The conventional wisdom about Ziggy Marley is that as he gets older, his voice more resembles that of his daddy, Robert Nesta Marley, and his music sounds less and less like that of his father. This maxim has been stated so many times by music critics who feign knowledge of such things that we might as well state the same. Not just because others have said it but also because they've been spot-on.
Ziggy Marley and fellow Marley siblings Stephen, Cedella, and Sharon, who comprise the Melody Makers, began making music in the late 1970s and highlighted practically every year's Reggae Sunsplash in Kingston during the 1980s. But just a few months ago, Ziggy released Dragonfly, his first album sans siblings. It continues his trend of departing from the Rasta/roots blueprint and delving more deeply into the worlds of rock and hip-hop.
"We tried to do something different than the Melody Makers," Ziggy says over the phone, each word coming slowly, sleepily, from his lips in a thick Jamaican accent. "I was much more free to explore and do whatever I wanted."
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The results of that exploration have garnered mixed results. Most people believe the Melody Makers dished out stronger stuff. Allmusic.com called the album's lyrics "embarrassing." But lyrics are not something Ziggy spends a great deal of time worrying over. "Sometimes you try to write songs and you're thinking about it, but most of the time, the best songs I've written have been when I feel them," he explains in typical stream-of-consciousness fashion. "You can tell when a song is too calculated. Better to have more emotion come out in them."
And emotion plays heavily on Dragonfly. Whether it's introspective songs such as "True to Myself" or the handful of political numbers, Marley wears his lyrics right there on his sleeve, next to his heart. That may be one of the few things his music shares with Bob's. Another common trait is an idealistic, almost naive world view. Bob and Ziggy share the belief that, no matter how unpleasant the world may seem, one can always hope for peace. Witness Ziggy's song "Shalom Salaam," which addresses the conflict in the Middle East.
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"I care about people all over the world," he says. "The Israel/Palestine conflict is something I really care about, because people are dying every day. Children are dying. It don't make no sense to me. So I feel about it, and I try to express that." While Israelis and Palestinians rarely trust each other, Ziggy maintains a positive outlook. "I feel like I have to keep hope and say it's possible, because everything is possible," he says. "I wish that we could come up with more peace and more peaceful ways of solving our problems... I mean, there is a way to solve problems without violence. We've seen it in America. We've seen it in the civil rights movement in America. We've seen it in South Africa. There was apartheid, but the government changed without a big bloodbath. In India, Gandhi started his movement. So it's possible. Peace leads to change, but violence brings nothing but violence."
Spoken like a true scion of the House of Marley. But aside from global thinking, emotive material, and vocal range, there's little comparison between Bob and his oldest son. Dragonfly's flirtations with American music fall right off the Bob Marley map, landing closer to some of Ziggy's contemporaries in the dancehall world. Still, he eschews common hip-hop practices such as sampling.
"The music's all about what I've been through in my life," he says. "When I'm doing music, it's all a part of me. It's not something that I listen to and then say, 'OK, lemme take that.' Everything is inside of me." The tendency, then, for Marley to write songs from the gut will allow him to dig only so deeply into other musical realms before he is pulled back into the comfort zone of his own feelings.
As for the Melody Makers, the band is on extended vacation. "We took a break; the group was kinda taking a break, and I just had to do some music," Marley says of his decision to release a solo album. "I was much more free to explore and do whatever I wanted. It's all about creating, never about doing the same thing over and over again. You got to keep the creativity fresh and not repeat yourself. It becomes, after a while, you know, it becomes boring. I couldn't do that. I just do whatever I feel is right at the time."