Nothing could have prepared Ziggy Marley to become the man of the house at the tender age of 12, when his father passed away—a loss that was felt in all quadrants of the world. While Ziggy has two older sisters, he is the eldest Marley brother, and he quickly accepted his birthright as a lead vocalist and songwriter. Bob Marley’s final words to Ziggy were “money can’t buy life,” and his words have sunken in and altered the course of Ziggy’s life, as he has always practiced restraint from the over-commercialization of music, products and cannabis.
Ziggy picked up right where his father left off, leading a band called the Melody Makers with his siblings Sharon, Cedella and Stephen Marley. Eight Grammys and an Emmy Award later, he remains a permanent fixture in the world of reggae with his new seventh solo album, Rebellion Rises, which will be released May 18 on Sony Music Latin.
Cannabis, inevitably, is a part of the Marley family lifestyle. Ziggy’s analogy compares cannabis to tomatoes. Which would you prefer? A fresh, homegrown tomato or a mass-produced tomato purchased from the store? The same can be said about cannabis. Ziggy Marley Organics provides GMO-free hemp seed snacks. In addition, he’s behind the U.R.G.E. Foundation (Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment), which provides children in Jamaica, Africa and other parts of the world with musical instruments and other needed supplies. CULTURE had the opportunity to talk with Ziggy about music, cannabis and how important it is to preserve our humanity during times of division and uncertainty.
Rebellion Rises, your seventh solo full-length album, comes out on May 18. While your music may contain some elements of dancehall or pop, you’ve always kept one foot planted firmly in the classic roots style of reggae. Is that how you’d describe your new album?
I don’t really describe my album. I create it. When you’re creating, it’s really not a technical thing, it’s a feeling thing, and through my experiences I’ve learned how to be true to my feelings and how to incorporate my feelings into my music. People can describe it how they want, but I don’t really describe it, I just create it. I really enjoyed putting together this album.
Do you feel that people need to rebel against the constant negativity that we’re bombarded with from leaders on social media and TV?
In general, I think the demoralization of human beings is a part of the way that they keep the world in a state of fear, in a state of hate, in a state of division and in a state of hopelessness in order to let us feel as if no matter what we do, we can’t be similar. They want us to think that no matter what we do, we can’t live in the world, because the state of things is so bad. [They want us to think that] we might as well think of only ourselves and give up the whole concept of humanity as a species that can come together and love each other and treat each other with respect no matter what really generates class, ethnicity or origins. So, I think the negativity says a lot. It happens a lot on commercials, on news broadcasts, TV, the paper and websites. There’s a lot of incentive to create this view of the world in that negative light. […] We represent the voice of humanity and of human beings—not the voice of one particular group or one particular objective. We represent the main objective of all of humanity.
Who is the child you’re holding hands with on the cover art of Rebellion Rises?
Ah yes. That’s my son Isaiah, and if you look close, you can also see my other son in the picture.
You just performed at Kaya Fest, and you are kicking off a North American tour, then a European tour. What is the best part about touring?
Well, the best part about touring, really, is that I like playing music. I really enjoy it. So I guess playing music is the best part. And then the traveling, and seeing different parts of the world and seeing different human beings all over the world. That’s another good part of it, and the next part of it is getting feedback from the people who we play music in front of and the effect that the message we are carrying has on them. All of those together are what make touring a pleasure for me.
“I think the demoralization of human beings is a part of the way that they keep the world in a state of fear, in a state of hate, in a state of division and in a state of hopelessness in order to let us feel as if no matter what we do, we can’t be similar.”
I heard that one of the songs on the new album is about Stephen surviving the hurricane season in Miami. Is that true?
That hurricane that was coming last year, it was somewhat hyped, and not as bad as it originally seemed. But I had to call him while it was happening to see what was going on down there. I said, “What’s the plan? What are you guys going to do?” And he told me that he’d gotten supplies and a little dinghy, in case the place flooded. It was one of those songs that was written after our conversation.
The times have changed, and cannabis is quite a bit more socially acceptable nowadays. You even created a comic book Marijuanaman about it. What is cannabis to you? A sacrament, a vitamin or just an herb?
I view it as nature. Everything that is in nature can be used for the benefit of mankind, for the benefit of our health, for the benefit of our mental state, whatever. It is a part of nature that we are now getting more rights to use in a way that does not break the law of the states in this country. It’s just a part of nature. We always use it. And it’s not just for one thing. We use it for teas. We use it for ointments. I’m used to using nature as a part of my whole lifestyle. When I was growing up in Jamaica, and when I got sick, we didn’t go to the doctor. We went to the herbs. We went to the trees. We went to the plants for medicine. Not the pharmacy. The pharmacy was the last straw, basically.
Jamaica opened its first medical cannabis dispensary Kaya Herbhouse in St. Ann in March. Is this a milestone for your family, as well as a milestone for Jamaica?
Yes, I heard about that too. Yes, it’s a milestone, but it’s just like anything else. If we’re not careful, we are bound to over-commercialize it, over-industrialize it, and it just ends up becoming another product. That is the [blueprint] for profits. And profits come before anything else in this world of businesses, corporations and industrialization. We have to be real careful. I recommend people grow their own herb. In Jamaica, people mostly grow their own herb and [supplement] the other products out there. Just grow. Grow your own. Grow your own tomatoes, too; and your own potatoes, and everything else. I think that’s the best way to articulate it. This is an herb that’s supposed to be in an herb garden. It’s not an herb that you shopping around and buying. You have to grow your own. Otherwise, we’ll let these industries take over and corporations take it over, and it loses the whole aura of what it’s really supposed to be, because everything affects us. If it’s coming from a place of profit, then what you’re being sold and what you’re using, the energy of that idea lives in that product. It’s fine to [supplement] other products, but let it grow in your own backyard, where it’s legal.
“When I was growing up in Jamaica, and when I got sick, we didn’t go to the doctor. We went to the herbs. We went to the trees. We went to the plants for medicine. Not the pharmacy. The pharmacy was the last straw, basically.”
As the eldest Marley brother, do you ever feel pressure to set an example for your younger siblings?
Well, I don’t consciously think about that. I don’t think about setting an example, but I do set an example. My life is an example, by the way I live, by the way people see me go about my business. But it’s not something that I say, “Let me do this to set an example.” I just do it, because this is who I am. So people can look at my actions and use it as an example or not. I am what I am.
CULTURE also interviewed Ziggy’s brother Stephen Marley. Read it here.