He’s reggae royalty, a living legend, and a dedicated philanthropist. He’s also released six studio albums, performed with Paul McCartney, and been on Sesame Street. Now, Ziggy Marley is gearing up for another tour, just trying to spread the message of peace and love as usual. Below, he talks about his new album, Rihanna, and how reggae has changed.
You’re preparing for your tour now. How’s that going?
It’s going good so far. I rehearse, four, five, six hours a day, trying to get everything together, you know.
Ziggy Marley will be your sixth studio album. On Fly Rasta, you really stretched your voice, you took yourself out of your comfort zone. How are you challenging yourself on this album?
Well I think the challenge of this album is mainly in the lyrics. Fly Rasta was about personal struggles—human, personal struggles, that individuals can relate to. This album is dealing with the world as one, as humanity in general. I think I am concerned about what’s happening on this Earth, and this album voices some of that. Some of the words I’ve been inspired to sing on this album really goes towards the state and condition of this planet today. That is really the stretch right there. Me not thinking about my personal struggles or spiritual struggles, although that is always involved somewhat, but it is more directly about this world, humanity.
Any issue in particular?
World violence, condition of the people, political divisions, racial divisions, the profiteering from the suffering of people. The majority of people on the planet want peace and love. But ideologies keep pushing us apart: religious, political, racial ideologies, cultural ideologies, keep trying to tear us apart as a humanity. And we have to stand up against that.
And on songs like “Ceceil,” there’s an African influence—what does that add to the feel of the music?
Well my mind is wide open with music, so I’ve been influenced by different types of music: rock and roll, R&B, African—just music in general. So the freedom that I have for the world of music is…based upon the freedom of my mind.
Your other albums are centered around such beautiful themes—”Love Is My Religion,” “Wild and Free,” “Fly Rasta”—what does the title “Ziggy Marley” mean?
(Laughs) Well it really means you’re getting me at my full growth potential at this point in time. This all of me at this point in time. I put everything into it. The rest of the albums were a growing process to where I am today. This, I feel, represents me based upon all that growth that has now been put into the music that I’ve done. But here I am today, and this really represents me. But it is paying respect to the past that has been part of the growth.
From the tracklist and the few samples I heard, your new album seems really spiritual, too. Do you think spirituality is about place, connections, people, or is it a state of mind?
Spirituality is a word, you know what I’m saying? It’s hard to describe these things. We use that word to describe something that we feel. We really don’t know about it, but we know it exists. But what it does mean is that your mind is free and open. So your mind is open to learn more, to understand more. It is open to say that what is written in a book is not the only truth. What is religion is not the only truth. What is in politics is not the only truth. There is more truth out there that is not written on a piece of paper. It’s not in an ideology. That’s what spirituality really means, is that you’re open to grow. You’re open to grow as a human being and explore your whole potential. You’re not imprisoned by any particular thing. You’re free!
How has the meaning of reggae changed for you?
Well you know, I’m a student of reggae. I’m not a teacher of reggae, I’m just a student. In its more optimal form, reggae is a mantra, a meditation. Reggae is a beat that puts it in a meditation, a consciousness. And so for me, its potential is infinite. It is not limited to what it was. It is unlimited. As a student, I am here to push the limits of it, to push the barriers beyond where people say it’s supposed to be. And create it with music instead of regurgitating, creating so that the music is alive. To be alive is also to be creative. And that is my role as a student, to make sure this music can keep being creative, you know?
I know you’re busy going back and forth, but have you been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter movement? What are your thoughts on it?
This movement is nothing new. We’ve been paying attention from ever since from before—I mean the struggle of the people under oppression is nothing new, so the struggle just continues in different forms, and in different generations. We have seen it, we have been there. We have paid attention to it.
So I don’t know if you follow Rihanna—people were criticizing her this year on her song “Work,” because some of the lyrics are Bajan patois, and Americans complained because they couldn’t understand her. What do you think about that?
(Laughs) People always complain about someone. You know, some people like the vibe of something, and some people can’t understand it—I think if I could sing my songs in a culture that didn’t speak English, they wouldn’t understand what I’m saying, but it’s the sentiment of the energy. Because music is more than words; words is one part of it, but then you have the energy of the music and the energy of the person. People always complain, but as an artist, you can express yourself any way you like. That is the freedom you must have as an artist. You just have to express yourself.
Are you working on anything for the U.R.G.E. (Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment) foundation right now?
We’re always working on something. I have some school in Jamaica, some education things there. We do concerts, you know, sometimes proceeds from the ticket sales go to U.R.G.E. But right now we’re investigating what to do next.
Catch Ziggy Marley on June 24 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center and June 25 at the Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk. His new album, Ziggy Marley, is available now. For more information, visit his site: ziggymarley.com.