Music News

Get Up, Stand Up

The Jamaica described on "Welcome to Jamrock," the title track from Damian Marley's latest effort, is not the same one depicted in the brochures of the myriad resorts lining the beaches of the popular vacation destination. In contrast to the images of light-skinned people celebrating sensual indulgence, Marley welcomes you to a place where the poor die at random and political violence abounds. "Out in the streets, they call it murder!" he proclaims in the opening refrain. The phrase, sampled from an Ini Kamozi/Sly and Robbie production, perfectly encapsulates the vibe of those fighting for survival in ghetto war zones. The video for the song, directed by Ras Kassa, captures the grit and beauty of the people who persevere under such conditions.

"That's Jamrock," he states. "It's the side that a lot of Jamaicans live."

It's also the side that the Jamaican elite would rather not have publicized. In 2004 the Caribbean island -- which consistently has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world -- posted a record 1,469 homicides, according to the Jamaican Observer. The wide disparity between rich and poor, the gang violence attributed to drug traffickers and factions within the rival political parties (Jamaican Labour and the People's National Party), and allegations of law-enforcement corruption all contributed to these notorious statistics.

"Survival and desperation lead to desperate measures," Damian muses. "And violence, over a number of years, has now become part of our culture."

Like his father before him, Damian -- the youngest of Bob Marley's children -- gives a voice to the voiceless through his songs and by speaking out about injustice. On "Confrontation," for example, which includes snippets of dialogue from Bunny Wailer and Marcus Garvey, Marley speaks of a time when the meek of the earth will liberate themselves from the shackles of oppression: "Now wi fore parents sacrifice enough/ Dem blood sweat and tears run like syrup/Any day a revolution might erupt/And the skies over Kingston lighting up/For the new generation rising up."

As he did on his Grammy-winning debut, 2001's Halfway Tree, Damian samples his father's classics to communicate to a new generation. His interpolation of "Exodus" that appears on "Move!" and the remake of "Pimpa's Paradise," which features Black Thought from the Roots, update Robert Nesta's songbook for kids reared on dancehall and hip-hop. Does he feel burdened by the weight of his father's legacy?

"I feel honored to be a part of it," he says proudly.

Marley and his siblings have been criticized for profiting from the commercialization of their father's legacy. Critics contend that the family should divert more of its earnings toward institutions that would better serve the patriarch's vision. Recently, Bob Marley biographer Stephen Davis wrote a scathing letter that appeared in The Beat, a leading world-music publication. "Where is the Bob Marley orphanage that should be the pride of St. Ann's Bay?" Davis wrote. "These nonexistent institutions don't exist because your family has other priorities, which seem to be mostly themselves."

"What we want to do with our money is our business," Marley asserts. "If we choose to help people, that's our business. And furthermore, we do a lot of work that a lot of people don't know about. The Bible tells you, when you do help people, it's not something you're supposed to go and publicize. We have an organization named U.R.G.E., where we provide reproductive and dental supplies, computers, among other things. There is no way to account for all the charitable work I have done on a person-to-person basis. I'm a person who has helped put children through school."

One fruitful project with which the family became involved was the production of Stephanie Black's 2001 documentary Life and Debt, a chilling indictment of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's austere economic policies, which have forced Jamaica to open its markets to foreign companies, decimating the country's homegrown industries. The film, which was released through the Marleys' Tuff Gong Pictures, maintains that these global monetary organizations have had a devastating impact on the island's ability to sustain itself, a situation that Marley says has only gotten worse.

"Most of Jamaica's citizens struggle to maintain a certain standard of living on a day-to-day basis," he says. "Right now there is not a lot of opportunity in Jamaica. For the average Jamaican, there are really not a lot of openings, whether it be for farmers or others involved in agriculture. Right now you have American crops coming in, and it is very difficult to compete with. Because Americans produce on a mass scale, they can sell at a more wholesale price. Jamaicans don't produce as much, so our prices have to be higher, which in turn has hurt the economy."

Despite any ongoing scrutiny, the prodigious siblings remain united in their efforts to raise awareness about Jamaica, and they have had no problem finding an audience. With brother Stephen, Damian has put out one of the finest records ever produced by the Marley children. In its first week, Welcome to Jamrock moved 86,000 units, debuting at number seven on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. Prior to the recent release of Sean Paul's Trinity, Jamrock made the highest debut for a reggae album since Soundscan began compiling data in 1991.

The brothers Marley plan to keep the success of this family affair moving. While on the road opening for U2 and headlining their own tour, they will work in their studio-equipped bus with Ky-Mani, putting the final touches on his forthcoming album.

Collectively, the Marleys believe that their work continues to build on the tradition established by their father -- and that alone, they say, speaks for itself.

"What we stand for in our music is to really uplift people," Damian concludes. "We want people to teach people to fish for themselves. A lot of what we have done in our work is in our words. Our message is in our music."

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James Mayo