Photo: Kristin Burns
Ziggy Marley Talks Working With His Kids On 'More Family Time,' The Joy Of Toots Hibbert & Bob Marley's Revolution
The rhythms and ethos of reggae very much run through Ziggy Marley's veins. Not only was he born into reggae royalty as one of the sons of the late, great Bob Marley, he has spent most of his life immersed in it. As a young kid, he absorbed it during his father's studio sessions and, not long after, he and his siblings began making it themselves as the Melody Makers.
Back in 1989, Ziggy took home his first GRAMMY, with the Melody Makers, for Best Reggae Recording for Conscious Party. He has since earned eight total GRAMMYs to date and put out eight solo studio albums. Throughout it all, he has continued to spread messages of love, equality and unity through music, as his father did and other members of the Marley clan also continue to do.
And just as his father encouraged him and his siblings to make music, Ziggy's passing the torch to his children. On his latest album, More Family Time, released on on Sept. 18, four of his kids (Gideon, Judah, Abraham and Isaiah) contribute, along with their dog Romeo, Ziggy's brother Stephen Marley and famous friends including Lisa Loeb, Sheryl Crow, Angelique Kidjo, Alanis Morrissette and more. The lively, joyful family album was inspired by the four-year-old Isaiah and is a follow up to 2009's Emmy- and GRAMMY-winning Family Time.
We recently chatted with Ziggy to hear about all the magic that went into the album, his memory of the great Toots Hibbert, what his father's legacy means to him and more.
So, you just released more Family Time, which follows 2009's Family Time. What are you hoping that kids and parents experience while listening to this album?
Well, for this one, especially since we're in such a situation, a lot of kids aren't in school and we've been in quarantine with the COVID issue. I just hope this is some relief and some positive energy that the family can enjoy together. This is really simple, that's what it is really.
Can you talk a little bit about how your four-year-old son Isaiah inspired both the "Goo Goo Ga Ga" song and then the project as a whole?
Isaiah, since he was born, he has been around me a lot. Even more than the other kids, he was actually in the studio. And he is on the cover of my last album, Rebellion Rises and he was always in the studio during that album. So, when I'm around him, and you see him, he used to just go on and say "goo goo gaga, goo goo gaga, goo goo gaga." And so, that kicked off the process of me writing. And after that, it just kept going in that direction, so I let it go that way. To make an album for family and children specifically, it's always good to have children around. For me, it's natural. So it was just a part of the inspiration.
Ziggy Marley at home with his family | Photo: Kristin Burns
And both he and some of your other kids sang on a couple of the songs. Was it fun for them? What was it like getting the family involved?
When Isaiah first tried, I was so surprised. He just did it. The song called "Move Your Body," he just did this thing which was incredible to me. I was so amazed. He had so much expression. I was just blown away. I didn't expect him to have fun to do it. So, it's so real, what he did and how he did it. And from all the other kids, I bring them in just like my father would bring me in, I bring us in.
For the older ones, the teenagers, it was tedious because they're teens and they only want to do so much for it. But I made them do it and afterwards they got into it. We enjoyed doing it together. Sometimes they're happy to hear themselves on the record again. My daughter, Judah, is 15. She was the inspiration for the first Family Time album. She was about the same age then as Isaiah is now and she's on the first album also. So, it's just a continuation.
All of the songs on the album are really fun and joyful, but I really love the upbeat energy of "Move Your Body." And the fact that Tom Morello and Busta Rhymes are on this awesome kid's song, it blows my mind. How did that track come together?
I think that track is the weirdest track on the album, in terms of how it came about, because it started out as something totally different. And as we went along, as Tom added his piece to it, it kind of changed my perspective on it. And then Busta did it, so my whole perspective was actually changing from the original idea as the creative process went along and it morphed into this "Move Your Body" song.
It's just all about moving. It's an energy song to move to, really. There's not a lot of lyrical stuff, "la la lee lee lee la la lo," is actually from the Ethiopian alphabet. So some of the things that I say in that song have meaning to them, but it's okay if you don't know the meaning. It's one of the crazier songs I've done, with Tom and Busta. [Laughs.]
When you were making the song, were you like, "I need Tom and Busta on the song?" I'm also curious about the rest of the collaborations and how they all came together.
All of these artists pretty much, I've known for years. Most of them, we'll see each other, we'll talk to each other. Busta Rhymes is an old friend of ours, we've known him for years. Sheryl, Ben [Harper], Angelique, all these people, we have a comradery from working together in the past.
