Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Story of the Song | 'Still the Storms' connects West Africa, Caribbean, US - Spiritual song about slavery, a Ziggy Marley favourite

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Ziggy Marley
Ziggy Marley

David 'Ziggy' Marley is writing a storm song. He is in Los Angeles, United States (US), so he did not experience Hurricane Irma. However, he called his brother Stephen in Miami, Florida, and says that "we talk bout it", leading to the lyrics in progress.

It is the storm song he has already written that Ziggy tells The Sunday Gleaner about. Still the Storms is on his Love is My Religion album, which won the Reggae Grammy in 2007 - and in 2017, he won with his self-titled set. In between these, he also won in 2014 with In Concert, and again in 2015 with Fly Rasta.

Marley says,Still the Storms, is special to him, tracing the storms that traverse the Caribbean and sometimes go on to hit the US, retracing the slave ship routes.

"Mi think bout slavery and the triangular trade and how the storms start off the coast of West Africa and come cross, just like the ships," Marley said. "How much people, how much souls, how much devastation."

And he said, "The energy still exist out there because the world still messed up same way."

Still the Storms was written over a period of time, making definite starting and ending points difficult. But there is nothing vague about the starting and ending points of the journey - or the lasting outrage - as Marley sings:

"With the world so loud,

Who's gonna hear

When I cry in this fog of war

For black gold, one diamond sold

One life got stole

Society built on slavery

for me it was not so long ago

You may forget, but I still know

Still the storms come,

From the coast of West Africa

Anger and rage, thunder and lightning,

Spirits unrest

hey they looking for justice

Still the storms come,

from the coast of West Africa

Flood of tears rise

For stories untold

A debt to be paid,

hey don't you know."

As the hurricanes move, they reach the Caribbean, and, sometimes, on to the US mainland, through the orange groves and the bayou "where the slaves were sold". Marley confirms to The Sunday Gleaner that the orange groves refer to Florida and the bayous are in Louisiana. But he points out something else: that 'bayou' works two ways as the water outlet and also 'buy you' for the slave sales.

Marley also reflected on his history lessons in school.

"Is that education I get that bring that energy," he said. In Jamaica, he did experience Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 but says then as a youth, "we did kinda excited bout it. We did young. Me did more excited to experience it".

The song was recorded at a studio in his Los Angeles home. The credits read words and music by David Marley; drums by Maka B; percussion Ken Chastain and Ross Hogarth; bass, keyboard, guitar - Ziggy; guitar, Tim Pierce; backing vocals - Tracy Hazzard. Hazzard is responsible for the Storms sounds which The Sunday Gleaner, had first thought were sound samples.

"We did it in the guest house," Ziggy said. The recording session was during the day and Marley said, "We went for an African vibe on it," the objective being to get an "African energy."

He is very satisfied with the results. "Still the Storms is one of my favourites. Me love that song, the message and how me sing it," he said. "When me sing it, me have such a spirit inside me. The souls speak through the music. Me love that energy, It have a spiritual thing to it," Marley said.

Live performance

The first time he performed Still the Storms at a concert "somewhere in the United States", Ziggy Marley says, "The people them look like them get mesmerised. They did not know what to make of it. Eventually, the groove control them." And he says even "I was a little nervous because is a different kind of song. But it work out all right".

However, he is selective about where he plays Still the Storms, assessing the audience before finalising his set list. And it has been a while since he has played Still the Storms live. Marley is planning to put it in his set for some upcoming events.

In the second verse, Marley outlines the heroic status of the conqueror:

"There heroes, are my enemies

For one man's profit is another man's loss

And I see their faces in stone and steel

With eyes so proud,

oh I wish they could feel

For I am come,

with the chain and ball

To shatter your images,

and break down these walls."

He tells The Sunday Gleaner about going to the Vatican and seeing statues that people kneel before and some kiss them.

But while the imagery of the wrecking ball is used, in the third and final verse - even as he says that his children's children will remember and warns of a time when empires fall - Marley rejects vengeance as "... vengeance is no glory, hate is no pay, truth is my call, and peace is my way".

For still the storms come.

See Ziggy Marley perform Still the Storms: