Don’t feel bad, keeping track of the Marleys is hard.
Bob Marley – the face that graced a gazillion student drywalls – sired some 11 ‘acknowledged’ children during the course of his eventful 36-year lifespan. Some of these became prominent musicians, like Damian and Ziggy; others settled behind the console to become producers (Stephen) while still others withdrew from the mic to expand the family’s colossal ten-of-millions-of-dollars brand – not least daughter, Cedella.
Cedella’s young lad Skip – Bob’s grandson – is the latest to chance his arm at the family’s core business, melding slick contemporary J. Cole-esque production with the unmistakable rabble-rousing patois of his illustrious ancestor.
Buoyed up by a performance at the 2017 Grammys – on a Katy Perry track, no less – Skip is about to release his own album, ‘Higher Place’.
We chatted with him over a very iffy phone line to see what he has to say about the world today and his grandfather’s immortal legacy.
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There’s certainly no shortage of Marleys in the music biz. Has anybody ever shocked the family by wanting to be, like, a lorry driver or an accountant?
We not only do music. My generation are entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses. We can do other things, know what I mean. Nobody chooses for us, we make our own choice.
How has COVID-19 looked from your perspective? I imagine you self-isolating with all the other Marleys in some manner of lavishly-cushioned Marley chill-out zone.
Something like that, ya. We a close family. Always together, getting our grooves on. We had some gigs postponed, now we just waiting. I been in the gym, keeping fit, keeping ready and making music.
Of all the things you could have done with your life, why choose music?
It choose me. It called me, when I was about 13-years old. My uncle grabbed me on the stage, and I got to sing ‘One Love’ for the first time, my very first time singing. From then on, music was the thing in my heart.
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You’ve said nice things about your mum elsewhere – what is Cedella up to nowadays?
She do everything. She manage the whole business. Clothing lines, a book coming out Also a different book, a cookery book. A restaurant she’s working on. She keeps us all in line, always.
So did Cedella give you any specific advice before embarking on this solo venture?
‘Work harder than everybody!’ Practice makes perfect, and she’s a perfectionist. That’s where I learned it from. Work hard, graft. Practice every day, make it part of the schedule.
So even though your family’s music is famously chilled, that doesn’t reflect the ethos going on in the background? There are schedules?
We work, because the work must be done.
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Gotcha. Anyway, ‘That’s Not True’ [on the album] is an absolute cast-iron banger, well done.
My uncle [Damian] featuring on that track is huge for me. The biggest thing for me is working with my uncles, working with my family. It was always one of my ultimate goals, when I was growing up.
When you were younger, did the sheer weight of the Marley name ever feel like a burden?
Like my uncles always say, it goes from generation to generation. So I watched, and learned. Now it’s my time – I’m next in line. It never feel like a burden, you know. In school, people would come up to me and say ‘your grandfather is Bob Marley!’
And I’d say yeah, he was, thank you.
Then later I reached an age, 16, where I started to understand his impact. I went to Ethiopia, and I saw film of my grandfather celebrating Africa United. One million people singing my grandfather’s music, people who had travelled from all over Africa.
Only then I understood the significance of what he did.
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Your grandfather’s voice crops up on the new record, on the title track ‘Higher Place’ indeed – what’s the story there?
He was always talking about a higher state of life, a higher state of mind, for mankind you know what I’m saying, past all this prejudice race, creed and colour and caste… you know what I mean… a real place where humanity loves itself and loves its brother on a higher vibration. That’s the mission.
You’ve spent a lifetime surrounded by your grandfather’s songs – what’s your relationship with them now? Do you ever sneakily get a bit sick of, I dunno, ‘Three Little Birds’?
Them songs are a part of me, all of his music is a part of my groove, part of my life forever. Cos when I first started out playing music, thing, that’s all I learned from.
I used to print grandfathers chord charts and lyrics. I collected them in a binder, hundreds and hundreds of songs, and I would listen to him and play guitar and study… Know what I’m saying…
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His political messages too?
Yeah, redemption and togetherness and unity. That’s so important now, with everything that’s going on. We are in wicked straits right now.
My song ‘Lions’ is relevant, many of my songs connect with this time. Music has a role, it’s a vehicle to spread what you want to spread. To bring people together, end suffering, solve the problems. We’ve had these problems for hundreds of years, that’s too long, we need a change. People have to listen to the small people, the small people who make the world go round, not the big people, the small people really make the world go round.
We just want people to be free of shackles of the system, all these injustices and systematic oppression… we want to be free of all things.
I guess the Marleys are perfect for spreading that message.
It’s a well run organisation. We should be organised. Because it’s been too long – we need a revolution.
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Stay in touch with Skip Marley HERE.
Words: Andy Hill
Photo Credit: Jack McCain