NEW YORK (Billboard) - After a six-year hiatus, Julian “JuJu” Marley is back with his third album, “Awake.”
The Ghetto Youths/Universal release, which he co-produced with his brothers Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Stephen Marley, drew inspiration from the spirit of Cedella Marley Booker, their grandmother (and Bob Marley’s mother), who died in 2008.
Marley spoke to Billboard about maturing as an artist, youth-on-youth crime and the family legacy that inspires his music.
Billboard: “Awake” is your first album since 2003. Have you been working on it this whole time?
Julian Marley: Overall it took me two years to really start and complete it. Before that I was helping out with different Marley family projects, like the Roots Rock Reggae Fest and Africa Unite, and working on Stephen’s and Damian’s albums. I wrote and recorded “Awake” during the months in between and had input on everything, from the riddims on down. On my first two albums, I was still growing and still unsure about music. I ran into problems where I’d even written songs in a key that wasn’t right for me. This time I found my own comfort zone, and the songs are tailor-made.
Billboard: What is the concept behind the album?
Marley: What’s going on in the world right now is a sign of the times — in Jamaica we say “judgment time.” Jobs are gone, there’s violence in the streets, and everything that we want exceeds the money that there is. On the title track I sing, “For many years we have been lost in our tears/For many years the prophets have spoke/And still we can’t find no peace of mind/When will we wake?” We need to awaken the mentality of mankind.
Billboard: Stephen sings on “Too Little Too Late,” and Damian is featured on “Violence in the Streets.” What’s it like working so closely with your brothers?
Marley: Putting “Too Little Too Late” together with Stephen was a great experience. It was like we were playing a game of soccer. I didn’t know what to expect, but I loved how it came out. Jr. Gong and I have done other collaborations, but “Violence in the Streets” is about how we see the violence in Jamaica, or really anywhere. In England, you have 15-year-olds killing 15-year-olds, and no one understands why. It’s because of lack of education.
Billboard: How are you promoting the album?
Marley: We’ve been playing new songs from the album live since April. We did three shows in the U.S. in April, in Mississippi, St. Petersburg (Florida) and the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Now we’re headed back to Jamaica to do a lot of promotional appearances and performances.
Billboard: Are you influenced by dancehall and other contemporary offshoots of classic, Marley-style reggae?
Marley: It’s all natural. If I’m influenced enough to move my head and dance, then that’s enough. The single “Boom Draw” is like street-style dancehall, but downtempo. We’re promoting Jamaica on that song. As an artist, I can be inspired by other music — that’s how you learn.
Billboard: How does your family’s influence run through “Awake?”
Marley: Our grandmother, Mrs. Booker, passed away while I was making the album, before I had started to record my vocals. I wouldn’t say I was influenced by sadness, but “Awake” was born right there. I didn’t take a pause with the recording process, because our grandmother was a person who would say, “Everything is all right. You need to do what you have to do.” And she might be vexed if you’re not doing it. To me, it’s like, our ancestors that we love so much — we’re not going to see them again on this side of the fence. The only way I can feel them is through their spiritual energy, the same way that you see God through divine energy. At the end of the day, that energy runs through all of us as brothers.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters