The children of Robert Nesta Marley, O.M., are certainly viewed as branches from their father’s tree. Perhaps the most strikingly similar to Bob both in appearance and rhetoric may be his second-born son Stephen.
39-year old Stephen Marley has one previous album to his credit, 2007’s ‘Mind Control’ and plays a significant role behind the scenes as a producer, most notably for brother Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s ’05 album ‘Welcome To Jamrock’.
Stephen steps up in 2011 with two new solo albums, ‘Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life’ and ‘Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life’. Both were recorded at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston, Jamaica and the Lion’s Den in Miami, Florida. Part one delivers roots reggae with cameos by Spragga Benz, Capleton and Ziggy Marley while part two is more eclectic and features Black Thought from The Roots, Rakim and Dead Prez.
Like his father, Stephen’s life and spirituality is grounded in Africa while he spreads his musical roots far and wide. He answers questions candidly and doesn’t suffer fools, but any disagreement was gentle and tempered with laughter. However, his mood darkened when the topic turned to the incarceration of close friend Buju Banton. It was clear that Stephen is troubled by Buju’s predicament.
As a Marley son who was born in Delaware in the US and resides in Miami, he has likely witnessed how brutal America’s criminal justice system can be. Still, one gets a sense from songs like Freedom Time and The Chapel that Stephen remains hopeful and focused on uplifting people with his music.
He also gives back to the community through the Ghetto Youths Foundation, including donating a dollar to the organization from every ticket sold on his current Root of Life tour. Here’s Stephen’s take on why roots reggae is important, his connection to Africa and thoughts on Buju’s case.
What was the inspiration behind Revelation: Root of Life?
It’s basically about watering the roots of reggae music. When reggae music was introduced to the world it was introduced as music with integrity, as the vibes of the oppressed people. It had a purpose. It was part of a big movement, a big consciousness. And there’s nothing wrong with [reggae music] evolving or just making music and stepping away from that. But I’m just saying that when reggae was introduced to the world it was introduced with a certain power. I’m paying homage to that and helping to preserve that part of the music. This album is more a concept album, whereas Mind Control I never really have a concept, it was just was inside of me coming out. The concept of this album is the roots, and paying homage to the roots of reggae music. We have to stick to that.
Are the titles of your two albums, Revelation: The Root of Life and The Fruit of Life references to Africa?
Of course! That is the meaning of ‘the root’. So whatever is the root, whether it be in music, in your spirituality or in your demographics, it is rooted in Africa. The first song on the album is called ‘Made In Africa.’ So that is a big part of it man, being the root.
What is the meaning of ‘revelation’ in the title?
Well, I’m revealing the importance of the roots. Over the past several years people have been gravitating toward the pop feel of reggae and you have people who are being introduced to reggae through these pop songs – and nothing wrong with that. Even some of us artists that come from Jamaica are introduced to the world through the commercial side. The successful part of [the music business] is that commercial pop feel. But that is not the true representation of reggae. You have to make the people dem know what is real reggae music and that is still being made today!
We nah go back, we go forward
Your song ‘Jah Army’ is a big single in the dance – it’s a peak-hour tune at reggae clubs all over the world. Did you know that song was going to take off?
I didn’t know it was going to take off but I knew that people would like it. It has that vibe. [The riddim] is a throwback from Black Uhuru’s ‘General Penitentiary’. People already love their version – (singing the chorus) General, General Penitentiary’. So I can’t take all the credit. But it is a song with a message; it has a conscious part to it.
Tell us about working with Spragga Benz on ‘Working Ways.’ What is that song about?
It’s about ethics. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread. There is no sitting down and achieving. So get up and work! That’s basically what we’re saying; work ethics. You reap what you sow. A so it go. Spragga Benz is a close friend of mine, one I’d consider to be a real friend, behind you and in front of your face, when you not around and when you are around, they’re the same person. That’s a great asset man.
What is your song with Ziggy Marley called ‘The Chapel’ about?
What is it about? Glorifying God.
Is it going back to the idea of your father’s song ‘Selassie Is The Chapel’?
No back! We nah go back, we go forward. We cyaan go back. We haffi go forward. Yeah, it’s a prayer.
Some people don’t realize how much studio production and recording work you’ve done. Can you speak about that side of your career?
