Reggae fans may still mourn the death of Bob Marley from cancer five years ago, but the next generation of the Marley clan is already springing into action.
The Melody Makers, who will appear at the Universal Amphitheatre tonight, feature four of the late reggae giant's offspring: Sharon, 22; Cedella, 19; Stevie, 14, and the group's chief writer and lead singer, Ziggy, 17.
"We're just trying to make our own style and to also make new trends," Ziggy (ne David) Marley said. "We can't be keeping the same thing. We have to keep adding on."
Tonight's show will be the group's L.A. debut, but it won't be the first time Ziggy has performed here. Local fans got a tantalizing preview late in 1984 when he sat in with the Wailers at their Universal Amphitheatre show and sang more than an hour's worth of his father's best-known songs.
Ziggy's rough but striking vocal and physical resemblance to his father could create unreasonably high expectations in reggae circles. The charismatic Marley was as much a visionary prophet as a pop star to his fans, but his son is determined to shrug off the pressure and stake out his own place.
"I'm just here to do a work, you know," the Jamaican teen said evenly. "I'm not here to do as anybody wants, but mainly what God wants, really. What God wants is the truth be spread all over the world and justice for all.
"Let me tell you this: You have the Old Testament and the New Testament. In reference to my father and myself, he was the old and I am the new now, the young one. I am a lion. I am not a lamb led to the slaughter."
The Melody Makers formed in 1980 to record "Children Playing in the Street," a song Marley wrote and saved for five years until his children were old enough to perform it.
Constant exposure to music while they were growing up in Kingston may have made their involvement in music inevitable, but Ziggy seems the most likely candidate to pursue a serious career.
"If that's what the Almighty has in store for me, yeah, but I can change in a minute or a day," he said. "I found myself loving it and I found the people loving it, too, and that's important. I like writing the best because I find that I can give myself 100% in writing."
Ziggy wrote or co-wrote nine of the 10 songs on "Play the Game Right," the Melody Makers' debut LP on EMI-America that garnered a 1985 Grammy nomination in the reggae category.
The opening lines to "Naah Leggo"--"The children in the ghetto want food to eat / The people on the street want somewhere to sleep"--were an early sign that he wasn't backing off from reggae's social concerns.
"The most important thing is the message," he said. "Reggae music without the message is like a blind man without a stick or a dog. That message will teach the people."
Two years before "Game," the Melody Makers even scrapped an album recorded with Culture Club producer Steve Levine because they believed it lacked the true reggae flavor. A second album for EMI is nearly complete.
The current tour, which also features the I Threes, Nadine Sutherland and the 809 Band, is a coming-out for the Melody Makers. The group's performances have been confined to Caribbean tours and major events like the 1981 Sunsplash festival in Jamaica and the MUSE anti-nuclear concert in New York's Central Park the following year.
With his recent graduation from high school--whose regulations kept him from adopting the dread-locks hair style of most reggae performers--Ziggy is eager to test audiences around the world with his music.
"It's been a long time I've been waiting for this, but, because of school, I really couldn't get to do it," he said. "I'm very excited about it . . . and well-prepared."