As the album went on and I did each song, each song kind of told me—because I know each individual—who would be good on it. I was like, "Oh, this song sounds like it's a Sheryl Crow sound." When I wrote "Everywhere You Go" the chorus reminded me of one of her songs. I was like, "Oh, Sheryl would be good for that." So each song spoke to me about who would fit in it, and that came from me knowing them and knowing their music.
You sang "Three Little Birds" with Toots Hibbert on the new Toots and the Maytals album [Got To Be Tough], which came out shortly before he passed away. What does that track and having sang it with him mean to you? And what was one of the biggest things you have learned from Toots?
I feel for me to sing a song with Toots is to understand what Toots brought in, to me it was a great interpretation, but so different and still good. I mean, sometimes you do something different, but this one was really good. I really liked it. We did it a few years ago, actually.
Toots was like a good luck charm. Toots was an angel of joy, he brought joy. He was the type of angel that no matter where you are when they appear, magically everybody's happy. He had that power in him to bring joy and happiness. I don't know anybody like Toots who has that ability, just by his energy, to just bring joy. He was a very unique spirit with a very unique gift. It was unique to him as far as I know, I don't know anybody that's like that.
That's beautiful. This year has also brought 75th anniversary celebrations for your dad, Bob Marley. What does his legacy mean to you?
My father was about being a good human, being righteous and just and fearless. And he treated people of all walks of life with respect as human beings. It's not about music, it's about humanity. That is what legacy is. It's much deeper than music, you know? That is how I see it.
That's so fitting for the time we're in right now. What message do you think he'd have for what's going on in the world right now? Or what is one of his messages you think would most apply right now?
There's a few, especially with what's happening in America and the Black Lives Matter movement here. He was very aware of the oppression of African people and people of African heritage. He had songs like "Blackman Redemption," Africa Unite" and others in that spectrum of it that was a part of a revolutionary movement. And he is that, but he was also on the side of love too. There's "One Love," "Three Little Birds" and stuff like that. So he's the balance.
But right now, in the situation that we are in, I think the tone would be more on the side of "Get Up, Stand Up" and even "Blackman Redemption," because it is important that equality is for everyone. This is something that people have fought for years, and we still have a fight for it today. We still have to stand up and march in the streets for it because inequality and injustice does exist. And I don't think we can just stand by and not put our voices towards it. His messages are a part of that that movement also.
Sometimes people are kind of look over the more revolutionary side of my father, they want to just see the "One Love" and "Three Little Birds" and forget that other side to him. I won't forget that.
What was it like growing up in the Marley family? Did you always know that you would dedicate your life to music? Or did you have other ideas?
I knew I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to, but music kind of came upon me because of the inspiration to write songs. If I wasn't inspired to write songs, I wouldn't be doing music. That is the only reason I'm a musician is because, for some reason, I write songs.
I mean, nobody taught me to write songs. I didn't go to school write songs. Nobody told me how to do it, it just happened. It is a gift that was given to me by nature or by whatever forces you want to call it. So, I accepted that gift and I put that gift out there so other people can get something from it too. That is why I do music, I could have done anything, but nature called me towards music. I was skilled, you know.
Part of the proceeds from More Family Time support the U.R.G.E. Foundation you lead in Jamaica. Can you share a little bit about the work that the organization does?
Yeah. I mean we love children. We have a school in Jamaica, and we help with the teachers' salaries, sports equipment and making sure to keep them on a good playground. And then we've also joined with other organizations in other areas. In Los Angeles here, we work with an organization that is an after-school program for underprivileged kids and we help them out also. We do stuff in Mexico too.
It's all children-focused. I think that is the most important part of society—if we can help the children, that is where the world will change. And so, we just focus on that.
Obviously, giving back and being of service is a big part of what you do, so what do you see as the connection between art and service?
Well, art is service. But as an individual person that does art, also outside of my art, even if I wasn't doing art, I would still be who I am. And so, what I do is just something that is in me, regardless of my art. Art in itself is a part of giving, right. I mean, it all depends on the individual. Generalizing, some people's art is for giving and some people's art as for taking. [Laughs.]
We have the art, that's a given, and we are giving individuals also, so it's like two like-minded forces coming together, me as a person and the art, coming together to give. It works in a full circle really, you get full service.
It's kind of the mindset you put in, going into creating your art.
Yeah, who you are goes into your art, right? for me, I don't pretend, my art isn't a pretending thing. I don't sing about things I've pretended to do, pretended to see. What I sing about comes out of my heartis in my art—is in my art.