Marleys refine reggae legacy

Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, House of Blues, March 20, 1998

David "Ziggy" Marley has carried a heavy burden on his dreadlocked head for more than a decade. Would the best-known child of Jamaica's reggae legend assume a role as the genre's next big thing?

Not quite. Reggae stars such as Shabba Ranks, Shaggy and Buju Banton have taken center stage as the '80s and '90s have progressed.

Marley-family music, meanwhile, has made its greatest impact with reissues of the late patriarch's individual albums and an exhaustive four-CD compilation.

At age 28, Ziggy Marley isn't disappointed by his mid-level standing in the reggae world. "One Bright Day," "Tomorrow People," "Conscious Party" and other infectious singles have gained airplay while hardly dominating the charts. "We're always trying to do things differently," he says. "We want to create something which is not limited by commercial restrictions. We want to make music which is art, which is an expression of the soul."

Ziggy, brother Stephen and sisters Cedella and Sharon have never been fearful of manipulating the sonic architecture of Jamaica's greatest cultural export. Hip-hop rhythms were injected into 1991's "Jahmekya" and a rootsier approach was taken on 1993's "Joy and Blues." The band experimented with reggae, R&B and hip-hop elements on 1995's "Free Like We Want 2 B" and last year's "Fallen Is Babylon," which features a song with Wyclef Jean of the Fugees called "Everyone Wants to Be."

Many of the group's tracks over the years have included call-and-response vocals between Ziggy and his siblings -- a direct reflection of the back-and-forth singing of their father and his backup singers. "Music is one entity," says Marley. "It is all related, and yeah, with my father there is a spiritual connection there."

The Marleys' spiritual and political connections with their father's music are emphasized on the title track to their latest album, a tune that qualifies as message music. He defines Babylon as the new world order, the unfair economic system of the world. "It's the whole corporation which is bigger than America and bigger than one country and one president or one leader," he says. "It says how the money will flow and which country will get it."

On the other side of the outrage against injustice, though, is hope. "Every human being is a child of the most high Jah, which some people call God," says Marley. "We will always have a positive view. People have not given up the fight against oppressiveness."

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