Sunday, May 31, 2009

Interview with Julian Marley & New Album “Awake”

In a interview with HipHopRepublican, Marley says Awake underscores his growing
sophistication as a musician and producer who knows exactly what he wants from
his music.

By Javier E. David

We live in an unsettled world riveted by social turmoil, economic crises and political uncertainty. But with his new album, Awake, Julian Marley wants listeners to respond to his vision of optimism, positivity, and social engagement.

The title track neatly encapsulates the album’s central message and the artist’s intent, as Julian Marley sings passionately about “minds [remaining] in shackles, and exhorts the public to “open up your eyes and see” the upheaval in the surrounding world. Like most traditional reggae, the songs on Awake are suffused with the usual suspects of love, social phenomenon and spirituality - all of which Marley uses as a rhetorical hook to draw in his audience.

Awake is the third studio album by Julian Marley - the son of legendary Reggae singer Bob Marley - in which he aims to showcase his evolution as a musician. The album itself is a strong effort by the artist that illustrates the Marley family’s penchant for relaxed, hypnotic rhythms, with songs that make great additions to any summer playlist.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with HipHopRepublican, Marley said Awake underscores his growing sophistication as a musician and producer who knows exactly what he wants from his music.

“On the other two albums I was still learning…now I know a little bit more,” Marley stated in a telephone conversation from Miami, where he was promoting Awake. He emphasized the album’s ecumenical ambitions, adding that “there is something for everyone on this album; take away whatever reaches out to you.”

And Awake certainly gives Julian Marley the opportunity to show how much of his deceased father’s son he truly is. The songs feature the similarly soothing falsetto voice that recalls the elder Marley, and continues in that musical legacy with emotive lyrics suffused with socio-economic overtones and, of course, the occasional reference to that green leafy substance universally revered by Rastafarians and non-Rastas alike.

Old-school Reggae is noted for its charged social commentary, which often lack for the subtlety and nuance that would make such critiques more resonant and effective. Awake hews closely to this formula by eschewing the faddish, rap-influenced beats normally heard on the recordings of dancehall luminaries like Sean Paul, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.

But move along ragga aficionados, for there are no dancehall rhythms to be found on Awake. Julian Marley’s style differs decisively from reggae’s more modern subgenres, which tend to be characterized by hip-hop-esque staccato vocals, light-speed electronic beats and sexually explicit content.

Perhaps the only exceptions to the old-school motif employed by Julian Marley on Awake come by way of up-tempo “All I Know”; the smooth ballad “Oh Girl” that features rapper Mr. Cheeks; and “Violence in the Streets,” a collaboration with this brother and fellow Reggae artist Damian. Particularly with his Grammy-winning 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock, which featured collaborations with hip-hop artists Nas and Black Thought, Damian’s own musical career has ventured into more modern Reggae territory.

While expressing his “love” for dancehall, Julian Marley emphasizes his own strong affinity for what he calls “the roots” of Reggae that preserves the genre’s rich history and traditions.

“Reggae music has its own statements: we can blend them but you have to keep its roots,” he said. “Hopefully we can give [other Reggae artists] the desire to create some new sounds.”

Javier E. David is a native New Yorker and a contributor to He writes about various subjects including popular culture, entertainment, business, finance and public policy for sites such as and He is a U.S. Army veteran who has worked on Wall Street and as a reporter for the international news agency Reuters. Fluent in Spanish, Javier is an avid sports fan and enjoys literature, music (especially independent hip-hop and soul), movies, good food and wine, and is also a self-confessed comic-book geek.

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