-minded individual. I have all different aspects of myself. We all do, probably. I’m not just one way. I guess, more the tougher side of it, the more revolutionary spirit that is in me, in a peaceful way, is what I went to. And, more Jamaican; my Jamaican roots. This is a song I could’ve written in Jamaica; when I was living in Jamaica. It’s the type of song we used to hit the radio with, you know. I’m living here in America now, and I have a wider view. I’m being true to my experiences and my point of view. It’s that thing inside of me, that little edge that I needed to come out. “See Dem Fake Leaders” is that edge.
You just released a digital download of a live session you did for a Santa Monica College radio station, Live from KCRW. How was that, to perform in a studio, early in the morning, for essentially no audience? Did you treat it as a live show? A recording session? Both?
I didn’t think about it as a studio session. I didn’t think we were making an album, or making something we were going to release. If I did think about it that way, it could be something different. When you get your mind caught up in thinking you’re going to release something, sometimes you start to think about it being too perfect. The fact is, my mind wasn’t in that place. We just went to the radio show and played music. Whether there are people there or not, we feel the music.
I am feeling the music. People don’t make me feel it. I feel the music, even if I’m by myself. Those emotions are always real. We were on tour, playing the music regularly, so we were already in that type of groove. It wasn’t like coming into the studio from rehearsal. We were tight. A good tight. I felt it was real. I was expressing myself truthfully.
You recently won another Grammy. This one, for your Ziggy Marley album, which makes eight. Congratulations. What’s that feeling like, to win another one? Are the ones that have been more special for you than others?
It’s an alright feeling. It’s not an overwhelming feeling, though. It’s not like something that I use for a boost for what I do, to my ego, or how I feel about myself or how I feel about my music. It is an honor. I think some are more special. When I won in the Children’s category, it was special because it was outside of the Reggae category. I really like that one. The last one was not so much to have won, but to have my kids there to help me accept the award onstage. I usually don’t even go to the awards ceremony to accept my award, but this time I did. I performed in the pre-telecast section. That made it special.
Does having your children aware of what do you do affect what you write?
No, not really. Everything we’ve been doing, from the beginning, has always been compatible with children. What I say, what I write, what I feel about things is not something that is an explicit thing or something children cannot hear. Sometimes kids say things that make me write a song on what they just said. The experience of it is the inspiration.
Your father was known to be a playfully competitive person with you and your siblings. Are there parts of your upbringing that you have drawn on, parts of his personality that you have in common, when you parent?
Just last night we had a talk with them about respect. Sometimes kids don’t listen to mom and dad, yet will listen to their teachers at school. Hey, we want the same respect as you would give your teacher. We say something, you listen. In terms of a comparison between my father’s style and the way I raise my children, both of us have the idea of discipline and respect. The idea of being good people. My father was a good person. He came from the countryside where people showed manners and respect. He expected that of us. I remember him disciplining me for not listening to him.
In late April, you will be joining your brothers at Kaya Fest. How does that work, when you get together with them?
When I do this stuff with the brothers, Stephen is the leader of the band. Everything is up to him. We talk, and I’ll say, what’s the plan? What are we going to do? We’ll do some of our own songs. We’ll do some Bob songs together. We’ll rehearse a couple weeks before the show. It’s simple like that for me. It means getting together to play music. Nothing too big, just hanging out. Like, if we weren’t doing music, we may be just hanging out at the house, playing some video games, eating some food. We approach it the same way; hanging out, doing a show.
This summer you will be doing a lot of festivals in Europe. Do you notice a difference in audiences here in America and those abroad?
I’m more disciplined in America. I do more shows here. In Europe, like if I do festivals, it’s different than if I do my own shows. At festivals, some of the people may be hearing my music for the first time. But, I don’t really look at the differences. I don’t study that or focus on that. When the music plays, people just experience the music. There is no bad way to experience this music. You get it how you get it.
Also, you will be performing this summer with an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. What’s the impetus for that concert?
The main impetus for me is curiosity and adventure. It’s doing something I’ve not done before; to experience music in a different way with a different aspect, for me, is exciting. Also, we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of my father’s album, Exodus. That’s going to be a part of it; to incorporate some orchestra with songs from Exodus, and some of my songs. It’s like a kid going to Disneyland for the first time. I get excited for these things.
Will you offer any input to the orchestra?
Music is a collaborative thing. I’m not a classical orchestra guy, but I might have an idea, too that they might find to be good. When we start rehearsal, I’m leaving it up to them, really.
Speaking of Exodus, Universal Music will be announcing some very exciting news about their plans for a new deluxe edition. You did a lot of work on that. Can you give us a hint of what to expect?
It’s like, it’s the same songs, but sounds like it came out today. It’s of this time. It’s definitely refreshing. Different texture and sound; the same songs, but all new.
Finally, you also have a cookbook out right now. I’ve always thought of parallels between food and music, between bringing ingredients together to make a dish, like instruments and players coming together to make music. Do you see it that way?
The main connection, from my experience, is when I eat really good, healthy, organic food, my mind is working. I’m going to eat some food, I’m going to make some music. What I eat can affect the music. Healthy eating has been a strong part of the whole program of making the music I make. That’s why I exercise. It helps everything else. For me, the way music is put together, and the way food is put together, it’s true. I’m working on some more songs right now. I experiment. When I came up with some of the recipes, it was not something I was copying. I make it up as I go. I improvise. Same with music. That’s why the recipes are so eclectic, so different. Not just the typical Jamaican. It has all different elements, like my music. I have an open mind, and everything has the freedom to be a part of what I do. I’m not locking out anything. I love that.