Stephen Marley was reading an article about the state of reggae that didn’t have much good to say about where the Jamaican form of music was today. He set about writing new songs that became a two-album reggae opus. He’ll release the first one in May; it’s titled Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life.
“The whole concept behind this one is really going back to the traditional sounds of reggae music,” Marley says. “Old-school reggae music. The whole rich sounding thing with organs and clavinets and acoustic pianos. The whole integrity of that sound.
“That article was so certain that reggae was in decline. That’s what really started the vibe. One song led to the next song, and the whole thing that was coming out of me was this music about its roots.”
The second part, which Marley plans to release in October will be Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life, which he hopes will prove there is a viable path for the genre’s future beyond the summer party music that dominates dancehalls. “It’s the evolution of reggae music, branching into hip-hop and other things,” Marley says. “It’s a very different sound, a more eclectic album.”
Marley maintains his father’s affinity for songs that deal with “social topics as well as spiritual topics.”
“There’s one song called Old Slaves,” he says. “How that song came about was I went to the Whole Foods store in Miami. I was looking for peppermint. I passed this lady, and she clutched her purse. It took me aback. I thought, ‘Man, we’re not that far from yesterday, are we?’ That whole stigma, everyone is affected by it, and it’s still around.”
Marley turns 38 in a week. He only has two albums to his credit prior to his Revelation series, 2007’s excellent Mind Control and an acoustic version of that album released a year later. But for years he was quietly the most productive of Bob and Rita Marley’s children. He was recording and performing by age 8 and soon after he joined brother Ziggy’s Melody Makers. As he got older, Marley found his place doing production work for various reggae performers including several of his siblings. He made Grammy-winning albums for Julian and Damian Marley. Damian even enjoyed the rare breakthrough on the U.S. pop charts with the Stephen-produced Welcome to Jamrock in 2005.
Following that success, Marley decided it was time to begin his own career as a writer and performer. The songs on Mind Control were infused with a distrust of authority yet hopeful for the future. They were reverent toward the roots of Jamaican music, but they were meant to sound modern. For those who felt they were too flashy, Mind Control Acoustic emphasized a gifted singer and songwriter.
“It was a different perspective than the band,” Marley says.
He’ll never veer too far from roots reggae. He believes, as has been suggested by some, that reggae is the music that most resembles a human heartbeat. “I do believe it really is the sound of the womb and it becomes your pulse,” he says. “That boomp boomp, boomp boomp.”
Marley is heartened that the music of Jamaica is taking hold in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa. His hope is that it will undergo a renaissance in the country that created it.
“It’s where the music originated,” he says. “There were influences from all over, but it happened in Jamaica. And I think it’s lost some of that sense of purpose of the old reggae music. Some of that integrity. People from all walks of live from all sorts of culture do God’s work. No boundaries. So maybe other people playing great reggae will be a sign and a wake-up call to Jamaica. Like, listen, reggae music belongs to the world. But remember where its roots are.”
In addition to his twofer, Marley is working on a new record with Damian. And Julian, he says, is also looking to get back into the studio. And there will be lots of touring.
“It’s a lot of work,” he says and laughs. “But I’m hoping there’s a revelation revolution about to take place.”
when: 8 p.m. Tuesday
where: Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel
tickets $22.50-$25; 713-225-5483 or www.warehouselive.com