Two-time Grammy Award winner Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, son of Bob and music star in his own right, performed in front of thousands of fans at Ghion Hotel on Tuesday. Damian Robert Nesta Marley, also known as Junior Gong and more recently as Gongzilla, is the son of Bob Marley and Cindy Breakspeare, who was Miss World 1976. Fans of the Jamaican reggae artiste Damian Marley got the threat of their lifetime for two hours. Damian delivered a memorable performance as he serenaded his fans with hits such as Welcome to Jamrock, Affairs of the Heart, Set Up Shop and Africa Unite, write Meheret-Selassie Mokonnen and Samuel Getachew.
Under a clear Addis Ababa sky, with an unexpected number of crowds in the high thousands, Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley made his return to Addis Ababa on Tuesday, June 6. The young star, who son of the legendary Bob Marley, was two years old when his father passed away at the tender age of 39. His return caused quite a stir as he came back to the capital 12 years after he took the stage at the 60th birthday of his father Bob Marley in 2005 in Meskel Square.
His African tour kicked off from Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa continuing to Nairobi, Kenya, Pierre, Reunion Island, Port-Louis, Mauritius and finally Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The concert, organized by Sigma Entertainment and Events and Zeleke Gesesse in partnership with Aurora Production and Events, was dubbed “One Love”, a popular catchphrase in the Rastafarian community.
Damian was supposed to take the stage at 9:00 PM, but he did not. There was a riot like atmosphere by the entrance of Ghion Hotel, as ticket holders and those looking for free entrance fought against each other’s interest. Ironically, Bob also performed at the same venue – Ghion Hotel – when he visited Ethiopia in the late 1970s. However, back then there were a little over a hundred people who came to see the reggae legend.
Many lined up for hours and a large number of ticket holders were turned back. The federal police was in disarray and unprepared for the thousands that showed up and pickpockets seemed to have strived.
Fans showed rare patience as a slew of opening acts substituted in the wee hours of the night, awaiting the superstar of the night. Johnny Ragga sung his heart out and Zeleke Gessesse preformed a slew of multilingual songs while his dancers strangely danced on with the help of chairs. (Only he and perhaps Hollywood star Clint Eastwood seem to understand what is in a chair the rest of society does not).
Back in 2012, Clint Eastwood stood on stage at the Republican National Convention, accompanied by nothing but an empty chair. He pointed at the chair and announced, “So I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here.” It was a speech that prompted The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri to write, “He and the chair discussed Guantanamo and Afghanistan. It was a very communicative chair.”
When Damien took the stage belatedly late way past midnight, it seemed all was forgiven.
Dressed in baggy pants at least twice oversized for his skinny body, speaking in prefect patois as introduction and with facial hair that is un-kept and free and the aura smell of marijuana, there was no denying in Damien, the Marley brand had extended the legacy of Bob to the next generation. There was little secret why he is indeed the most talented of the Marley clans.
“Ethiopia, I love you,” Damian kept chanting and the crowed went completely crazy. Some waved the Jamaican flag, others Ethiopian flag with Emperor Haile-Selassie Ι’s face on it and mostly the Lion of Judah. Almost everyone put their lighters up and those who haven’t got one, gestured with their cell phones.
Each and every time he praised Ethiopia, he got a whimsical response. Not to mention the fervent reaction to his songs that directly address Ethiopia, a country he calls home. “Ethiopia means a lot to me with the history and the spirituality,” Damian told The Reporter.
Emperor Haile Selassie Ι’s renowned speech to the League of Nations in 1936 was echoed as he came to the stage. The speech, condemning fascist Italy; the whole idea of overtaking one’s country and demanding justice and equality all over the world, is the intro for Damian’s hit song – “Confrontation”. After greeting the audience humbly, he went on to “Make it Bun Dem” – a song in whose video the mistreatment of Native Americans and African Americans is exposed.
“Set Up Shop”, a song with a verse that speaks about Ethiopia, received a stout applause. Some sang along while others kept cheering and taking pictures. The people also had much warmth to “Road to Zion”, another symbolic song inferring to the Promised Land.
Damian said he was delighted he got to perform in Ethiopia. “I am really proud to come to Ethiopia, a country that means a lot to me,” He said.
Alongside revolutionary hits like “Love and Inity”, resonating love, peace, harmony and justice, he sang romantic songs such as “Affairs of the Heart” and “Hey Girl”. The audience, who knew the lyrics of the songs by heart, sang along at the top of their lungs.
