Ziggy Marley is Wild & Free, and on stage in Aspen
ASPEN – Forget for the moment the swaying, intoxicating rhythms of reggae music, the majestic power of the voices of Bob Marley and Burning Spear, the incidental aspects of reggae culture – Jamaican beaches, dreadlocks, the laid-back patois of “ya mon” and “reespeck.” To Ziggy Marley, Bob’s eldest son, the essence of reggae is the words.”Lyrics is the most important thing,” Marley said from a tour stop in Bend, Ore. Of “Wild and Free,” an album released in June, the 42-year-old singer-songwriter added, “You listen to the lyrical content, you will get the real meaning of the album.Safe to assume, then, that the lyrics to the song “Wild and Free,” the album’s title track and the first song on the album, will be the most revealing. Following that logic, Ziggy Marley has pot on the brain. The chorus of “Wild and Free” goes “I see hemp fields forever growing wild and free/ I see marijuana trees blowing in the breeze.” Punctuating those lyrics is the presence of guest singer Woody Harrelson, better known as an actor and supporter of changes to marijuana laws than as a singer (though he does a respectable job on “Wild and Free,” even taking some lead vocals on the verses). Marley himself has stepped out of his usual realm to speak his mind on pot: This past April 20 – or 4/20, a number with special significance for herb smokers – Marley released “Marijuanaman,” a graphic novel, created with writer Joe Casey and illustrator Jim Mahfood, about a heroic extraterrestrial who comes to Earth to enlighten its inhabitants with an important message.But Marley’s message is not as simple, or as one-dimensional, as, smoke ot. Marley is looking at the entire hemp plant, from buds to seeds, and sees something that could be a significant asset to the planet – and also, perhaps, a different way of looking at power, domination and injustice.”It’s not advocacy of marijuana,” Marley, who performs Friday at Belly Up Aspen, said. “It’s advocacy of cannabis, the whole thing. It involves smoking marijuana, making clothing, producing food, medicine. It’s advocacy of a natural resource. It’s like people advocating for oil or coal or gas – all these things that are useful for society. It has environmental value, industrial value.”Marley seems to understand the indelible line that has been drawn linking reggae music to pot smoking, and he takes it in stride. “The connection that people have drawn is that the most visible proponents of reggae music came from a culture, Rastafarianism, that uses marijuana as a religious sacrament,” he said. “But not all people who make reggae music use it. And lots of musicians use herb in a religious way. Herb is used in jazz, in African music, in all kinds of music.”Marley is seeking to broaden the conversation about hemp, beyond pot-smoking reggae musicians.”I’m advocating that the planet make use of this natural resource,” he said. “This plant is good for the soil; it doesn’t deplete the soil. This plant can make paper, so instead of using trees to make paper, we have more trees, more oxygen, more rain, more birds. This is what I’m advocating. I’m not advocating everybody smoking and getting high.” Marley mentions hemp’s history in America – that the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted on hemp paper, that George Washington grew the plant. Marley sticks to the point that his activism on behalf of hemp grows solely out of his belief that cultivation of the plant would put a uniquely valuable resource in humankind’s hands. ” I think the world can be a better place because of this plant,” he said. “I care about people. I care about the planet. I care about the world. I take on the issue because I think it would help. I’m doing it for the humanitarian reasons, for environmental reasons, planetary reasons. It is our lives, if you do not use this plant. Everything – every animal, every insect, every person – has a purpose. This plant has a purpose.”But Marley drops hints that there are also social reasons behind his hemp advocacy. After a few hundred years of hemp being treated as a resource, early in the 20th century, the U.S., for issues touching on race, government power and the protection of corporate interests, made hemp illegal.”All of a sudden this plant becomes illegal,” Marley said. “Which benefits existing, established, entrenched interests who have a lot of power. They have a benefit to this plant being illegal.”I asked Marley if hemp and pot were also, for him, a suitable battleground for waging a fight against corporate and government dominance, and in favor of the individual. Marijuana use could well be seen as fostering independent thinking, while the use of easy-to-grow hemp for food, fabric and medicine could reduce demand for corporate products. Marley said his agenda didn’t include taking on corporate and government powers. But he did say this:”I ask this question: I agree marijuana is a drug and people shouldn’t smoke. But why is hemp illegal? What’s the legitimacy that hemp should be illegal? You can see the hypocritical stance that’s here on this planet. They’re allowing cigarettes, alcohol, guns, weapons, pharmaceuticals. But the plant is so easy, you cannot allow it. They would not allow the world to benefit from this plant. That’s incredible. That’s sad.”Back to the all-important lyrics. “Wild and Free” opens with the lines, “A fire burns for freedom”; the first verse also includes the lines, “The smell of dissent is high/ I’m standing for the truth so long it’s been denied/ The tide of change is rising, let hope be realized.” There are lines about corporation greed, about “planting the weed” as a benefit to small farmers.It becomes clear that hemp is not just a resource, but also a symbol of the issues – corruption, power, justice, hypocrisy, freedom – that reggae music has taken on since Ziggy Marley’s late father released “Catch a Fire,” the 1973 album that made reggae an international force. The cover of “Catch a Fire” featured Bob Marley smoking a huge joint.”There’s something wrong, that this world won’t allow hemp,” Ziggy said. “I’m trying to turn a wrong around.”••••Pot and hemp are not the only things Marley sings about on “Wild and Free,” his fourth solo album after heading Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, a group that featured his brother Stephen and sisters Sharon and Cedella, for some 15 years.”Changes” (featuring Marley’s son, third-generation reggae singer Daniel) and “Personal Revolution” both speak about looking inward rather than out into the world to create a better place. “Who got the power, I do/ Who got the say, I do/ I’ll find a way,” he sings in the latter. “Mmmm Mmmm” pictures Jah Almighty looking down on humankind, and hoping they are living to the fullest. “Reggae in My Head” celebrates the power of music: “She brought me from defeat/ Hypnotized by the beat.” “Welcome to the World” is dedicated to the youngest Marley, Ziggy’s baby son Abraham, but it is touched with heaviness: “Welcome to the world/ I can’t promise it’s going to be a good place.”If “Wild and Free” is balanced between the dark and light, the scale is tipped toward the shadows by the final track, “Elizabeth.” The song opens with a critique of America – “Uncle Sam is a naughty old man” – before issuing an equally unmasked warning about the payback that is coming for the country’s habit of using people without regard for the consequences: “It’s sad to say, but Uncle Sam is going to have his day.”••••With Friday’s Belly Up debut by Ziggy Marley, club owner/photographer Michael Goldberg can fill his gallery of Marley brothers appearing on the Belly Up stage. Ziggy is the final Marley brother to appear at Belly Up.Damian Marley, who emerged as probably the most prominent of the family’s second-generation singers with 2005’s “Welcome to Jamrock,” has been a frequent performer at the club. His appearances include two concerts with rapper NAS, with whom he released the 2010 duo album, “Distant Relatives.” Stephen Marley has made numerous appearances, often in the company of one of his brothers, either Damian or Julian. Ky-Mani Marley has also played the firstname.lastname@example.org
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