Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A rasta without dread
By Jim Harrington

Special to the Mercury News

There are at least a dozen good reasons why a young musician could be nervous about opening large arena shows for the mega-popular U2. Reggae star Damian ``Jr. Gong'' Marley, however, can't think of a single one.

``I don't see why opening for U2 should be a pressure,'' says the 27-year-old vocalist, who will set the stage for the legendary Irish rock band Tuesday and Wednesday at Oakland Coliseum Arena. ``It should be a joy. As an artist, that's what you want -- you want to get exposure like that.''

There's one major reason why Marley might be better equipped to handle pressure than other opening acts: He's spent his entire life dealing with the expectations that come from being the youngest son of Bob Marley and forged his own path in a genre still dominated by his father nearly 25 years after his death.

``There are a lot of bigger pressures in life than being Bob Marley's kid, to tell you the truth,'' says Marley, who will also do two more Bay Area shows, headlining Nov. 14 at the Independent in San Francisco and Nov. 15 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. ``In terms of my career, my father has always been a light. If somebody don't know about me, they still know, `OK, this is Bob Marley's kid, and so let me check him out.' ''

Marley's family tree isn't the only reason people are checking out the singer these days. He made a huge splash when his gritty hip-hop-meets-reggae single ``Welcome to Jamrock'' became the surprise radio hit of the summer.

Marley made good on the single's promise with his third full-length CD, also called ``Welcome to Jamrock,'' which made its September debut at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. That was the highest debut for any reggae album in chart history, displacing Kevin Lyttle's self-titled debut at No. 8 in 2004.

Many of the 84,000 buyers who snatched up ``Welcome to Jamrock'' in its first week of release surely did so on the strength of that dizzying title track. What's particularly notable is that, while it draws from a number of modern urban styles, it also delivers the type of socially conscious message that most likely would have made Marley Sr. proud.

``This is a song that I think came from purely channeling the legacy of Bob Marley,'' says Osha B., host of the reggae show ``Radio Waves'' on KZSC-FM (88.1) in Santa Cruz. ``I'm amazed that it made it to the commercial stations, and MTV and all that. It's a song that speaks to the reality of the Jamaican culture.''

Harsh reality

While brochures for Jamaican resorts would have tourists believe that it's all frozen daiquiris and jet-ski rides, Marley shows with ``Jamrock'' that most Jamaicans face a harsher reality. ``What `Jamrock' is doing is exposing a different side of Jamaica that the tourist board don't expose,'' he says by phone from Miami. ``It's speaking about what average citizens live. There's not a lot of opportunity there for the younger generation coming up. If you don't sing or have some musical talent, for the most part you have to turn to a life of crime.''

Musical talent wasn't lacking in the Marley household. Damian and many of his siblings -- notably half-brothers Ziggy and Stephen -- showed interest in and aptitude for music at a very early age. ``I have photos of myself in Pampers with the guitar,'' Marley remembers with a laugh. ``We used to do little performances in our living room, when there were get-togethers. We'd throw on records and sing to the records and dance.''

The family living room proved a powerful training ground. Ziggy Marley, the oldest brother, was the first to rise out of his father's shadow with his backing band, the Melody Makers. He achieved stardom with the hit single ``Tomorrow People'' in 1988. Stephen Marley, an original member of the Melody Makers, served as a producer, songwriter and studio musician on the ``Jamrock'' CD. Many in the music industry are expecting big things from this Marley brother, who has recently released his own debut CD, ``Got Music?''

``The next guy to look out for is Stephen Marley,'' says Osha B. ``He's sort of the hidden star on `Jamrock.' The underground circles really like him. He's really channeling a Bob Marley thing.''

Success overdue

Tomorrow may belong to Stephen Marley, but Damian Marley's time appears to be right now. And some would say that it's overdue. The singer made his public performance debut in 1989 as a member of the Shepherds. He stayed with that group for a few years before launching his solo career.

His debut CD, ``Mr. Marley'' (1996) was acclaimed critically. The follow-up, ``Halfway Tree,'' which marked his entry into the U.S. market, hit stores in 2001. Though cheered by reviewers, it failed to garner a sizable mainstream audience. ``Welcome to Jamrock'' changed that as it infiltrated urban radio and attracted hip-hop listeners.

Still, Marley has taken some shots from reggae purists who don't approve of his use of non-Jamaican street beats. Marley counters, ``When you check my lyrics and what my songs are about, they are the original, authentic style of reggae, in terms of the message. You have a lot of people who have songs on reggae rhythms, but the message of what they are saying is not the original reggae. What I'm saying is the original reggae, even though my beats might have different influences. Where I might lose some of the original flavor on one side, I gain it on the other.''

Damian `Jr. Gong' MarleyOpening for U2

Where Oakland Coliseum Arena, Interstate 880 and Hegenberger Road

When 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday

Tickets $52-$168

Call (408) 998-8497, or see www.ticketmaster.com

Also As headliner, 9 p.m. Nov. 14, the Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco, $23-$25, (866) 468-3399, www.ticketweb.com. And 8 p.m. Nov. 15, the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, $23-$26, (831) 423-1338, www.catalystclub.com


Muso Babe said...

Hi Ras John REGGAE.com.

Great blog, particularly this last post you’ve added. I'm working on some vaguely similar projects myself. You have some good ideas but unfortunately I'm struggling to get started. I've got a few work-related sites set up but ultimately I want to do something more personal. Anyway, keep up the good work, I'll drop by again for another visit before too long.


live 8 dvd out now.

Soo said...

Hello Ras John REGGAE.com. Just came across your blog whilst surfing generally, I find it very interesting. I'm trying to get a blog going on some of my sites but don't have the patience to keep it up! Anyway, if you fancy looking at the new live 8 dvd which is out today, it's here.

Music Fan said...

Hello Ras John REGGAE.com. Just came across your blog whilst surfing generally, I find it very interesting. I'm trying to get a blog going on some of my sites but don't have the patience to keep it up! Anyway, if you fancy looking at the new live 8 concert dvd which is out today, it's here.

Vee said...

Greetings Ras John
I just saw Damian Marley live in Boston and what a show!! He's a great preformer and a crowd pleaser.
I also LOVE ALL the Marleys, Buju Bantan and I-Wayne as well, you could call me a Roots Reggae conisor LOL! Visit my blog for a few pics of Damian Marley live.

Mark said...

I feel like he doesn't want to be persecuted by his father career. He is good by itself and besides, he doesn't Buy Kamagra , which any rasta would do.