EXCLUSIVE: Julian Marley Interview on his latest track, the ‘fight’ to get Reggae heard and living through the world’s current chaos.
Julian Marley is back, not that he ever went anywhere. One of the busiest artists in the game has recently released a fresh track and video, which has a living legend on board and the world around us as its inspiration. But aside from that – how does he feel about the increased awareness of Reggae? The state of our species and the planet? And working with the incomparable “Uncle Reid”? Pauzeradio caught up with the inspirational Marley to find out all this and more.
His latest track is called Mother Nature (released via The Orchard and Breaking Expectations/J-Rod Records) – seeing him collaborate with Junior Reid. Production comes from Jarrod Faria of J-Rod Records and Adam Mouttet of Breaking Expectations – both from Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an overly tropical Afrobeats affair, one that treads the delicate line well between Afrobeats and something gentler.
It’s flavoured with a host of clever musical devices, not least among these being the percussion. The snare is the driving force of the beat, hitting the ‘two-and’ and then the four, cementing the Afrobeats vibe. But to make it more delicate, the kick has been stripped back from the usual every beat hit, striking the downbeats on the chorus and only the one plus some additional syncopation at other times. Hi-hats finish off the arrangement, running tinkering, dotted rhythms. Meanwhile, the bass compliments this airy, lighter touch well – running an elongated line, which flows with the chord progressions on the root note, and little else. The inclusion of gently riffing acoustic guitars is a gorgeous addition – as is the use of a dampened electric organ which runs an attractive countermelody to the main line.
Backing vocals from Sherieta Lewis finish off the track perfectly (if you haven’t, check out her debut EP Conversations In Key from a year ago). Overall, Mother Nature feels natural; organic and with a wonderful synergy across the track – both from the artists’ performances, to the arrangement via the accompanying video. Marley told Pauzeradio that the subject matter and the current situation around the world was behind this seamless, natural vibe:
“Give thanks for the producers, who produced the music. Me and Junior have worked together before, on Never Too Rough, a song we released a few years ago – I call him ‘Uncle Reid’. The song itself was at the heart of knowing that Covid [coronavirus] was happening, and it was probably two weeks into the pandemic [when we started it]. Basically, Mother Nature is the inspiration, being what we are seeing on the earth today – and it just speaks for itself. It just come up naturally”.
Marley and Reid are on top of their games across Mother Nature. The latter’s voice is as engaging and rich as it ever has been – running across his wide and versatile vocal range, and with expressive use of crescendo and decrescendo. Marley is urgent and compelling, with a crystalline delivery and emotive use of dynamics and note-clipping.
Of course, Reid is no stranger to music. One of the most celebrated artists to emerge from the Roots movement, he has a career spanning four decades – no mean feat, for someone only in their 50s. His groundbreaking approach to his craft has seen him work with some fellow greats – not least Black Uhuru. But Reid has also been instrumental in Hip Hop, with Wu Tang Clan sampling some of his records. So, it’s of little surprise that him and Marley working together is such a stellar combination. And the latter said that collaborating with Reid was a “no-brainer”:
“[Laughs] Like I say we call him Uncle Reid outta the studio. So, it’s natural – it’s a no-brainer. The vibes, the inspiration vibes… when you’re working with one of your teachers you take in the vibration more than they, say – y’know, it’s “this” and it’s “that”. You’re still overwhelmed just to be working with one of your teachers in the music”.
But what also stands out about Mother Nature are the visuals, filmed at Turtle River Park in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The power of it is a credit to the creative team behind it: filmed by JussbussTV, Jono Hirst from HD Media doing the edit and with production from Rachelle Yap – the finishing touch is the styling from Flowerchild 1999.
Opening with a collection of shots from nature, parts of it have been sped up while others are left at real-time rate. This is a clever technical move, as it focuses the eye before the vocals begin proper. Overall, the video has been shot with high colour saturation, emphasising the subject matter well. The addition of a gold colour wash enhances this further – and then Flowerchild 1999’s styling of both Marley and Reid in white is pitch-perfect; depicting not only the humble and spiritual way in which we as humans should lead our lives, but also further making the natural imagery more powerful.
But fleeting scenes of man-made destruction (namely forest fires) mark an aesthetic change, with Marley and Reid now wearing black; poignant symbolism. And the inclusion of a Mother Nature figure (a woman dressed in white and then vibrant, lush pink) finishes off this well-thought out and constructed visual well:
Given we’re now in the age of the ‘stream’ and the ‘download’, where our access to music is all about it being quickly at our fingertips, Pauzeradio asked Marley if he thought the visuals that go with a song still hold the same level of importance they once did. He told us:
“Well, videos do let you see… Even when I write a song, while I’m writing it, I’m seeing everything in a video. Every line, I’m seeing where that line took place and what should be happening. If the video does really show what the artist is trying to say then you can’t beat that. But since this [coronavirus] time, when we cannot work with so many people – the Instagram live is a plus, greatly still. But you can’t knock a really good video – y’know?”
What also stands out about Mother Nature is the quality of the production. The attention to it, the mixing from Veer V. Dhaniram and mastering from Duane “Midilord” Summers is exquisite – bringing all the instrumental lines together and being wholly sympathetic to the thematic content of the track.
The past few years have seen a rise in younger, forward thinking producers coming to the fore. IzyBeats, the man behind many of Koffee’s hits and also Protoje’s In.Digg.Nation Collectives’ go-to producer of choice, is enjoying high-demand. Another, Week.Day, has shown his ability to produce musically intricate orchestrations and engineering that’s detailed (check Jahmiel’s We Alone and Marley’s Fly as perfect examples). More established producers like Winta James have been exceptionally busy, working with artists as diverse as Nattali Rize, Zia Benjamin and Protoje. Many of these producers are pushing the boundaries of Roots-derived music – creations fusions of sounds which are driving the movement forward. Marley told Pauzeradio that this charge of new production talent is:
“Great; music is endless. Like I always say, ‘the music does not lie – it’s the artists that lie’. Music always speak the truth. So, we love to work with the new producers, because it’s a variety of sound. No matter how fresh we get with the sound, we still go way back to the ancient sound at the same time. We love it, we love all sounds”.
