Given their hectic touring schedules and respective career demands, Bob Marley’s five musician sons — Ziggy, Stephen, Ky-Mani, Julian and Damian — rarely find time to perform together. However, for the fifth anniversary voyage of youngest brother Damian’s Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise in Dec. 2018, the quintet hit the stage to perform their individual songs and alternate lead vocals on classics from their father’s catalog, crowning their dynamic set with Bob’s 1980 up-tempo hit “Could You Be Loved.”
“We had performed together at Kaya Fest (presented by Stephen Marley’s Fruit of Life Productions) in 2017 and 2018 but before that, it was probably 10 years since all of us were on stage together. You can almost collaborate with your brothers with your eyes closed because you grow together so when it comes to music, everyone pulls their own space,” Julian told Billboard prior to their Jamrock performance. “When I was coming up, Ziggy and Stephen were already out there (as part of the Grammy-winning Marley sibling group The Melody Makers, which also included their sisters Sharon and Cedella) so they were our teachers. To be around that within your family is inspiring; we learn a lot from each other, even today, because each one has something special that needs to be on the table.”
The fraternal Marley collaborations continue with the production on Julian’s new album As I Am, produced by Julian along with Stephen and Damian at their respective Lions Den and Uncle Ds studios in Miami. A joint release between the Marley family’s Ghetto Youths International imprint and digital distributor Zojak World Wide, As I Am is Julian’s first album since his Grammy nominated Awake, released in 2009. “In the time between those two albums, I didn’t release as much music as I would have liked to, and I wouldn’t want to take a break like that again but that’s how it goes in the journey of life,” Julian explained. “We are very much into the writing and development of the music, so here we are with a new project. Some of the songs I wrote a few years back and we just put music to them maybe a few months ago.”
As I Am will be released on Jan. 25 in all formats. Ahead of that, Billboard has the full premiere here:
“Since our inception (in 2007) Zojak has worked endlessly to put the power back in the artists and producers’ hands; working with Julian on As I Am is a culmination of those efforts and we couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of his first album in 10 years,” said Zojak World Wide co-founders Zoe Espitia and Aaron Mahlfeldt, also the executive producers of the 17-track set.
Julian, 43, grew up in England with his mother, Barbados-born Lucy Pounder. He regularly traveled to Jamaica throughout his childhood, and music was an essential part of his formative years. A primarily self-taught musician, Julian plays several instruments including bass, drums, guitar and keyboards. At 17 years old, Julian relocated to Kingston where he joined forces with his brothers as The Ghetto Youths Crew; at 21, he released his debut album Lion In The Morning for Ghetto Youths International. Julian has just one recollection of his father: a 1980 concert at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl, part of Bob’s Uprising tour, which would be the last of his career. Julian recalls going into his father’s dressing room and seeing him wearing a jacket with the Rastafari/Ethiopian colors red, gold and green, as he shook hands with fans and colleagues. “That’s my only memory,” Julian shares, “but it’s a memory that stays with you for life.” As the only Marley scion raised in the U.K., Julian, who now lives in Miami but often visits England, says his London upbringing has significantly contributed to his identity. “I am privileged to be a part of the musical roots that my father laid in England,” he acknowledged.
Julian formed his Uprising band when he was a teenager and he now tours the world with the seven-piece outfit. His fluency in various genres is heard throughout As I Am’s easy shifts from ska, via a remake of The Wailers’ 1963 jaunty rendition of Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussy Cat” featuring dancehall superstar Beenie Man; to retro-funk (“Chalice Load”); power ballads (“The Magic of Love”); spatial dub (“I Am The Sound Dub”), and, of course, one-drop reggae (“Cooling In Jamaica”).
Julian created a reggae-rock-funk mash-up for the album’s current single, “Hey Jack.” “The sounds come about because they fit the mood of the song. ‘Hey Jack’ is speaking about a friend that you hope if you slip, he will catch you from falling so it’s nice, a little humorous but also a very serious kind of song,” says Julian. The video for “Hey Jack,” filmed in the rustic parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and directed by Jay Will, debuts here:
Julian began recording As I Am at Kingston’s Tuff Gong Studios, which was purchased by Bob’s widow Rita Marley in the early 1980s, shortly after Bob’s passing. Still a heavily in demand studio among local Jamaican acts and international artists alike, all Marley recording projects begin at Tuff Gong. “We give thanks for the blessing that we can go to the family studio and make music,” Julian states. “Even when you are working at home (studios), you have to get to that big studio where the entire band can fit in the room; that’s how we recorded As I Am and it was a real great session.”
From that initial session, Julian has crafted a heartfelt, diversified album that honors his love of live instrumentation and conveys the musical passion he heard in his earliest influences. “I come from the old school days when my mother put 45s on the turntable by all the reggae greats: Dennis Brown, The Heptones, John Holt, not to mention The Wailers; mi grow up ‘pon Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, that kind of real music,” Julian reminisced. “The energy, the warmth of what was happening in the music then is missing now so we have to instill that inspiration when we play our music. For me, personally, that’s As I Am.”