Protest and praise Damian Marleys Welcome to Jamrock
August 6, 2005
His last album, 2001s 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 didnt 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, Im thankful for it. Its tickling peoples funny nerves. Theyre listening. Its important to them.The song opens with a fairly chilling sample from Ini Kamozes 1984 tune World a Reggae Music: Out in the street, they call it murder. In dance-hall style, Jamaicas 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, Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 9-10. Real Jamaicans dont 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 Jamaicas reputation.Marley, however, isnt 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 fathers 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. Its all one.
Belly Up hit its six-month mark last week, a cause for celebration among all sorts of local music fans. The clubs first half-year included appearances by stars of hip-hop (the Roots), crooning (Chris Isaak), reggae (Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, Sister Carol, the Wailers), New Orleans (Dr. John, the Radiators, Dirty Dozen Brass Band), jazz (John Scofield, Christian McBride), hard-core (Slightly Stoopid), Latin (Chuchito Valds, Los Hombres Calientes) and jam (Blues Traveler, G. Love & Special Sauce, Hot Buttered Rum String Band). They have had rising stars (Sufjan Stevens), semi-established acts that were not familiar in Aspen (Neko Case), and the overly familiar (tribute bands Super Diamond and Dark Star Orchestra). Belly Up has brought in old (Dickey Betts, Leon Russell) and young (Marc Broussard).And now the club kicks into gear. This week is insane: Bob Marley sons Damian Marley and Stephen Marley return for two shows; Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 9-10, Stephen and his roots-reggae band open for the more contemporary sounds of half-brother Damian. Damians Welcome to Jamrock, his first album since 2001s Grammy-winning Halfway Tree, is set for release in September. The release date for Stephens solo debut, Got Music? has been pushed back to avoid interference with Damians CD.Los Lobos play their barrio rock Thursday, Aug. 11. William Topley, a highly regarded British-born rocker, follows on Friday, Aug. 12. DeSol, a New Jersey Latin-rock band riding high on their eponymous debut CD, makes its Aspen debut Saturday, Aug. 13.For those still standing, more August highlights include Lucinda Williams (Aug. 16), Robert Cray (Aug. 17), guitar ace Steve Kimock (Aug. 19), Taj Mahal (Aug. 23), reggae band Culture, with bluesman Popa Chubby (Aug. 26) and the Hieroglyphics Live and Direct Tour, featuring Souls Of Mischief, Casual, Pep Love and more (Aug. 31).You probably wont lose your shirt betting that Mofro and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings play the club in the not-too-distant future.Belly Up isnt the only place heating up in August. The Snowmass Free Music series closes with a bang, not a whisper, with soul-rock band the subdudes (Thursday, Aug. 11), young roots singer-guitarist Jackie Greene (Aug. 18) and Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band (Aug. 25).The Bluegrass Sundays series on Aspen Mountain has Colorado quintet Broke Mountain (Sunday, Aug. 7) and northern California swing-grass group Free Peoples (Sunday, Aug. 14), before three local combos Frying Pan Bluegrass Band (Aug. 21), Coyote Gospel (Aug. 28) and Lone Pine Bluegrass Band (Sept. 4) take it home. Down in Carbondale, KDNKs Blues and BBQ Fest, Saturday, Aug. 13, has Memphis funk band the Gamble Brothers. Colorado picker Drew Emmitt, formerly of Leftover Salmon, brings his band to an outdoor gig Aug. 27.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org