Jamaican reggae star Ziggy Marley is used to taking up the mantle from musical legends.The eldest son of reggae icon Bob Marley, Ziggy has successfully continued his father's legacy while establishing his own style.
Friday evening, the younger Marley met the challenge of entertaining New Orleans Jazz Fest crowds in place of Bunny Wailer, who had originally been scheduled to play.
The five-time Grammy winner closed out the Congo Square Stage on Friday with popular songs drawn from his solo albums as well as his family's trove of hits.
"It's a pleasure to be here," he told the crowd, his lilting voice immediately conjuring the feel of Caribbean islands. "in the hot sun in New Orleans."
The Jazz Fest show forms part of Ziggy's "Wild and Free" Tour, in honor of his fourth solo project, released last year. The tour also included a show at Tipitina's Uptown on Thursday.
Ziggy learned to play guitar and drums from his father and by age 10, began participating in Bob Marley and the Wailers recording sessions. Ziggy later teamed with his siblings to form Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, which released its debut album before Ziggy reached 17. The Melody Makers got off to a less-than-stellar start, their first two albums not garnering wide acclaim. The group broke out globally with its third album, 1988's "Conscious Party," which earned a Grammy for Best Reggae Recording.
Ziggy released his first solo album, "Dragonfly," in 2003, which renewed interest in his music. His 2006 release, "Love Is My Religion," earned a Grammy for Best Reggae Album, and his 2009 family-oriented collection won a Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children.
Local film buffs recently watched Ziggy and his relatives in director Kevin Macdonald's new documentary, "Marley," which details the life of Bob Marley. The film, executive-produced by Ziggy, screened here in April as part of the New Orleans Film Society's Film-O-Rama.
Ziggy's extensive performance experience was evident Friday as he offered a set expertly mixed to keep a crowd's attention. Just as crowd enthusiasm began to drift from his song "Justice," he won back the masses by swinging into "Get Up, Stand Up." Arms returned to the air, fists waving in time to the beat.
"Don't give up the fight," he sang repeatedly, arm outstretched toward the crowd as though blessing them. "Stand up for your rights."
The musician is comfortable enough with his musical inheritance to delve into his father's biggest hits, while also heartily embracing his own individual style, which takes on more rock, pop, hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues influences.
He kicked off his set with the rock-flavored "True To Myself." He then launched into "Personal Revolution," an organ-filled anthem from his latest CD, which stirred the crowd into motion. The 2006 song "Be Free" also amped up the audience, which boasted a slightly higher-than-average proportion of the tie-dye-wearing crowd, speckled with Bob Marley shirts and even a wrap skirt made from a Jamaican flag.
"The system's got too much control," Ziggy sang, a sentiment that apparently resounded with the cheering Congo Stage crowd. "Freedom is good for you."
In keeping with family tradition, Ziggy sang about love, justice and peace, about fighting racial and socioeconomic inequality, about battling governmental oppression. His latest album has been billed as among his most political and traditionally reggae.
"I'm gonna put some reggae in your head cause I was born with reggae in my head," he told the crowd, launching into "Reggae in My Head," a fast-paced song with strong keyboards.
Soaked in sweat by mid-set, he got crowds swaying to "Tomorrow People," the rock-infused, steel-drum-accented hit single from his Melody Makers' days.
He then roused the crowd into a boisterous sing-along to his father's "Is This Love?" before moving into "Love is My Religion," the popular up-tempo title track off his 2006 album. Ziggy closed with the high-energy "Look Who's Dancing," which featured a crowd-pleasing rap interlude by one of his guitar players.
By the end of the song, Marley was jumping up and down onstage, encouraging the crowd to do the same. He then hopped off stage, sweaty and smiling, dreads bouncing. The audience cheered resolutely in hopes of an encore but having delivered his family's musical message, Ziggy Marley had given New Orleans its due.