Protest and praise Damian Marley’s ‘Welcome to Jamrock’
His last album, 2001’s “Halfway Tree,” having won a Grammy Award for best reggae album and simply because he is the youngest son of reggae king Bob Marley, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley expected his single “Welcome to Jamrock” to receive plenty of attention.
But he didn’t anticipate the passionate reaction the song, the title track to his forthcoming CD, has garnered. An unblinking look at the divide between the Jamaica of travel promoters and the Jamaica that has been one of the most politically corrupt, murderous places in the Western hemisphere, “Welcome to Jamrock” is drawing both protests and praise. And the 27-year-old welcomes it all.
“I never really expected it,” said Marley, who will see the release of the “Welcome to Jamrock” album, on Sept. 13, from a Los Angeles hotel room. “At the same time, I’m thankful for it. It’s tickling people’s funny nerves. They’re listening. It’s important to them.”
The song opens with a fairly chilling sample from Ini Kamoze’s 1984 tune “World a Reggae Music”: “Out in the street, they call it murder.” In dance-hall style, Jamaica’s blend of rap and reggae, Marley then launches into a description of what he sees as Jamaican reality: tourists on the beach resorts whose only contact with ordinary Jamaicans comes when they buy marijuana; guns and ghettos and dirty political dealings are on the other side of the fence.
“This is a song about what Jamaicans are living, as opposed to what tourists get,” said Marley, who comes to Aspen, sharing a bill at Belly Up with his half-brother, Stephen Marley, tonight and Wednesday at 10 p.m. “Real Jamaicans don’t get the tourist experience, the beach package.”
Marley says that most Jamaicans have embraced the depiction; the song has been a major hit since its release in Jamaica a year ago. “The people who it is for, whom it speaks about, love it,” he said. But there have also been plenty of charges that the song harms Jamaica’s reputation.
Marley, however, isn’t interested in painting a pretty musical picture of his home. Like his brothers David “Ziggy” Marley, leader of the long-running band the Melody Makers, and Julian Marley, Damian follows his father by giving a full description of the world in his music. Bob wrote some of the most tender love songs: “Is This Love,” “Three Little Birds.” But he also mixed in songs of struggle and protest, like “Buffalo Soldier” and “I Shot the Sheriff.”
“A lot of musicians in Jamaica do try to express the truth, the struggles,” said Marley. “But these people are not as popular internationally as the musicians of my father’s generation. But there are still a lot of youths who are following in the path of Burning Spear, Peter Tosh and my father.”
“Welcome to Jamrock,” the album, will have a broader range of tunes. Marley said there are love songs, songs about safe sex and raising children. “We always like to incorporate the issues that face the youths today,” he said.
Damian has always straddled different worlds. His mother, Cindy Breakspeare, was the 1976 Miss World, and raised Damian in her uptown Kingston home. His father came from the country and the ghetto. “Halfway Tree” was named for the roundabout that separates downtown and uptown Kingston.
“I had a good school, lived uptown,” said Marley. “But of course we have brethren and friends from the ghetto. So I always knew the ghetto. I was always in the middle, and you have love for both sides. I have more thought for integration than segregation. It’s all one.”
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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