Heir to the throne
15th anniversary of Damian Marley's Welcome to Jamrock
Not only did Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock become the highest selling American reggae debut when it was released in September 2005, it contained possibly one of the most catchy reggae tunes since It Wasn’t Me. This time, however, unlike Shaggy’s sexcapade shlock, the title track off Marley’s third album speaks of “political violence” and “sufferation.” Bob Marley’s youngest son riles against lying politicians who “trick we” and the tourists who sit “on the beach with a few club sodas” while “poor people dead at random.” This is hardly a good time gal tune.
Damian, who worked on the record alongside his brother, Stephen, has created a fourteen-song album that, unlike many reggae records, is remarkable for its versatility and consistency. Working with many U.S. artists as well as Jamaican mainstays, Welcome to Jamrock demonstrates that this Marley is hardly trailing on his father’s coattails and lives up to his nickname: Junior Gong. It is certainly refreshing to know that a voice that doesn’t shrink from difficult issues is being heard in the international pop music scene. In conversation, he is open about his privileged past, his faith, and his love of reggae music.
Heads: As Bob Marley’s son, someone who was raised with Rastafari, how do you feel that your faith affects your music?
Damian Marley: My faith affect everything that I do. Music is just another thing in my life that my faith affect. It affect the way I think, walk, eat...
H: And for those people who own Bob Marley Legend and understand nothing about Rastafari save for dreadlocks and marijuana, what would you like them to know about your faith?
DM: You know, that’s the first step. Learning about those things that you see physically: the locks and the marijuana, but there is something much higher there that you don’t see unless you take the time to investigate it. Rasta is a really free way of life—it’s not really a religion. It is a way of life where everyone is still his own. The common thing with all of us is we see Haile Selassie I the First of Ethiopia as the manifestation of the Almighty in flesh, the reincarnation of Christ. That is the basic philosophy that all Rastas share, outside of that it is to each his own.
My faith affect everything that I do. Music is just another thing in my life that my faith affect. It affect the way I think, walk, eat...
H: You’ve worked with Capleton, another Rasta, and I know that he is a tremendously controversial artist outside of Jamaica and within Jamaica as well. What do you think about this controversy that seems to divide Jamaicans from the West in terms of views on homosexuality? What do you think would be the best way to move ahead in terms of the conflict that is happening?
DM: Well, there is a lot of things that we can talk about in a song. Each one express themselves, how they feel. Each one is opinionated. With Capleton music, he state his opinion very firmly and some agree and some don’t agree. Those who don’t agree take an action against him. At the end of the day it is up to every individual and if Capleton is comfortable with that, if he wants to stand strong on his point. If he feels good doing that, that’s what’s good for him. But there’s a lot of things we can talk about other than homosexuals.
H: Where you are concerned, you often say that you’re a dancehall artist, but your biggest tune has a strong roots feel.
DM: There’s really no difference. Dancehall is a place, it is what is played in that place.
H: I’m so glad you’re saying this!
DM: What we now call roots, in the 70s is what was dancehall music. It’s only now that you really try and differentiate it because the newer stuff is fast tempo and it’s programmed by drum machines instead of people in life. But it’s all part of reggae culture. Reggae culture is one. Because most artists that you hear on dancehall riddims, you also hear them on roots riddims.
DM: You seldom have one artist who is just on one kind of riddim. We all share.
Reggae culture is a culture, not just a type of music; it is almost a way of life.
H: Do you think that the more popular that Jamaican musicians get internationally, the more important it becomes for people to understand the way music is played in Jamaica—the fact that the dancehall is a space where different types of music are played and not just a genre of music?
DM: Educating people about reggae music benefits all of us. Reggae culture is a culture, not just a type of music; it is almost a way of life. Right now we are definitely educating the people to all that. Especially over the last two years. There is a lot of versatility coming out of our music: you have Sean [Paul] and you have someone like me and you have I-Wayne and you have original riddim like dropleaf. Definitely a one drop riddim with a whole heap a nice tunes showcased, we getting a lotta play from that. So right now America is really getting a taste of all the different outlets that reggae has to offer in terms of the fast tempo, the roots sound, you know what I mean?
H: On your album, you share production credits with your brother, and you’ve worked with a lot of American artists. The track with Nas is great, and the track with Bobby Brown is surprisingly good given that a lot of us have not heard from him in quite some time. Do you have any plans to work with other producers?
DM: For the most part really over the years we have been keeping our production in-house. We’ve kind of developed a likkle sound and a likkle formula of how to work. Me and my brother make a good team. I’m not really in search of outside producers. On the other hand, if the opportunity came along and I heard some music that I loved, that I wanted to be a part of, I wouldn’t hesitate. This is not to say that I am thinking about going to work with other producers—I’m happy with the way we do things.
