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Fruits of his labour - Reggae star Stephen Marley on his father's 'cowboy' fashion sense, working with his son, and why his new album is like a fruit basket

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2016 | 7:00 AMDavina Hamilton
Stephen Marley

Don't say that Stephen Marley isn't versatile. With his new album, Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, boasting collaborations with acts including reggae star Shaggy, hip hop hero Black Thought and Australian rapstress Iggy Azalea, it's clear that Bob Marley's second son knows how to mix and blend musical styles.

"We had a concept," Stephen says of his latest offering. "This album is the second part of a two-part series. The first part was [the 2011 album] Revelation Part 1: The Root Of Life. And this is Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life.

"The plan this time was to cross-pollinate other genres with reggae music, in order to produce a colourful album. So there's a little jazz, a little hip hop, a little dance - it's like a fruit basket. You know, you can have grapes today, you can have an orange tomorrow, you can have a mango on Sunday - and so on!"

The concept sounds great. But at a time when there has been much debate about the cultural appropriation of reggae/dancehall - with artistes like Canadian rapper Drake and pop prince Justin Bieber being criticised for hijacking the genres - does Marley fear he may be slammed for the 'cross-pollination' of styles on his album?

"Well, you'll always have critics," the 44-year-old says, before singing his father's famous lyrics: "'They've got so much things to say' - that's what my father said. Critics will always have something to say.

"But I am me and these are my offerings. If you like it, you like it. If you don't dig it then keep it moving. I don't feel like I need to justify myself like that. I will say that reggae is definitely my roots. But away from the music, my morals and my upbringing are a part of me. And as a producer, I'm influenced by so many different things. All of that comes together and that is reflected in my music."

 

MUSIC IS FOR EVERYONE

Of the artistes who have been criticised for jumping on the reggae bandwagon, Stephen says: "I can't judge people like that. The music is for everyone and it is meant to influence or inspire people. People being influenced by reggae or trying to emulate the music is a great compliment.

"What I do think is that we, as a reggae fraternity, need to be more united. I think that is what is missing. But in terms of our music being emulated, I think that's a great compliment."

Laughing, the Jamaican star adds: "Remember, we come from a little dot on the map, you know what I mean? For the world to be inspired by our music and try and copy our music, that should show us how valuable our music is. That is what we should look at - the value of the music and our value as originators of this music."

As the son of the late, great Bob Marley, there's no question that Stephen, and indeed all his siblings, are rooted in reggae. But, of course, it wasn't just his famous father who provided the source of his musical inspiration.

Ask the producer, multiinstrumentalist and Grammy Award-winner which artiste's music uplifts and inspires him, and he says without hesitation: "My mother's music. She's been like a mother and a father since my father's physical presence was no longer there and her music is inspiring."

While his mother, Rita, is celebrated as a member of her late husband Bob's backing band, The I-Threes, she has also released an abundance of solo material, including the singles Harambe and One Draw.

"She's such a strong being; a strong black woman," Stephen continues of the Marley matriarch. "The way that she was able to hold the fort, in what people call 'a man's world', has been a real inspiration. I look up to her and I admire her outlook on life."

But, of course, Stephen also looked up to his father - not just musically, but in terms of his sense of style.

Just a few months back, Jamaican author Marlon James wrote an article for GQ magazine, in which he hailed Marley as an "underrated style god". Does Stephen remember his father, who died in 1981, as a fashionable man?

"Yeah, man - he had his wardrobe," Stephen laughs. "My father and a lot of that generation were influenced by American music. So they were in their suits and making poses like The Temptations and acts like that! So yeah, he was in tune with what he liked.

"But to me, ... me did see him like a cowboy - in him jeans and him boots! He was like a rebel cowboy. As a child, that's how I saw him - like a black cowboy."

 

SON ALSO DOING MUSIC

Now, as a father himself - "I have quite a few children," Stephen laughs, without revealing the number of offspring he has - the Mind Control hitmaker has seen the Marley musical legacy continue via his son, Jo Mersa Marley.

An artiste in his own right, 25-year-old Jo has released songs, including Rock and Swing and Sunshine. He also features on his father's new album, on the track Revelation Party.

"I have many sons, but Joseph in particular was always with me," Stephen recalls. "From when he was like two years old, his mother was in Jamaica and he would be on tour with me. So he was exposed to the music first-hand.

"But at the same time, I didn't point him in this direction. As a matter of fact, I didn't even encourage him [to get into music], nor did I give him an opinion, because I didn't want him to feel like he had to do music. But once I saw him really getting into it and making those steps, that's when I said, 'Alright yout', it look like ah dis you really come fi do'!"

With Jo becoming a father earlier this year, it seemed fitting to congratulate Stephen on his grandfather status.

"Yeah, man, it's a wonderful thing," Stephen laughs. "Joseph has a little daughter now and the evolution of life is a wonderful thing. I'm grateful to be here to see my children's children. That's a blessing."