So, across Mother Nature the overall combination of the music, lyrics, production and visuals has created a veritable anthem for our time; one that encompasses myriad of our species’ and society’s issues – but at its core has a fundamental solution. It comes amid a wealth of conscious music so far this year; notably from the Roots and Revival movements but also (and more interestingly) increasingly from Dancehall and Afrobeats/AfroDancehall artists – standouts being Jahmiel; Govana; Stonebwoy; Dotta Coppa; Burna Boy and yes, even Vybez Kartel across much of his album Of Dons & Divas. With the world increasingly in turmoil, Marley told Pauzeradio he thinks the message behind the music is more important than ever:
“It’s very important to have a very strong message – because we don’t see anything getting any better. We are people, we need information and we need knowledge to sustain. We can’t just land on the planet and know how to do nothing. We have to learn how to do something for ourselves. So, this is a time of survival, of spiritual survival. It takes messages… cause everything else we sing about is vanity: ‘we go pon de party’ is vanity, our ‘house’ is vanity. But once you talk about something of meaning to humanity – that is direct strength, y’know?”
That message, that conscious drive is perhaps needed now in society more than ever. With the fallout from the pandemic still reverberating around the globe, systemic racism in many developed countries being exposed, poverty still entrenched and out species still decimating the world around us – it feels like we’re almost at a tipping point: that us and the planet we share could go one of two ways. Either there will be a global, conscious awakening to the faults that lie at the heart of our existence. Or, our species and the world around us will sink further into the abyss. Marley agrees, telling Pauzeradio:
“None of us know the time or the hour. I think it’s… an awakening time, but what are we awakening to? We haffi awaken to know that someone created this great planet and the great life on the planet. If we don’t acknowledge that, we’re obviously going to… there’s going to be death and destruction. Nature is controlled by the master of creation, and we nah respect nature, then you nah respect the creator – and if you nah respect the creator, you nah respecting nature. It’s hand in hand y’know? It’s very dreadful, as you can see, but it’s either you do the right thing, or it’s gon’ fail out. And you can’t do that”.
Central to our societal chaos has, in no small part, been the pandemic. It has undoubtedly changed the way we all live. But the change has been very noticeable in the worlds of music and the arts, with many of its proponents having to fundamentally alter not only the way they produce their craft, but also how they then deliver it to the world. Marley says for him, it’s been the lack of an actual audience which has been one of the more dramatic changes of the pandemic:
“It changed the way we get to the audience: you have a look pon de screen, and say ‘hello’ and we can’t hear nobody respond. And I dare not press the button ‘invite 500 people’ to have a conversation [laughs], I can’t have a conversation like that. It’s nice to know that we’re reaching out, but it’s very hard as you can’t hear one word [from the people]. But we still reach out, which is the main ting. Once we can reach out and say something of positivity, that’s the goal”.
As always, Roots and its associated derivatives has been at the heart of the adaptations. And it feels like the music is experiencing a growth in interest – with In.Digg joining forces with RCA/Sony, Koffee enjoying mainstream success and Burna Boy and Stonebwoy breaking through into Western markets. But the Roots movement having this impact is nothing new – and as Marley told Pauzeradio, it’s also never been easy to break down system-constructed barriers:
“Reggae music has always been at that awareness. But it gets a fight – because what is right always gets a fight. So, Reggae music has been forefront all of these times. It’s good to see that Reggae is slipping through these gaps they try to block up. It’s good, the upliftment of the music. But it’s very hard, when you start to make that success, to remain with that message – look how we get the success now, we gon sing about ourself and what we’ve got’. For me, doing that, you going back down the hill. So, you haffi lift it up. Obviously, Bob Marley lift it up”.
Speaking of Bob Marley, and Pauzeradio asked Mr. J what he thinks his father would have made of the rising popularity (again) of Roots and other, Reggae-influenced music:
“I can’t get in [his] brain… But I imagine he’d say ‘See, I tell ya. I tell ya so’. Obviously, he’d be like ‘I’m glad some of the youths catch onto the music’. Because when we are making music, from when I start make music and put out my first album, we were the only people really signing certain conscious music, so you have like two decades of being surrounded by everyone saying something different, everyone saying something totally different to what you’re saying. So, to see the new upliftment, the uprising of the youths, is nice. Yes. We don’t feel so lonely with this message carrying out there”.
Having been at the forefront of the Roots movement for several decades, Marley shows no signs of letting up – nor has his power as an artist and creative force diminished. So, what’s in store for him for the rest of 2020? His answer was humble and succinct:
“Praise the almighty, live up and do whatever his will is. So, it’s all about taking the music to anywhere, no special places – take the music to wherever with the message. So much things are going on right now, sometimes me plan tings and it wipe out. So, we don’t plan tings, we just move according to divine inspiration – y’know?”
A fitting mantra; one that maybe more of us should adopt. Marley encapsulates everything that is good about Roots: humble yet self-confident; intent on building a better world and clear in his path in life. Mother Nature sums all of these characteristics up: eloquent, poignant and thought-provoking, it’s Julian Marley all over. Long may he continue to inspire so many of us.
Images courtesy of Chambers Media Solutions
Julian Marley Interview by Mr Topple for Pauzeradio.com (29th August 2020).