Living up to the Music

By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes

Perhaps more impressive than his distinguished bloodline is the fact that Ziggy Marley has managed to survive 34 years as Bob Marley’s logical successor without the slightest bit of controversy. These days, his outlook is as positive as ever, and his life, as are the lives of the rest of his celebrated clan, is surprisingly uneventful and stain-free. The indulgent lifestyles and sordid headlines that have made bigger stars of lesser talents are a bane to the Marley family, and Ziggy is acutely aware of situations that might injure his reputation.

In a recent phone interview, he pondered the absurdity of celebrity and the many pitfalls that often accompany it.

“It seems the people in the scandals and stuff, those are the people who are the most popular,” he chuckles, when his clean slate is mentioned. “That’s like a part of the whole industry that we’re living in. Like, you have to be in some controversy, you have to be in some scandal, some drug abuse, some this, some that. (The Marleys) try to live a pure life. There’s no story with us, but that’s just the way we are.”

Despite the obvious pedigree, one would be hard pressed to find a hint of cockiness or swagger in Marley. Though religion never enters the conversation, he speaks with the mindfulness of a spiritual man, and an unfailing emphasis on living an upright life makes him appear wise beyond his years. “For me, humility is greatness,” he explains. “Boastfulness is not greatness. The more popular or liked or loved you are, the more humility you have to get. It served me well for life, you know?”

PERHAPS JUST as well as his lengthy musical partnership with fellow Marley offspring Stephen, Cedella and Sharon, who, as the Melody Makers, have recorded a number of popular and well-regarded albums since the mid-’80s. Earlier this year, Ziggy released “Dragonfly,” his first outing without his famous siblings. The decision to create his own record, he says, was an inevitable one, and essential to his development as a man and a musician.

“For me, it’s growth, like a good experience,” he relates. “It taught me more about myself, and it helped me to grow as a person and become more open. You don’t have that same support and familiarity. You have to be in unfamiliar places, talking to unfamiliar people, and that makes you grow. Now I’m more able to relate to a much wider cross-section of people in my personal life because I’ve stepped out on my own.”

Some may wonder why it took so long to strike out on his own, but Marley simply shrugs off the notion of a “right time” to go solo. As a true artist, he says he never defers to expectations or trends. The new album, for example, is a vibrant fusion of uncompromised musical ideas, best illustrated by the song “I Get Out,” which declares Marley’s resistance toward categorization and concession.

“For me, music is not about the expectations of the fans. The artist is the one who should be leading the way, according to his own personal true expression,” he affirms. “It’s about doing what I feel, growing and moving forward and not staying still, not staying stagnant. This last record, it is what it is, but it still don’t define me, because I am undefinable. So I’m never gonna be in a box. I always keep moving, never trying to repeat myself. At the moment, what you feel is what you do.”

Despite popular conjecture, Marley states there has never been any pressure to live up to his father’s standing as a cultural icon and one of popular music’s most venerated figures, nor will there ever be. “Trust me, when my father was doing his music, it wasn’t about holding up any legacy or trying to put out a great album. It was just about doing music,” he insists. “Once it becomes anything but doing music, it don’t work. Real musicians don’t think about these things. I am a real musician, and all I do is make music. That’s the legacy right there — just make music. My father’s legacy is, like, you don’t have to live up to me, live up to you. Live up to the Almighty. That is the legacy.”

Ziggy Marley, Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St., 7 P.M. Wednesday, $30, call 589-1919

Dubbed from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, from December 12, 2003

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