Smoke is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about reggae musicians: thick, resinous, skunk-scented smoke escaping from a mouth that’s just taken a long pull on a trout-sized spliff. And Ziggy Marley doesn’t do much to dispel that stereotype with “Marijuanaman”, from his new self-titled release. “If politicians smokin’ herb/There would be peace around the world,” he sings, before adding “The earth does give us seeds/To suffer is no need.”
“Marijuanaman” is an explicit paean to the joys of pot, but it’s not only about the physical and psychological benefits of herb consumption: it’s also about the fast-growing weed’s potential as a source of energy, in the form of biodiesel, and food—like the hemp-seed snacks sold by the singer’s Ziggy Marley Organics business. As well, it’s the theme song for Marley’s Marijuanaman graphic novel and animation series, which isn’t his only venture into nonmusical media. In 2013 he released his first children’s book, I Love You Too; by the time you read this his Ziggy Marley and Family Cookbook should be in stores; and he hosts the monthly Legends of Reggae radio show on Sirius XM.
Given that many of us wouldn’t be able to tie our own shoes after indulging in a single puff on Lee “Scratch” Perry’s pipe, just how does Marley maintain his focus while staying so busy? Well, it just might have something to do with not being perpetually high.
“You know, every individual is different. Not everything is for everyone, and that goes for marijuana, that goes for peanuts, that goes for sugar—that goes for everything in life,” Marley explains, on the phone from a Winnipeg tour stop. “Marijuana, it can be detrimental to some people, and it can be beneficial to other people. We have to be careful. That’s how I see it: if it’s not beneficial to you, don’t use it.”
For the 47-year-old singer, marijuana makes him want to either hit the gym or curl up in bed with a good book, depending on how he’s feeling. And, perhaps surprisingly, smoking up is not a daily habit. “A little goes a long way, for me,” he says. “You know, I’m not a big smoker. A little bit is enough—especially nowadays, with the potency they’re putting in it now. I can’t do that.”
This unexpected moderation just goes to show that stereotypes can’t be trusted: a theme explored in “We Are More”, one of Ziggy Marley’s many anthemic message songs. Superficially, it’s a love ditty—“We are more, mi amore,” goes the chorus—but its underlying message is that we are all complex and surprising entities.
“Yeah, man! All of the songs, them have another message,” says Marley, who’s retained a thick Jamaican accent despite now residing in California. “Everything I do is multilayered, you know—different levels of it, depending on the individual and how they want to interpret it. There are always multiple messages and ideas in my songs.”
Opening track “Start It Up” seems relatively straightforward, however. It’s a call to social and political action, and a worthy follow-up to Bob Marley’s classic “Get Up, Stand Up”.
“Right now, I just feel very purpose-driven,” Marley says. “I feel like music has to put across a message, and that the world needs a voice like this voice. I don’t think there’s enough voices out there that are putting forth music and ideas that are uplifting—and at this point of my life and career, at this moment, that’s very significant.
“I’m not sure what the future holds, but there’s a change coming,” he adds. And when it comes, he’ll be there.
Ziggy Marley plays the Vogue Theatre on Sunday (October 16).