Curating the past and creating a better future
Many people’s first interaction with the music of Damian Jr.
Gong Marley was the 2005 album, “Welcome to Jamrock”.
That LP was a breakout success in the US and UK with the
eponymous lead single typically pulling no punches in its presentation of
crime, poverty and corruption in Jamaica. Eight years on, there are still
parallels to be seen, Damian says.
“The song itself is inspired by Jamaica. Some things have
changed for the worse, some better, some not at all. Our dollar has dipped even
more in comparison to the US dollar. For the near future, the economy is not
getting any better,” he notes.
The last four years, adds the 34-year old, have seen a lot
of internal problems in Jamaica.
“There was the incursion into Tivoli Gardens, which was a
political stronghold where one of our more powerful street leaders resided –
Dudus – and because of his extradition to America and all of that situation
there was a lot of upheaval. It came to police forces, military forces and
clashing civilians. It was one of the biggest clashes that has happened in our
history and quite a few people died in the space of a week. A lot of innocent
people were killed.
“There was a lot of things that I would write about if I was
writing that song today. In terms of the sufferation (sic) and the desperation
of the people it would be much the same.”
Such community-exploding tragedies are sadly still a factor,
even in 2013. So what’s going wrong? Damian has strident views on how things
have slipped in his beloved country.
“Unfortunately, Jamaica has a lot of career politicians; you
don’t know what they do outside of politics. Therefore, first of all, if I was
a leader or was in politics, it would not be my way to feed my family so I
would not be needing to manipulate things as politicians do. There is a lot of
money that goes under the table and you never hear about it again, when you talk
about Jamaican politics. There is a lot of corruption.
“That is at the root of a lot of the problems. It’s not that
we can’t be helped or improved, but a lot of the resources to improve are going
into people’s pockets. Overall, we do not have a lot of natural resources when
it comes down to oil, minerals and things like this but we do have a great
people so when it comes down to it, investing in the people is to be
The concept of communal pride, of a shared vibe, of course,
is never more eloquently expressed than in a concert. Whilst it’s easy to get
several thousand people singing, dancing and living in the moment together as
equals at a gig, the same is not necessarily true of politics at a grass roots
level. But music has a power to reach people nonetheless, says the multiple
“Well, that’s the reason we do the music we do; to try and
influence people overall,” he says, sagely.
That applies to contemporary artists, too, with one of the
most intriguing collaborations coming way out of left field in 2012 alongside
dubstep-electro producer Skrillex. It was a musical meeting as explosive as it
was unexpected and conducted in a cutting-edge manner.
“It was cool but I wanna tell you I’ve never really met
Skrillex face to face as yet unfortunately. It was over the net. He is a fan of
my music and I was aware of who he was. He had been using [Welcome to] Jamrock
as part of his show, sampling it and building his own vibe over it. That
inspired him to reach out to me and he sent me a snippet of his show in which
he was using it so I could get an idea of what he was doing with my music.
“Then he sent over the tracks and the result is the song
that we have together [Mek it Bun Dem, which gained widespread acclaim and was
featured on the computer game, Far Cry 3].”
The possibilities engendered by digital collaboration must be exciting, I
“It is positive and negative as an experience. I still like
being able to get into the studio with someone and bounce ideas off each other,
but obviously the net allows more to actually be done because you don’t have to
wait for the opportunity [to get together], or you would otherwise have to
orchestrate those situations.”
The Internet has removed geographical barriers from music, as well as opened up
the world to countless possibilities for musicians to get their voices heard.
“It’s to the benefit of the musician on the ground level,
where you do not necessarily now need to be signed to any label to expose
yourself, or to be heard in China if you are living in Kingston. It’s to be
used to your advantage. The genre of reggae music is picking up on it more and
more but we haven’t really reached the level of momentum that other genres
have. But we are going in the right direction when it comes to utilising the
net more, you know?”
A new generation
Aside from his own music, Damian is also co-owner of Ghetto
Youths International, a record label founded along with brothers Ziggy, Stephen
and Julian to assist young artists. An album on that label, Set Up Shop,
showcases the music of the Marley brothers and guests plus a new generation of
performers including Jo Mersa [Marley] and Daniel Bambaata Marley, representing
a third generation of Marley performers.
“We are using this project as a platform for some of the
talent we are working with,” explains Damian.
