For Bob Marley's 75th Birthday, Ziggy Marley Reflects On His Father's Legacy

Feb 8, 2020

It can be hard to reconcile Bob Marley's massive and ongoing influence with the fact that the genre-defining reggae artist was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. Marley would have turned 75 this Thursday; to this day, his music accounts for nearly a quarter of the reggae listened to in the United States.

To celebrate Marley's 75th birthday, his estate is launching a year of events and releases, including concerts featuring Marley's sons, Ziggy and Stephen, new music videos and reissues. NPR's Scott Simon talked to Ziggy Marley about his own memories of his father and his music

Ziggy was 12 years old when his father died, and he says he most of all remembers his father as a generous person. "He's a loving man; I think that is the most important thing," he says.

True to the Marley tradition, Ziggy says that the classic Bob Marley message of peace, love and happiness still has a place in an often bleak world.

"The majority of people are good people, are peaceful people," Marley says. "But we're just not loud, we're just not on the TV, we're not in the news — it's just the people making war in the news."

Listen to their full conversation in the player above.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bob Marley would have turned 75 this week. He was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. But his legacy is imperishable and enduring. This week, his estate released a new music video to accompany this track, "Redemption Song."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REDEMPTION SONG")

BOB MARLEY: (Singing) Old pirates, yes, they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after they took I from the bottomless pits.

SIMON: Ziggy Marley, who's Bob Marley's son, joins us now from Los Angeles. Mr. Marley, thanks so much for being with us.

ZIGGY MARLEY: Good to be with you.

SIMON: You know, your father has been described over the years as a groundbreaking musician, a best-selling revolutionary, an international superstar. What do you want us to know about him and remember about him today?

Z MARLEY: Well, he's a loving man, you know? He's a loving man. I would think that is the most important thing.

SIMON: You were 12, I guess, when your father died. What do you remember of him?

Z MARLEY: Yeah, well, it was sad in those days, you know? But I remember him - one thing I remembers is when he was sick, we visited him in New York. He had just lost his hair, you know? And we were very, like, upset. The kids were.

SIMON: Yeah.

Z MARLEY: And he was, you know, trying to make fun with us and try to make us laugh and try to stay positive. So I remember that. I remember that as a part of his personality - trying to, you know, lighten the load, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. What made your father such a great performer, do you think - such a big star?

Z MARLEY: Well, I think him feel it. You know what I mean when I say him feel it? And in - he grew up in that culture where dancing and moving your body as a expression of a spiritual connection, that was a part of his upbringing. So I feel like it's something that's in him. It's not so much as performing and just expressing that spirit that you're feeling, you know?

SIMON: Do you have a favorite song?

Z MARLEY: I've a whole album (laughter) - "Survival." You know, people ask me if I have a favorite song. I can't answer it because there's no way I can have one...

SIMON: Yeah.

Z MARLEY: ...Favorite song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURVIVAL")

B MARLEY: (Singing) How can you be sitting there telling me that you care, that you care, when every time I look around, the people suffer in the suffering in every way...

Z MARLEY: During my early teen years, that album kind of give me some direction, give me some knowledge because it was Afrocentric. And it was about unification and just stuff that made me think as a young teenager, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURVIVAL")

B MARLEY: (Singing) We're the survivors, yes, the black survivors.

SIMON: A quarter of all the reggae listened to by Americans was recorded by your father - that's amazing - so many years after his death.

Z MARLEY: Nice. Yeah, that's great, man. That's great.

SIMON: You know, I was looking at the Bob Marley 75th anniversary website the other day. And in big letters, it says love, peace, freedom. That kind of how it's turned out today?

Z MARLEY: Well, for the majority of people, yeah because a majority of people are good people, are peaceful people. But we're just not loud. We're just not on the TV. We're just not - you know, we're not in the news. It's just the people that are making war in the news. So we are more. The peaceful people are more. The good people are more. The loving people are more. We are most of the people. You know, sometimes, we'll still lose, even though we're the most (laughter).

SIMON: Ziggy Marley, the son of Bob Marley, who would have turned 75 this week, thanks so much for being with us.

Z MARLEY: Yeah, man. Give thanks, love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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