With its growing global popularity, Jamaican music has become highly competitive with artists continually raising the bar of what the industry standard should be. In order to stand out amongst the many voices in reggae, the genre’s rising stars are continually being pushed to bring something new and unique to the table without sacrificing the genre’s roots and integrity. When your last name is “Marley” the pressure and expectations from both fans and your family is even greater and for the newest generation of Marley’s, they not only have to try to live up to the legacy of the legendary Bob Marley, but their parents and uncles also have successful musical careers as well.
Jo Mersa Marley is the most recent youth from the Marley clan to plant the seeds of a future in music and after dropping the Comfortable EP last June, he is ready to step out onto the stage with a multi-city U.S. tour. He is coming to New York City’s SOBs on Friday, April 10, 2015 along with Cham, Wayne Marshall, Christopher Ellis and Black I Am. In addition to preparing for the “Set Up Shop Vol. 2” tour he has also recently released a powerful music video for the song Rock and Swing that takes on a number of social issues in Jamaica including political corruption, pedophilia, and misunderstanding the younger generation. The video has clocked more than 4.2 million views since its debut on World Star Hip Hop. Jo Mersa Marley is the eldest son of Stephen Marley and ever since he was young, he would often tour with his father and he is currently working with him on the production for his next project, an untitled LP that is in the works.
FRANK151 recently had the opportunity to talk with Jo Mersa a little bit about what inspires his music and how he see’s the younger generation shaping the future of Jamaican music and music in general. He talked about breaking down barriers between genres and gave a little history about how his grandfather was one of the first reggae artists to look outward when developing his own unique take on the reggae sound. Read the full interview below and be sure to check listings in a city near you because Jo Mersa and crew are covering serious ground during the month of April with their tour: East Coast, West Coast and in between.
How did growing in Jamaica and spending time in Miami at a young age shape your outlook on music?
I grew up in Jamaica more than I grew up in Miami. It’s more about the vibe, that’s what impacts me the most. The vibe, the energy I get from both places. The beach is there; you know the ocean is there. The nights [in Jamaica] are quiet and there is always vibe. So much going on. There is always inspiration! But it’s not only in Miami and Jamaica ’cause remember I toured a lot with my father.
What were some musical influences you had growing up?
I have a vast amount of influence in music from Louis Armstrong to Aretha Franklin to Diana Ross to Ray Charles and then there’s Jacob Miller and Cocoa Tea, Alton Ellis, Michael Jackson, John Holt, Super Cat, Capleton, there is too much to name. I don’t want to leave anyone out. I am influenced by everyone.
Is a big part of the songwriting process the producing the actual music for you? I’ve heard you take a hands on approach to a lot of your songs.
I am very hands on. Producing is part of the creative process for me. The music is the boss, the music dictates what you are hearing and what kind of concepts come into your head and that’s part of the mystery of it all when you realize how did I think of this? How did this come into my head? Why did this specific song come into my head?
Your latest video for “Rock and Swing” dealt with a lot of powerful social issues in Jamaica. You have mentioned that you draw a lot of inspiration from places you go and music that you’ve heard, is that a big part of music for you? Do you think music is a good platform for addressing social issues? Is conscious music something you seek out when listening to music?
Of course! Of course! I love most music that speaks of social issues. I think some people and some artists may say [they] don’t want to touch on social issues. Twenty years from now or ten years from now or the next couple of years from now you are going to have a group of kids who say my parents always reminded me when the twin towers fell or what’s going on in Ferguson. They will remember when Mommy and Daddy did this or reminded them this and that; it is a part of your story regardless if you want to put it there or not. What I love about people who speak about it is they already have that realization that it is a part of the life that they are living.
Does music allow you to open the conversation around a specific issue up to more people? The Marley family has a legacy of addressing issues of peace and justice. Do you hope to carry on that tradition?
I am carrying it on. Right now is proof of that! We’re having a conversation about social issues right now (laughs). The same question you’re asking you are answering at the same time.
After spending so much of your life touring and on the road, do have plans to approach your big upcoming U.S. tour any differently?
No, not really, the energy always grows. The energy never stops. I will always be trying to up it one. You know what? To be quite frank, the energy will be different because I’m also adding some new material from my album that I’m working on now. So I will be giving people a bit of a preview. A special preview for the people of what is next to come. I’m letting out a little bit more of what’s in my head. Questions that I have and conclusions and certain things I see and the way that I value them, my opinions, so in a way the energy will be a little different in that sense because you will be getting more of my material. More Jo Mersa!
