Screams ring out as bloodthirsty bullets rip through walls, furnishings and even friends. The assassins search out their target, Bob Marley, and deliver gunshot wounds to his chest and arm and shoot his wife in the head. They fail to the kill the singer, but the shooters think they’ve accomplished their goal—keep Marley from performing at Smile Jamaica, a peace-promoting concert featuring a presidential candidate. Two days later, Marley defies the odds and rocks the 80,000-person crowd. Instead of stopping the concert, the assassination attempt increases its profile and helps the singer make a far grander statement. “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off,” says Marley. “How can I?” The year was 1976, and the incident made a strong impression on 8-year-old Ziggy Marley, the couple’s eldest son and the creative heir to his father’s legacy.
Bob passed away before the Grammys introduced a Reggae category, but Ziggy made up the difference collecting five Grammy trophies to date, more than any other reggae artist in history. He earned these awards with his group Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and as a solo artist, and while he performs his father’s classics in concert, Ziggy has his own stable of hits like “True to Myself,” “Drive,” “People Get Ready” and the crossover smash “Tomorrow People.” Outside music, the famed reggae star voiced one of Martin Scorsese’s jellyfish thugs in 2004’s Shark Tale, and his new comic book Marijuanaman hits stores next year on April 20. Ziggy chats with CULTURE about his comic book superhero, his latest singles and the power of cannabis—but we start with memories of his father . . .
What is something about your father that you better understand as an adult?
It’s the man himself, the human being. As I grow older, there are different times where I realize I feel more camaraderie with what Bob went through. The truth is shining out from behind the image or the legend. I am more in contact with the spirit and the human side than the legend side. I understand more through my own experiences and feelings, and in a very inspirational way. After he passed, you see your father different, more a man. Then you have more experiences—going on my own, separating from the group—that helped me to see more of the human side to who he was.
What are aspects of the human side that you now better understand?
There is love, there is solidarity and there is weakness. I don’t want to delve on the weaknesses; that is very personal. The love is a thing we notice. In terms of his love for my mother, it was very sincere and deep beyond a physical relationship. I look at what they went through together and how that connection stayed strong. For example, I remember when they both got shot [before Smile Jamaica]. My mom got shot in the head the same time they shot my father. Other people were not injured or physically affected, but they did not show up for the concert. My mother did, and she had a bullet in her head. They had so much love, deeper than the image. That is one of the things I remember that I thought I should mention.
Where does reggae music fit in a Lady Gaga-dominated world?
It fits in people’s hearts, in the shows and not at the radio. It’s at the events where people gather, and when they gather, they feel something. I think that’s where it is right now until someone on the other side of the world in the electronic media gets it. Still, I don’t think reggae music would be as good without the struggle behind it. Reggae is struggling music, and the struggle is what inspires us.
What is the status of your next album?
I am not working on a new album per se. I am working on some singles. I am just in the studio, mostly by myself, putting down ideas. It is much looser than if I am making an album since I am really just playing around. We will probably start recording the album in November and release something in early spring. We have some songs, not fully written, but we have some ideas and some words. I haven’t counted how many songs, though.
You are releasing free music online with your Wild & Free singles. Do these songs reflect the creative direction of the next album?
No. I thought so at the beginning and I was trying to figure it out, but it is not letting me do that. Each song is totally different. I am going to get there, though. It’s also about involving friends and seeing what they say and think and to see what the next songs are going to be like. It’s an experiment, and I don’t have no formula yet.
You had success both in a group and as a solo artist. How are the experiences different?
I can’t explain it . . . because they are two different and two necessary things in my life. Both happened naturally and organically. [The Melody Makers] is a family, so it’s not like we broke up. We still have that thing. As a solo artist, you are the only head that is responsible for what you are doing, no one else. You also learn different things. Being in a group teaches you certain things; being solo teaches you other things—standing on your own feet, being out of the comfortable zone that is a group, that is a family, that is familiarity. That helps you to grow more. Each experience has great aspects to it and nothing negative.
You blogged from the World Cup this summer. Did you have a good time?
It was very gratifying—finally something good in Africa and the world is recognizing it. I love Africa and soccer, so those loves coming together in one place was very exciting.
Your comic Marijuanaman debuts on 4/20. How is it coming along?
It’s coming along good. It’s a concept to educate people about the plant and using it as a resource beyond just the medical purposes. There are many more beneficial uses. Hemp, which is relative to the plant, is a nutritional vegetable in the plant world. The omega oils could feed a lot of poor, starving children. This weed could do a lot for them. The stock makes fabric that is environmentally-friendly. It replenishes the soil and doesn’t destroy like other plants. We can use it for biofuel. The comic encourages people to think beyond the [current medicinal] focus and see the real potential. We want to promote that. It will help the world. Think about what a difference it made when we discovered oil. This could be like discovering oil at a different level. It would be the vegetable king, like oil is for energy, and it could take over in a similar way. I want to share what I know about it.
There is a TMZ internet clip in which you say, “Weed is our redemption.” What did you mean?
The plant is a miracle, something nature put here for us, and we are neglecting it. There are so many solutions right in front of our face, including economic ones. This will help, but it’s like a Christmas present that we haven’t opened. Maybe it’s too small so people think it can’t be anything interesting. They leave it under the tree even though it’s the most wonderful gift of all. I feel strong about it and not based upon smoking, which is small for why I feel this way about the plant. It’s about helping the world. Why aren’t people using it? What’s going on?
What are your thoughts on the medicinal marijuana movement?
I think that focus is too narrow. We should explain the other things the plant can do. Free this plant, the whole plant, not just one part of it, in all aspects of life. It should not be criminalized. It can be used to benefit the United States of America. Putting your attention on the smoking or medical use gives its opponents so much to use against you. It should be about the whole truth; that it can be used as bio fuel, for material building and clothing, for nutrition, for environment, the soil, and it doesn’t take a lot of technology or energy. Not just one aspect of it, the whole plant needs to be free.
For more on Ziggy, check out www.ziggymarley.com.