Well, making music is something that comes natural to me and my family members. Dem ‘ave a title weh them call ‘producing’ – but for us, and for me really, we just play music! We create music. I don’t really have an explanation about my producing. I’ve been doing it for quite a while now and worked with many, many artists, some famous and some nobodies (laughs)…
Where do you do most of your recording? Is mostly at your home studio in Miami or at Tuff Gong in Kingston, Jamaica?
Well it depends on the project. There are certain projects I will start in Jamaica, for just the spirit of Jamaica and the vibe and inspiration. And then there’s some that I do here in Miami. It varies, really, but those are the two places I work.
How do you incorporate the African influence in your music?
I play the Nyabinghi drums; that is a part of my repertoire, seen? From when I was very young I gravitated to the drums and the Nyabinghi drums is something that I’m skilled at playing. The drums, which is the heartbeat, originate from Africa. That is a natural part of me and incorporated in to my music. It is from that channel: From Africa to Jamaica to the world. From when I was young I was introduced to Fela [Kuti], Miriam Makeba and all of the great Africa artists and my song ‘Made In Africa’ features the cast of [the Broadway musical] Fela.
Where have you performed in Africa?
As an artist I’ve performed in Namibia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Senegal. And I was in Zimbabwe with my father when he performed there. Africa is the mother of civilization. When you go there you know and you can tell. I was born Rastafari so when I’m in Africa it is a spiritual thing, especially in Ethiopia.
Africa is the mother of civilization. When you go there you know and you can tell
You’ve had a chance to travel extensively. When you see other parts of the world, what perspective does it give you about Jamaica?
Jamaica is plagued by politics and Jamaica is a very small place. I don’t compare Jamaica to the world like that. My thought process no really go like that. Jamaica has the slave master mentality – you know you ‘ave field slave and you have house slave, right? So some of dem people pretend like they are house slave and them sell out! You know? Cha! Same as they sell out Marcus Garvey for rice and peas.
Your music has a universal message; it’s not constricted to borders. How do you see it?
As far as myself goes, I am of Jamaica but we’re from Africa. We’re from a greater purpose then just a place. That will always come out through my music. You know, I was born into this legacy where my father says ‘we no run fences here’, you know? Because our inspiration comes from God, is not man that inspires us. So I could never own it, it must be for everyone.
I was born into this legacy where my father says ‘we no run fences here’…Because our inspiration comes from God…
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of independence in Jamaica. Is that something that you’re participating in?
[What do I think of] independence in Jamaica? What are we independent from? We need the truth. I don’t really have an opinion. I’m just asking questions.
Have you been able to stay in touch with Buju?
Yes, I have.
What do you want people to know about his situation?
Be careful. Be careful of America because America will set you up. And after they set you up they will lock you away. You dun know, it is not a thing I like to talk about really. But it [was] really a revelation to me. It open my eyes because here they find this man – regardless of it is Buju or whoever – they find a man who has no record of being a drug dealer or dealing with any drugs and seek him out and entrap him and lock him up. How can you go just seek out a man like that?
[Buju’s] life has changed now. You know he has kids, a career, all of that – now what? A fuckery! He had no record of being involved in anything and all of sudden – how him get in trouble? Because a government guy seek out the man, call him and, basically, set him up. How you a go do that? Is that what the government is here to do? Find innocent people and set them up to do wrong and when them do the wrong, because you know we’re human beings, we’re not perfect, and then lock them up? You know something is wrong. It doesn’t sound right, even the thought of it!
Is that what the government is here to do? Find innocent people and set them up to do wrong…?
Tell us about the Ghetto Youths Foundation. How are you working with that organization?
It’s a foundation formed to help the underprivileged and uplift the poor. See, the Bible say you must not really speak about the charity that you do, that’s why we formed the organization so the people that run the organization can speak about it, you know? For as long as I can remember I have been helping people, physically helping people. So it’s a part of me. The foundation is just an organized way to get concentrated efforts and ones who would like to help the organization and what it stands for. People can check out the website to see what the foundation has been up to.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
We have very busy year. We have two albums coming out. That’s a lot of music, it’s almost 30 new songs. I’m looking forward to playing these songs for the people. Revelation Part2: The Fruit of Life is a more open record; you know, pop, acoustic, hip-hop and dancehall. It has another song with Buju Banton, a song with Rakim, Dead Prez and Black Thought. It’s eclectic, but still a revolutionary sound.
‘Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life’ is released May 24, 2011 on Universal Records / Ghetto Youths International, Inc.