Celebrating timeless values in a rapidly evolving and often harsh environment has always been reggae music's purview. As the scion of the most renowned family name in the Jamaican-born form's history, Ziggy Marley didn’t need to learn this – he was born with the understanding flowing through his veins.
At Artpark on Wednesday, Marley proved himself more than worthy of the mantle passed on to him by his late father, Bob, with a show that balanced the lilting sway and skanking strut of primal reggae with the pop smarts he's been fine-tuning since he formed the Melody Makers with his siblings, while barely a teenager.
Like his father, Ziggy writes songs that blend a defiant hopefulness, joy in the virtues of conscious living, and a keen observational eye for social, political and personal corruption. However, where Bob Marley adhered to a poetic take on Rastafarianism, his son espouses a more broad spirituality based on positivity.
Fitting, then, that he chose to cover his father's "Rastaman Vibration," a song that offers a clarion call to sleeping souls, an urge to wake up and live.
Marley took us back to the beginning with his breakthrough '80s hit "Tomorrow People" to start things off, and then proceeded through a tour of his own work, with occasional nods to his father's. "Personal Revolution" laid the template for Ziggy's enduring belief that social, cultural and political change begins with individual change.
"True to Myself" demanded the dignity of individuality, and the Artpark crowd sang the chorus as if it too knew well the high wire that must be navigated between compromise and surrender.
Interpretations of Bob Marley's "Is This Love," "Jamming" and "Stir It Up" were crowd favorites. But it was Ziggy's take on his father's "War" that provided the emotional apex of the evening. Marley's words - an interpretation of a speech by the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie - are as profound today as they were when he first delivered them, if not more so. This was a cry, a wail and a moan for social justice. The performance was riveting. I'll never forget it.
Cyro Baptista and his quartet opened the proceedings with a giddy blend of Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms, peppered with everything from jazz, avant garde and even surf stylings.
Percussionist Baptista, who has played with everyone from Phish's Trey Anastasio to David Byrne, Laurie Anderson and Tony Bennett, set the stage for Marley's positive vibrations with his wildly enthusiastic, cross-cultural, impossible to resist set. Baptista continues an interactive residency at Artpark through July 30. (Details at Artpark.net.)
Marley and his incredible band lived up to reggae's promise on Wednesday by helping us all to temporarily abandon Babylon for higher ground. As the great Ben Harper sang on this same Artpark stage a few years back, "Jah work is never done." Indeed. Ziggy Marley is doing his share. Are you?
Coors Light Wednesdays at Artpark