“It has been part of our whole focus over the years – to
develop talent from Jamaica – not just ourselves. We feel that our careers
personally have reached a certain level where we feel like we have the time and
experience to do that. This compilation is a statement of what we are all about
and exposing the young talent [to the world.]
“We can pass on so much, particularly when it comes down to
our knowledge of the business and the mistakes we made they won’t have to make
cause they can learn from our mistakes. We can show that there is a proper way
to promote music, a proper way to put it out, a proper way to organise a team
of booking agents, management and all this kind of thing.”
When it comes to the creative side, says the reggae and hip
hop artist, the aim is that the artists be themselves creatively express
themselves the way that they want to as long as morally you don’t really go
overboard with anything that would be immoral.
There are several measures of success for the compilation,
“Obviously for the record to sell and chart well would be
great. It’s still really just about building these new brands, getting a brand
for the label where it is not just looked at as Ziggy, Damian, Stephen,
Julian’s thing but a respected record label across the board when it comes to
“Hopefully too these artists we’re working with will become
killer artists on their own with people knowing their names without having to
always directly associate it with our names. For me, that would be a victory –
to see these artists start to book their own shows and concerts and things like
Speaking of gigs, Damian recently drew a crowd of around
5,000 to a live appearance courtesy of Youngblood Productions right here in the
Cayman Islands, which he says he really enjoyed.
“It was a good show, the second time I had been to Cayman
and a step up in terms of performance, the crowd involvement and overall my
popularity in Cayman. Cayman is quite small in comparison to Jamaica which is
one of the bigger Caribbean islands. A lot of people in Cayman are from Jamaica
or have Jamaican parents; the culture is close in those ways but Cayman is more
of a microcosm of a resort as a small island.”
As a live performer, he reveals, he has honed his set lists
according to the energy or vibe of the people in attendance.
“Every minute of my life influences me and influences my
music because of experience. When it comes down for a concert, [those
influences come] for sure. I can tell you, when we come up with a new album and
we are arranging the set list, over the first month or so of doing shows once
the album we adjust that [running order] according to the reaction and energy
level of the audience. For example, we might find that we have too many fast
songs back to back so we change that and put a slow one in to break the tempo a
little bit. You figure out how to perform the songs live by performing them.
“For me it is all quite natural. It’s not something that you
sit down and meditate on, it’s something that happens in the moment. You adjust
and then that becomes a part of the album or the show that you are doing.”
Collaborating with Nas
One thing that is notable about Damian Marley’s career is
his willingness to experiment with sound, with genre and with collaborations.
One of the most successful examples of that is 2010’s Distant Relatives, which
brought together American rapper and actor, Nas, who has sold over 13 million
albums in the United States alone.
“Working with Nas was one of the highlights of my career
thus far,” Damian reveals.
“I was a great fan of his before I even started working with
him. I first worked with him on Road to Zion, from the Welcome to Jamrock
“We had some tracks left over from Jamrock that we didn’t
put out which were conceptually based on Africa, two songs in particular which
did not get released. We thought it might be a good idea to do an EP about
Africa with Nas and make two more. It turned out that we were so excited when
we started working that we decided to make an album, which became Distant
Relatives. It’s grown into something of its own and almost like a different
The writing process involved a lot of bouncing ideas –
musical and otherwise – off each other, says Damian.
“We would speak about a lot of things, not necessarily in
the sense of writing the song itself but conversations of things we wanted to
talk about within those songs, what was going on in Africa, his views and my
views. My musicians played most of the music on the album. We would vibe some
jams at night, loose ideas, then Nas would come in the morning and say he liked
this one, or that one then we would develop those ideas more. The ideas we were
both excited about were the ones we worked on.”
Damian Marley is, of course, first and foremost a talented
and driven musician in his own right and he tells Weekender that it’s time he
got back into the studio to work on some new stuff of his own.
“I am just getting my momentum back and getting warmed up
into my own music again because for the last year and a half I have been
helping other artists with their projects. I am now trying to remind myself
that I am an artist myself. It’s all open at this point in time. One of the
differences now I find peculiar compared to working with the Nas album is that
we knew that the songs would be about Africa so it was much easier for me to
develop songs and ideas – we already had a direction and a focus and knew where
everything was going. But this [new album project] is more open and could be
about everywhere, Africa and everywhere itself.
“I have one or two more dancehall songs I might release as
singles. I have just now started doing some recordings towards my next solo
project. We are really early in that project so I couldn’t really say who, as
yet, might be involved in terms of collaborations or guests. The music has to