Stephen and Ziggy Marley celebrate father’s lasting legacy at Redondo BeachLife

Stephen and Ziggy Marley will sing an entire set of songs Bob Marley and the Wailers performed in the 1960s and 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Marleys

by Rachel Reeves

During the year of the coronavirus pandemic, streams of Bob Marley’s music rose by a percentage of nearly a quarter. If you’ve experienced his art as medicine, as light, as a friend, this probably makes sense to you.

“I mean, Bob’s music is the people’s music,” his son, Ziggy Marley, said in an interview. “And so when things get hard, you need somethin’ a little bit deeper than the usual commercial pop song. You need somethin’ more than that. That alone can’t sustain you, you know? So that is where music like my father’s music comes in and in these times, it is even more relevant than in other times. So people drawn to it ‘cause they need it. You know?” 

Bob Marley sang about revolution, about freedom, about hope. He told the truth about a deeply unfair world, but he also preached faith, joy, and love. In societies still experiencing the same injustice, the same imperialism, the same inequality and struggle half a century later, his music still resonates. He died in 1981, but his message continues to influence people in every part of the world. 

Bob Marley would have been 75 last year, an occasion Stephen and his brother, Ziggy, had planned to celebrate with a tribute tour. The brothers, each of whom has eight Grammy awards, planned to play the same set lists their father and The Wailers had played in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were expanding what reggae could sound like. BeachLife Festival was scheduled to be one of the stops on the tribute tour.

In March, two months before the festival, the coronavirus canceled concerts. Still Ziggy honored an interview with Beachlife magazine. That was the dawn of the pandemic, and he was hopeful then that humanity would learn what he called “the lesson of this thing,” which is that what happens to one of us can affect all of us.

Eighteen months later, he’s had some time to watch and think, and he wants to talk about leadership. He’s been reflecting on how “lot of people are wakin’ up” because of the pandemic, and about how “the leaders aren’t wakin’ up.” 

It frustrates him, when he thinks about it.

“Because in my mind, the solution is so simple, you know?” he said. “Like, the idea of spreading love, the idea of leadership. The idea that we have leaders in this world that cannot figure out, with such a long history of humans being here, that we still cannot figure out how to live together, how to help each other, prosper together, and just make the world the best it can be. We’re still not fulfilling our potential, so it’s really, for me, it’s so simple. It’s so simple, in terms of spreading the message of love. … But within the political, religious structures of society, it seem to be the most difficult thing.”

He talks about how the coronavirus reminded him to slow down, to look his children in their eyes and show them, by example, what love can look like. He spent the quarantine making an album for children, with his children (and with myriad other artists, including his brother Stephen, Alanis Morissette, Busta Rhymes, and Sheryl Crow), and finding joy in time with his family. 

This was how he learned from his own parents: by example. Bob and Rita Marley were on the frontlines of revolution. Their music was popular and its messages confronted powerful people in and beyond their native Jamaica. Both were shot for it; Rita once took a bullet to the head. But Ziggy does not remember his parents ever being anxious, not because they verbalized this, but because he watched how they handled moments of crisis. He told an interviewer with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that conversation was “not the main form of teaching” in his childhood home. Music was, and love.

“My father was a very open-minded person, very loving of people, accepting everybody,” Ziggy said. “A people person. Love people, love humanity, love children. Love. So I think his music reflects that, and I think that is the — I mean, it all boil down to the same thing we’re saying — it’s love, you know? Everything boil down to that, you know? Everything boils down to that message: love each other.”

The other thing he wordlessly learned from his parents was to keep doing what you feel called to do, even if — especially if — it feels hard.

“We just keep doing what we’re doing because that is our calling,” he said. “That is the calling I have heard and I do my part. As long as I do my part I am happy. But if I give up and stop doing my part, den I’m gonna be even more miserable.”

More than a year after canceling their shows, Ziggy and Stephen are finally doing their tribute tour. Beachlife Festival will be among its first stops. 

Ziggy & Stephen Marley sing the songs of Bob Marley at BeachLife September 12.  

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