Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
With the recent release of Set Up Shop Volume 1 by the Marley-owned Ghetto Youths International (GYI) label, brothers Damian, Julian, and Stephen Marley want to take the imprint to a whole new level, one that will see them diversifying their musical offerings.
Set Up Shop, a 14-track compilation, is the same name of the Damian Junior Gong Marley song released in early 2012, and features works from Wayne Marshall, Christopher Ellis, Black Am I, Joe Mersa and Daniel Marley, all currently signed to the label. There are also guest appearances from an eclectic mix of other artistes including Jah Cure, Bugle, Bounty Killer, Tarrus Riley, Buju Banton, Akon and TOK.
Those signed to the label, however, will be trailblazers in the new thrust for GYI.
"We're trying to establish GYI, the label, as more than just a family label," said Junior Gong.
"GYI has always been home to Julian, Stephen and myself, but we always had the intention to having other talents. So that is what the compilation was really about, a platform for the talent that we're working with."
Junior Gong collaborates with Marshall on Go Hard, a song that also features the vocals of Aidonia, I-Octane, Assassin, Bounty Killer and Vybz Kartel. Marshall's vocals also appear on one of Marley's six cuts on the compilation called In Dependence along with Riley and TOK.
"It was kind of inspired off of last year with the 50th anniversary of independence," Junior Gong revealed.
"I also have a new tune, Dem Never Mek It, a fun dancehall song, not so serious like Affairs of the Heart. It's more fun."
Gong said some of his songs on the album have been around for a while but were not released before now.
"Most were done at the time of Affairs of the Heart (which is also on Set Up Shop)," he said, revealing that many of the songs were about him reconnecting with his roots.
"It had been so long since I released any music for myself. The last thing I did was with Nas, so I kind of wanted to come home, not just physically, but musically also."
Ellis, the son of Alton Ellis, the godfather of ska, is lead vocalist on End of Time that also features Stephen Marley and Jah Cure.
Ellis also sings Don't Change Your Number while Black Am I comes strong on Samson Strength.
A couple of songs in the compilation also expose two third-generation Marleys in Joe Mersa, the son of Stephen Marley; and Daniel 'Bambaataa' Marley, Ziggy's son. Junior Gong said both youngsters are still finding their way but Joe Mersa, more a deejay, and who opens for Stephen on tour, is on Bad So, while his cousin, Daniel, more of a guitar-playing crossover artiste, is on Treat You Right.
Both are talented in their own right, but only time will tell how far they go. "We don't try to force-feed them. We want them to be who they want to be. It's very early. Both are just learning about themselves, musically," Junior Gong said.
The current crop of artistes signed to GYI represents the type of artistes the organisation wants to work with at this time, but the brothers are not ruling out others being signed in the future.
"We don't close doors to anyone. Right now we are going with what we feel like is music, that we are fans of, and people who we feel have the work ethic and the potential to do work. Apart from putting the music together, it also goes into the music and promoting it, putting in the work."
Set Up Shop, which was released exclusively on iTunes about two weeks ago, was number one on iTunes in the United States, Japan and Germany and has been doing well in Europe, Junior Gong said of the product of which he is very proud, but not for the reasons one might think.
"What we're really proud of with this album is the younger talent, the more unknown talent that we are now giving a chance to be exposed. We are really trying to build the genre of reggae, along with our own label, and want to play our part and contribute, especially with the younger artistes. That is the thing that we are most proud of, especially with this project," Gong said.
In the meantime, work continues on other projects. Wayne Marshall's album, True Colours, is in the advanced stages of production and is expected to be out by summer.
Gong is also heading back into the studio to work on his next album, so too is Stephen. There is also more music to come from the other artistes signed to the label music that will be released throughout the year, Gong said.