While somewhere in between tour stops in Austin and Dallas, Texas, Stephen Marley is musing about what goes into choosing songs from his impressive catalog to play on stage during his show. “It depends, really,” he explains. “We spend hours rehearsing before tour and always have a plan or playlist in motion based on what project we are working on and what type of tour it will be. However, depending on the energy, we also have to know how to switch it up sometimes. That is the beauty of performing live. It is a reciprocal exchange between the fans and music.”
Marley will soon bring that reciprocal exchange to Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern on Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. “The fans will be getting something special,” Marley notes. “I love the energy here in the North County. It’s way up, so you know the vibes will be the same. I think my acoustic set also creates a more intimate environment for my fans, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Despite his talent and stage pedigree, it wasn’t too long ago when Marley was only seen in the background and regarded as anything but a solo star of his famous family. Growing up the son of his icon father Bob and mother Rita, Stephen was a member of the Melody Makers band with his siblings Ziggy, Sharon and Cedella for the better part of 20 years. The experience was an informative part of Stephen’s life. “One early memory that stands out is when my brother Ziggy and I performed in Zimbabwe with our father to honor the nation’s independence,” he recalls. ”It was really powerful and the moment I realized the music we do is way more than just music.”
The Melody Makers helped keep the Marley family legacy alive and vibrant, even after Bob’s 1981 death when Stephen was 8. Simultaneous to the band, Stephen also became the family’s resident producer along the way, helping concoct the debut solo albums for family members Julian and Damian, and later producing tracks for the likes of Erykah Badu and Inner Circle.
It wasn’t until 2007 when Marley released his debut album as a solo artist. Dubbed Mind Control, it won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. It was a feat Stephen repeated with his second and third albums, with the later two scoring Grammys as well. “(Becoming my own artist) was not something that was an immediate shift,” Stephen explains of the transition. “I have always enjoyed all aspects of music, from singing to producing and songwriting. The timing at the time just felt right.”
Marley’s most recent musical effort, and the reason for the tour, is his EP One Take: Acoustic Jams, which features acoustic spins of both his father’s and his own songs and was released under the family-owned record label Ghetto Youths International. The label allows the Marley family to have the freedom to discover new artists and release their own material, and also gives them time to work on a nonprofit of the same name. “It provides resources to communities in need,” says Stephen. “Right now, we are working on building a homework center in Trenchtown, Jamaica, where my father was raised. Proceeds from this tour will go directly towards this cause. Education is key for progression.”
That penchant for progression is a reason why Marley’s life right now is centered around the two things he holds dear: music and charity work, with the former making the later possible. “It is a blessing,” he says. “And it gives us more fuel to continue the mission and maintain the legacy.”
For tickets and more information on the show at the Belly Up, visit bellyup.com. For more information on Marley’s work, visit stephenmarleymusic.com.