H: Do you do many dubplates?
DM: Yeah, I do dubplates.
H: A lot must be asking you for Jamrock. Those must get a lot of forwards.
DM: Yeah. (laughs)
H: As someone who really liked the single More Justice off Half Way Tree, it seems that whereas in that tune you are speaking to Jamaicans, with Welcome to Jamrock you start speaking to the international community.
DM: Our family always has songs that have these kind of lyrical themes. We have made music that is political or revolutionary or whatever you want to call it. We always stand up for those who are voiceless. With More Justice it’s more like speaking to people in Jamaica. Jamrock is more like speaking on behalf of the people of Jamaica.
H: What do you think that the international community needs to know about what is happening in Jamaica?
DM: Well, the international community just needs to know about what’s going on everywhere else aside from their own community, not just about what’s going on in Jamaica. It about we the citizens of earth taking responsibility for it. In Jamrock, it’s not really about Jamaica alone—it’s the same situation in most ghettos everywhere. So it’s really to try and get people active to help one and other, especially those who are elected to do that duty. To get them active at the community level and things like that.
H: In terms of where you are speaking from, for those who’ve been to Kingston, they realize that Halfway Tree is not just the name of your album, but it’s also the divide between uptown and downtown
DM: Yeah, that’s true.
It about we the citizens of earth taking responsibility for it. In Jamrock, it’s not really about Jamaica alone—it’s the same situation in most ghettos everywhere.
H: Although some might argue that Crossroads might be the middle point... Anyhow, you have admitted that you grew up in a comfortable way, you had money, went to a good school, but I know that when you listen to dancehall there is a real sense of it having come from the ghetto communities. Do you feel you are speaking for different groups of people? What is your relationship to these communities of uptown and downtown?
DM: The ghetto is very much a part of my roots though I haven’t spent a lot of time there. But at the same time, like I say, it’s where the root is coming from. So we have a lot of bredren and extended family that come from there also. So a lot of the time, we are expressing the feelings of these people. I mean really, it’s not that complicated of a situation if you really check it. Jamaica’s a small place. Unless you are a person who like to seclude yourself, and that is the only way you don’t know what is going on there. In this world that we are living in you can turn on CNN and see what is going on a million miles away let alone to know what is going on in your own country. So it’s not really something you have to search hard far or something that because I didn’t grow up that way doesn’t mean that I wasn’t exposed to seeing what that life is. And the bottom line is that nobody should have to suffer.
H: Being here in North America and having been to Jamaica, you see people who are uptown or who have money who don’t want to look at what’s happening downtown or in poorer countries. Do you feel that yourself, growing up in a situation where you were comfortable, do you think that you can act as a role model for other people who may be in the same situation as you but may not want to see that?
DM: Definitely. I think that I can be an example in the sense that I grew up uptown but I can see what’s happening. I can acknowledge it by trying to help or trying be a voice. Why shouldn’t others from where I’m from be able to do that too?
Album Review: Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley ~ Welcome to Jamrock
If you haven’t heard Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock yet, you’ve either been under a rock or too stoned to come out of the house for the last six months. It’s an absolutely banger of a tune that lambastes the tourist industry’s presentation of Jamaica as paradise, masking the constant struggle in the country’s notorious ghettos. Sure, some have questioned the ability of a privileged Marley to comment on poverty and violence in Jamaican society, but anyone who heard More Justice two years ago knows that Jr. Gong is lyrically one of the strongest reggae artists out there. Regardless, Welcome to Jamrock is so bloody strong that it’s difficult to think about the whole album without wanting to lick it back and listen to the marvelous drop that begins one of the best reggae songs of the last decade.
The great news is that the rest of the album isn’t just a bunch of filler. Jr. Gong’s tune with Nas, Road to Zion, is a plaintive cry for spirituality in a “world of calamity.” Nas begins his appearance by saying, “I’ve been waiting to do this track with you,” and you can feel that he means it. Bob Marley’s youngest son makes Bobby Brown sound great on Beautiful, though the acoustic track Pimpa’s Paradise is not the best project Black Thought has been a part of.
Other reviews have suggested that the album is uneven, which is a valid statement. This record is literally all over the place. The Jamaican music industry demands a lot of its artists and, as a result, albums are simply cranked out. Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock is not a slap-dash effort. There is definitely an attempt to experiment with various styles and appeal to many different audiences. Dancehall, one drop, hip hop, R&B—there’s something for everyone here.
Listen To Welcome to Jamrock here:
This article first appeared in Heads Vol.6 Issue 01 - December 2005