Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds.
-- Bob Marley, "Redemption Song," 1980
I don't want to fight / Let's go fly a kite.
-- Ziggy Marley, "Love is My Religion," 2006
Ziggy Marley's got quite a yoke to carry. His father, after all, is one of the few modern musicians to rise to a kind of sainthood after his untimely death, in addition to being considered (accurately or not) the primary progenitor of an entire style of music, reggae. Ziggy, like Sean Lennon, wisely presents himself as a far more modest artist than his father. For one thing, he's not half the poet (see the contrasting lyric quotes above). But that doesn't mean Ziggy's got nothing of his own to say.
"It is a concept that's gonna be hard for people who are so much into their religions to grasp," he explains in his lilting, Jamaican patois, discussing the title track of his newest CD, Love Is My Religion. "It is very hard for certain people to understand new ideas and new concepts. Especially when it deals with God. 'Cause these people are so into it, it's like there can't be nuttin new."
He adopts a gently mocking tone: "There can't be nuttin new about God, we know everything already." Then he switches back to his normal voice, with just a hint of frustrated abrasiveness. "No, it's not true, you don't know everything. You don't even know half the story." It seems clear that Ziggy sees religious extremism as the root of the world's current troubles. "It is the fault of religion," he concurs. "But it is not the fault of the concept of God. It is the fault of those who teach and misguide the people about the concept of God. They, too, are misguided and have been misled and so they continue interpreting the message in that way. Love Is My Religion is a way of interpreting and uniting all religions and to let them understand that it is love that is what we are about. It is love what God is about, no matter if you are a Muslim or a Jew or a Christian or whatever, it is really about love."
Ziggy has reached a crescendo. In fact, it feels as though he is performing a compelling sermon through his cellular phone. One that, to this listener, is arguably more compelling than the song being discussed. "Can you believe that?" he admonishes, seemingly addressing a gaggle of invisible dogmatists. "Can you find a way to put that into your mind? Not only do religions guard from outsiders, but they have to convert people. That's not what it's about. My job is not to change you. You gotta change yourself. My job is just to love you. And if my love shows you a way to love, a way to enlighten, that's good. But I'm not gonna change you, I'm just gonna love you."
That isn't all Marley has to say on the subject, either. Not by a long shot.
"The warring between the different fundamentalist groups is only one point. Check out the other point: There's still infighting within the same religion. Which is even more crazy. Within the Muslims, they're fighting each other. Even within Christianity there is so much division: Evangelists, Seventh-Day Adventists. Within any organization, if things aren't unified, then it can't work. Even with people who believe in the same religion, they're still divided even within themselves. So there's no way it's gonna work. There's something wrong!"
At this point Ziggy pauses to laugh at the absurdity of it all. "At least we have given people the idea. And it's not like I choose to say, 'Religion is messed up so I'm gonna write a song called "Love Is My Religion."' I didn't choose to write that song, the song came to me. Behind me, my backdrop on the stage is a banner that says just 'Love.' So we try to convey that simple message and people come in and just kind of pick up that vibe."
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Ziggy Marley has been touring behind Love Is My Religion since July, performing shows with his seven-piece band in Europe, Israel and South America, and he is currently on his second swing through the United States. The experience has given him plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast audiences from different cultures.
"I find that European audiences are a little bit more open to new songs," he observes. "They don't need to hear all the hits; they don't need to hear something that's familiar to enjoy, to get into it. In America, it's a little different. In America, if you don't play something that's so familiar, it takes them a while to get into it. In Europe, they hear good music and they love it, but in America it has to be familiar music. It's just the way that music is given to people in America. On TV and popular radio stations, they are given a certain set of music. They are not exposed to a wide variety. But people have been responding well. We'll play some of the familiar stuff and also drop in some of the new stuff. People have been singing along with some of the new songs."
As far as his legacy is concerned, Marley is philosophical. He is acutely aware that many people consider him to be little more than an extension of his father, but this doesn't seem to bother him.
"I'm sure some people still see me like that," he concedes. "But others see me a different way. I will forever be his son, and he will forever be my father. But there are kids who come up who knew me before they knew my father." He sighs and chuckles, "I don't really think about it so much. My music speaks for who I am, and if there is some kind of analyzing to be done, I won't be the one to do it." Ziggy Marley will perform on Thursday, November 30, at Warehouse Live, 813 Emanuel, 713-225-5483.