In the bigger sense, we’re talking about a fuckin’ political strategy — is love, creating love. That’s my strategy now. That should be a strategy for everybody. Let’s fuckin’ create some love. Let people love us some more and then they’ll stop hating us so much.
story by Jay Gentile
If everyone were Ziggy Marley, we humans would find ourselves holding down conversations with animals, would never place other people’s expectations of us above our true selves, would refuse to separate people by race or religion, and would all live peacefully as one under an overarching philosophy of love.
But, alas, everyone is not Ziggy Marley – which is what makes his recent album so intoxicating and fascinating. The album, Dragonfly, marks Marley’s first solo work after two decades as the driving force behind the Grammy award-winning Melody Makers, a musical conglomeration of Bob Marley’s children of which the 34-year-old Ziggy is the oldest.
The album retains a piece of the reggae core that cast the Marleys into international stardom, yet is packed with surprise adventures into the musical arenas of hip hop, rock, R&B, groove and funk. The album was recorded in Miami and Los Angeles over the course of a year in which Marley took a hiatus from his Jamaican homeland on a quest to expand his mind and his experiences.
Marley is assisted on the album with new collaborators Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chris Kilmore and Michael Einzinger of Incubus, Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers and guitarist David Lindley. Yet while the album moves in a new direction musically, intentionally eradicating stereotypes of what a Marley album should sound like, what makes the album so remarkable remains the lyrics – which haven’t changed all that much from the days of Marley’s iconic father.
Maybe it’s that the world we live in has changed so much since then, I don’t know. But to hear a musician in today’s society talk about forming a political strategy based on love and rejecting materialism in favor of a spiritual existence founded through the common bonds of humanity seems, well, out of place.
The lyrics Marley sings retain such a simple yet somehow hard to comprehend truth to them that they come across to the casual consumer of contemporary music as a radical, unforgivably idealistic, even shocking throwback to the ’60s. Yet as Marley explains in a lengthy, in-depth conversation with Chicago Innerview, perhaps we’re the ones living in a fantasy world.
The first song on the album is the title track “Dragonfly,” named after an experience Marley had one day communicating with an insect. He opens the piece with the lyrics, “Everybody’s worried about time/But I just keep that shit off my mind/People living on 24-hour clocks/But we’re on a ride that never stops.”
“We are slaves to the economic situation that we put ourselves in,” Marley explains. “We are definitely not free enough to just live life with putting the important things first, which is spirituality. We’ve become slaves to the 24-hour clock. We have to wake up, we have to go to work, we have an hour for lunch, we come back and it’s five o’clock. And it takes up so much of our time that we don’t have time to really be the way we should be as human being, ya know? It is very unnatural.”
Fair enough. But what’s this business about talking to dragonflies?
Marley explains that in the early days, humans were more in harmony with nature and had a better relationship with animals. While he says mankind was born with the innate ability to communicate with nature and animals, we have gradually lost it “as man become more animalistic even, more brutal, more greedy and more unfriendly to nature.”
“One generation may come again where we becomes more friendly with our environment and nature,” Marley adds, “and the animals will become more friendly with us, ya know?” But for now, Marley says, the animals “look at us very strangely, like we are alien or something. . .They’re like, ‘what kind of creatures would destroy the nature that we exist in? There’s something wrong with them.'”
On the album’s next track, the catchy and radio-friendly “True to Myself,” Marley sings, “I’ve reached a point in life/No longer can I be this way. . .I’m movin’ on, yes, I’m groovin’ on/I’m finally free I’ve/Got to be true to myself. . .”
“When a baby is born he doesn’t see the color of your skin. He don’t have that knowledge,” Marley explains. “So I think that is the true nature that we should try to find in each other. The nature of not seeing, ‘oh, that’s a black person, that’s a white person’ instead of seeing that that’s a human being. That is being true to yourself really.”
On the funky following track, “I Get Out,” Marley pulls no punches with the music industry and the confining stereotypes of what people think the son of Bob Marley should be. With lyrics like “You can’t define what we do/I won’t be put in a box for you” and “I refuse to be what you expect of me,” he could hardly have been more direct.
Marley says that because the music industry is so driven by image and programmed towards fitting a pre-approved format of profitability, “conscious” music like his gets swept under the rug. “It will always be like that as long as economics run music,” he says. “For me, music is more. Music is a holy thing as I say. Music is definitely a God-given inspiration which I must give.”
