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Ziggy Marley keeps the music alive

On Tuesday at Artpark, we got a Beatle, in the form of Ringo Starr. On Wednesday, we were offered Bob Marley’s eldest son, Ziggy Marley, at the same venue. We should feel spoiled. I sure do.

Carrying the name, and the likeness, of Bob Marley can be no trifling matter. Marley is Jamaica’s ambassador to the world; he is reggae music’s most famous, and quite likely its finest, songwriter. And he is the embodiment of Rastafarianism for the world at large, a man seen as poet, activist and prophet by major portions of the world’s population.

And yet, Wednesday, Ziggy Marley walked onto the Artpark stage with a dignified poise that was striking and at the same time completely devoid of self-consciousness. Clearly, he is his father’s son.

“How do we rebel against the violence in the world?” he asked the crowd in his thick Jamaican patois. “We rebel with love. Love is the rebel.”

And with that, he broke into “Love Is My Religion,” a gorgeous reggae romp that at once carries through on the late Bob Marley’s poetic vision and updates it for a generation of listeners who, most likely, never had the chance to know the senior Marley as anything other than a man on T-shirts sold at the mall.

“Wild and Free” extolled the virtues of “ganja,” and argued for its legalization, without getting preachy about it; “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars,” one of many songs performed Wednesday from Ziggy’s latest effort, “Fly Rasta,” insisted that we needn’t look for life elsewhere without getting our own house in order first; and “Personal Revolution” brought the idea of revolt from the broader socio-political realm squarely into the individual, everyman’s reality.

When Ziggy plays his father’s songs, he does so in a manner that suggests an organic passing of sacred knowledge from father to son, rather than a scion attempting to live off of his dead father’s name. That said, it would be disingenuous to deny the family resemblance. It’s in the voice.

Ziggy didn’t rely on his father’s canon, but he did celebrate it, most notably with a killer version of “Lively Up Yourself,” played with laid-back brilliance by his stellar band, and clearly accepted as a gift by the by then unglued and freely dancing crowd.

Opener Steel Pulse is composed of men and women who, like Ziggy Marley, are true reggae royalty. Formed in the West African expatriate community of Handsworth, in Birmingham, England, the band brought a decidedly militant stance to late-’80s reggae, and in the process, deeply influenced England’s burgeoning punk rock scene.

Fronted by founders David Hinds and Selwyn Brown, the band tore through a vibrant and well-received set of reggae with deep and resonant bass lines and hints of ska. “Drug Squad,” “Black and Proud” and “Steppin’ Out” stood out as prime examples of reggae’s defiant, proud, but also thoughtful stance. And man, did these guys prove themselves to be stellar musicians, whether soloing, or subsuming themselves in the genre’s trance-like lockstep grooves.

The music of personal and universal revolution, delivered as uplifting entertainment, then. Is that strange? Does this mean the form has lost its revolutionary edge? No. Looking around, seeing the number of young people there who couldn’t possibly have been born when Bob Marley died, or even when Ziggy Marley released his first album, in the late ’80s, it seemed clear. As the seed is planted, so the tree shall grow.


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