It’s been 10 years since Damien Marley, youngest of the Bob Marley sons and nicknamed “Jr. Gong,” exploded onto the scene with “Welcome to Jamrock,” fulfilling the promise of his first two albums and sending his album gold. And man, has that decade passed quickly.
“I was just thinking about that myself,” said Marley during a phone interview. “And I had the same sentiment that you do. It feels like yesterday. Time moves real quick.”
Then 27 years old, now 37, Damien is bringing the Catch a Fire tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight. Along with his brother Stephen “Ragga” Marley, the evening features reggae legend Barrington Levy, Morgan Heritage, Tarrus Riley, Jo Mersa and Black Am I, along with DJ sets by Kingston 12, Shinehead and Papalote.
“The artists we are touring with are all our friends,” Damien says. “So it was a no-brainer.”
The tour is named after the 1973 album that catapulted his father to fame. This year would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday.
As the younger wave of Marley children, Damien and Stephen have taken a different track from Ziggy Marley, whose mid-eighties debut found him weighed down by his father’s reputation. They’ve focused more on collaboration and expanding the boundaries of reggae.
It took five years for Damien to follow up with “Distant Relatives,” his collaboration with hip hop artist Nas. Then he sidestepped into the supergroup SuperHeavy – working with Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart and A.R. Rahman – in 2011. He’s collaborated with Skrillex, Cypress Hill and Sean Paul. He also started the label Ghetto Youths International with his brothers, Julian and Stephen “Ragga” Marley, releasing two compilation albums of modern reggae from their labelmates.
Collaborations, experimentation and going beyond roots reggae has resulted in sounds that many would not recognize as strictly reggae. But reggae is what it is, he says, comparing it to how hip hop is defined.
“It’s a culture,” Damien says. “You have the music, but it’s a culture broader than the music. Dancehall is different from Roots, which is my dad’s music. But Jamaica still produces both of them, you know. But music in general is like that right now you know. It’s hard to listen to any music nowadays and say that it is purely country or rock ‘n’ roll. Everything is kinda meshing into each other anyway.”
Damien is working on a new solo album and has a few tracks recorded, but don’t expect those at the Bowl tonight. It’s too new. “When the tour’s over I will be focusing on that,” he said.
Ghetto Youths International is not so much a record label – because what does that mean these days anyway – but a brand. Much like the Marley name is a brand, Ghetto Youths guarantees the hottest new mix of roots and electronic sounds, with good production and the Marley brothers’ touch.
“I feel very proud of what we’ve been doing over the last years,” he says. “We’ve been growing. Julian is the one who handles the creative decisions and Stephen and myself are the ones handling the business strategies.”
Though they still call Jamaica home, the brothers currently live in Miami, as the vibe and the weather – and access to musicians – is very similar. Jamaica, however, still is a greenhouse for creativity.
“Music is such a big part of our culture and plays such a big part in people’s lives, that you still find that most of the youths want to be creating music in whatever way.”