Last summer you dropped the “Comfortable EP” and you just mentioned you are working on an album, so is that the direction you are going in? You have a longer project in the works, and do you think it will be done by the end of the year?
Yes! I have an LP that I am working on. And I don’t know yet if it will be done by the end of the year. My father is producing a lot more of the material and I am still producing as well. The music will have to dictate it though. I hope so but I can’t rush it. I’m not going to sit down on it at the same time though. I’m not just going to have it there, but I can’t rush it. The music dictates that. It is more of an organic process for me.
We talked a little bit about “Rock and Swing,” do you have any plans for other visuals for tracks on the “Comfortable EP”?
We are still discussing what’s next with the videos so we haven’t really decided that yet. We are still trodding out what the next thing is going to be. The next move I’m trying to make is hopefully unique and different.
Do you have a vision of what you want to bring to the table in terms of leaving a musical legacy or how the future of music—not just reggae—is going to be perceived?
I think people will eventually stop categorizing music. They will stop classifying it and segregating it and putting it under different names or genres. My belief is that soon the people are going to stop doing that because we do it enough with human beings. Everybody is in a different class or your black or white, he’s Chinese, and my thinking is we will get rid of that. Once upon a time they used to say it was not the smartest thing to fuse music together, for example if you are a reggae artist stick to reggae. And my grandfather was one of the people who kind of broke down that barrier because he put Rock & Roll in his music, and he infused music. He didn’t just stick to one kind of music. The stories my father and Uncles—Ziggy and them—my aunts and the rest of my family used to be about how they played him a variety of music. You’d hear from disco to blues, he listened to a wide variety of music. He listened to the Beatles; he listened to everybody. He didn’t just sit there and say reggae, reggae, reggae. He wasn’t saying play me more Inner Circle or turn off that music. It was more, “that songs nice, me love the beat, me love the message.” An example of what I’m trying to say is “Could You Be Loved.” A while back my father played me the demo of “Could You Be Loved” and it is actually disco. I keep forgetting the writer but when I heard the actual demo it was digital sounds. What my grandfather did when he reached back to Jamaica was overdubbed a lot of the riddim with live instruments. Instead of a digital kick, you would hear a live kick and everything is live. But its disco. Every time I sing the beat you can hear the other song, “Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive” in the rhythm. There are other songs as well, but I think that music has many emotions just like a human being does. You can be happy and want to go to a party or be doing something romantic and want to listen to something like Marvin Gaye or for a revolution kind of movement all they want to hear is Buffalo Soldier, but you can do the same thing with all different genres of music. I’ve heard sad pop songs, happy pop songs, even EDM music that addresses social issues. There’s an artist I can’t remember her name (Lilly Wood & the Prick) who sings, “the world’s slowly dying…” it is so simple but its touching a major topic. Now you have dubstep, where dub itself comes from reggae. But [dubstep] its like the new EDM/Rock, it is like the new rock sensation because there is dubstep in everything nowadays. And it all comes back to dub, reggae itself, that has been infused with EDM and all of that. To make a long story short I think the barriers between music will break down and it’s already showing. Time is already revealing it.
For a younger musician who is coming up right now how has social media impacted you and how do you approach it?
Probably for me the only plus side to social media is keeping in touch especially with fans but also with friends and family. In that sense it is no different than a cellphone except for me there is also being able to keep in touch with my fans. But in my opinion social media in the other sense makes some people kind of lose touch with themselves cause they are more in touch with Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. An example is going outside or getting more in touch with nature itself, every time I look at a picture on Instagram I wonder to myself if someone took a picture of a beautiful plant (and I like the picture) did they take the picture because they love nature that much or is it because they think oh this looks cool let me post a picture. It’s tough.
For your family in particular and reggae music in general Rastafari has been a profound source of inspiration, how does H.I.M. influence you specifically?
I embrace the teachings; I embrace the lifestyle. I embrace it all. Rastafari came down to us as God. He walked among man in flesh and he is the only leader that had come as a King, as an Emperor. He was so fair that in a sense other people thought he was unfair. I embrace everything. The Rastafarian religion is my way of life. And Selassie I is the Emperor who guide I&I in everything that I-man do. Certainly inspiration but it is a bit of everything.
Burnin’ and Lootin’ is a column by Robert Gordon that showcases upcoming artists, musicians, poets, and entertainers from the Caribbean. From Kingston to Miami to New York City and beyond the Caribbean continues to have a lasting cultural impact and each week we look at one individual or group that is helping to promote island culture through the arts.