“The way music is now is that everybody is divided into genres, just as everybody is divided into race and religion, everybody is divided,” he says. “My point is that music is for me something that we should use to unite mankind, but we’re still into this separation thing, and that’s why the music industry is the way it. My music is not about genre, it is about universe, it is about expand the mind of the people who listen to my music.”
When asked if he feels that his music is passed down to him from a higher authority, Marley matter-of-factly replies “Yea, I know [it is.]”
When asked if his purpose in life is to inspire others with his music, Marley had this to say: “My purpose in life is to love, ya know?. . .But, I mean, my part is only a part of it. I mean, there’s so much to it. There’s so many others who share the responsibility. I mean everyone who lives should have this responsibility of love and that is how it’s gonna work.”
Marley applies this philosophy as he delves into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with “Shalom Salaam,” the title of which juxtaposes the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace. “We’re dying from tanks and suicide bombs/The only answer is to live as one,” he sings.
When asked how such a philosophy applies practically to the current crisis, Marley says, “The only answer is to stop the bloodshed because bloodshed is only gonna cause more bloodshed.” He urges both parties to calm down, to instill human rights and then to talk about the problems and how they can be corrected. But, he says, the only way the two sides can talk is if they erase the hate – which he says blinds people and deafens them from hearing what the other is saying.
“In the bigger sense, we’re talking about a fuckin’ political strategy – is love, creating love,” he says. “That’s my strategy now. That should be a strategy for everybody. Let’s fuckin’ create some love. Let people love us some more and then they’ll stop hating us so much. . .And then they might see what we’re saying. But if we keep doing this, then we’re just gonna get more hate.”
Marley says this philosophy even applies to America in its current quest to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “The only way we can stop it is to bring the family of human beings together. We’re not gonna start by America going and taking over every country that they think can make [a nuclear bomb.] That won’t stop it,” he says. The detonation of such a bomb “will be inevitable if that is the way we think we’re gonna stop it.”
On a similar note, Marley touches upon the tide of terrorism with the Sept. 11-influenced “In the Name of God,” in which he sings that “All religion should be wiped out/So that people just may live/What divides us is an illusion/Made up by men in their confusion.”
“There should be no religion,” Marley tells Chicago Innerview. “God should be in our hearts and we should love and we should do all the things we do, but it shouldn’t be under the auspices of religion. It should be under the auspices of God. . .How can we have so may religions with only one God?. . .So religion is not God. Religion don’t represent God. Religion represent our own interpretation and manipulation of the idea of God.”
“It divides us more and that’s the problem and that’s why religion has actually become the tool of the devil in disguise,” he says, “when all it should be is love. Love should be the only thing. A lot of rituals and things, it’s not necessary. Just love each other. If you can do that one thing and love, that is gonna cause God to be in you.”
He takes direct aim at criticism of this philosophy in the next track, “Rainbow In the Sky,” in which he sings, “Said you I’m living in my fantasy/But is you who are blinded from reality/The material world mean so much to you/You just can’t get what I’m tellin’ you.”
“Some people, that’s all they can see because the material world takes up all of their focus and their space and their time,” Marley explains. “It’s the same thing as the 24-hour clock. This is what it does. It makes the material world become its own reality. Now when you talk about the spiritual world to the person who is taken up by the material world and is totally consumed by it, [they think] ‘What are talking about the spiritual world? You are talking fantasy. . .You are joking. You’re high. You smoke too much weed.'”
“We don’t even realize we’re getting caught up in it,” he says. “We don’t know. It’s an illusion. . .We think it’s normal, that everything is fine, that it’s going great because it seems that way. It’s like magic, the movies. It’s like that, philosophically.”
Marley says that Americans might want to take note of some of the defining characteristics of the Jamaican lifestyle. “In America, you have the American dream. I don’t know what that’s like. Being rich or something? What’s that? Is this that? I mean, the Jamaican dream is just kind of like not having stress. I think that’s the Jamaican dream: Like fuck stress, don’t stress out, just live life and ya know, go and cool.”
Nevertheless, Marley says that he enjoyed his time in America and is grateful for the opportunities to meet new people and to take in new experiences. The time away from Melody Makers “just helped me to grow and it taught me that when I do go back to Jamaica, I’ll bring all the experiences that I’ve learned back to the group to make it even better.”
When is such a return to the motherland happening? “Not too long,” a wistful Marley relies. “My time is almost up here. I can feel it.”