Damien is no Ziggy – who imitates Bob. But with Damien one is enriched by a talent that is fresh and his own. The enthusiastic crowd, from all ages and faces, were with their feet on the ground for the full performance. There was something about Damien, that is unmatched, that makes occupy the stage as full and complete, with little fanfare and color.
The concert was held on a Tuesday, a rare happening for a concert in the capital, where the lively city feels like abandoned. It had given fear to the organizers to expect a disappointment number of attendees as most brand name companies had refused to sponsor the event fearing a small crowd of people. But the night was a hit, a milestone for the risk takers of the concert. Even the less-than-stellar beer, Zebidar, a Johnny-come-lately sponsor of the event, saw a long line up of customers and used the event to introduce its beer to a huge crowd of people.
In between his performance, Damian expressed his deep love for Ethiopia and how honorary it is to perform in the country. He received as much respect from the crowed as he was giving. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came, but after I got here I can’t help but, feel the love,” he told The Reporter.
Damien is a star and a beloved artist within Ethiopia – a society he has described to The Guardian as “Very spiritual” and where one would “Wake up in the morning and hear the churches and mosques, and chanting”.
Are you excited to be in Ethiopia, The Reporter asked as he arrived at Bole International Airport the day before his concert. With a smirk on his face, bouncing and surprised to see the welcoming crowd that turned to welcome him “home”, he said “What do you think?”, like a lost soul who finally returned to a familiar surroundings.
Are you going to adopt an Ethiopian name, The Reporter asked backstage at his concert, he was given an Ethiopian name and was baptized the last time he came and added, “Sadly, I don’t recall my Ethiopian name”.
Damien, who is humble, down to earth and pleasant to talk to, took the audience on a journey through his albums – from the 1996’s “Mr. Marley” to 2015’s “Welcome to Jamrock”. Among the popular songs he performed, “Me Name Jr. Gong”, a song in which he proclaims himself as a “youngest veteran”, reflects what he stands for and the message he wants to spread through his music.
According to Damian, his songs reflect his values and the lessons he got from his ancestors. “What I put in my music is based up on my upbringing, my values and my spirituality,” he explained. Stressing how much the ancestral history is significant in conscious music he said “What we do in terms of message is based upon the lessons from our parents.”
“Distant Relatives”, an African inspired album, where he collaborated with hip-hop icon Nas, challenges the continent’s politics and poses socioeconomic questions. The album reverberates everyone in the world is related, attesting we all are somehow distant relatives.
The album featured K’naan and a composition from the father of Etho-jazz Mulatu Astatke in the song “As We Enter”. The album in a way interconnected distance relatives of African descent through music. He blissed the audience with popular songs from the album including “Land of Promise” and “Patience”.
For Damian, singing about Africa and not performing in the continent is absurd. “I have done a lot of music that speaks about Africa and it never felt right to me that I didn’t come here and play the music,” he pointed. His tour, Africa 2017, where he performed in five countries bridged this gap.
When it comes to spreading the message of reggae music by performing in Africa, he said, “It is very satisfying to perform in Africa.” He is even more delighted to be in Ethiopia and he said “It feels homely to be in Ethiopia”.
When Damian and his brothers came to Ethiopia ten years ago, they had a massive audience and he hasn’t performed here since that unforgettable concert. He said he wasn’t sure how the crowed would react when he came to do a show alone.
“When we, all the brothers, came here ten years ago, it was a big concert. I didn’t know what to expect coming alone,” he explained. Nonetheless, he was satisfied by how Ethiopians embraced him. This time around, he is more popular and many Ethiopians know what he is all about. Most of the audience were reciting songs like “Strong Will Continue”.
The people chanted: “When the Armageddon’s dark and dread
A lot of weak are to weep and moan
Only the strong will continue
Do you have it in you?
Come we’ve got a journey to go
And when the battle get sour and dread
A lot of weak are to wither and moan
Only the strong will continue
I know you have it in you
I know you have it in you”
While singing “Strong Will Continue” (a song that features Nas) many retained hand over fist in support of struggling for the right cause.
Damian’s nonstop performance lasted around two hours and the final section was his father – Bob Marley’s renowned songs. “Do you love Bob Marley?” he asked before continuously playing “No More Trouble”, “Get Up Stand Up”, “Could You Be Loved” and “Africa Unite”. The people responded that Bob is indeed adored by singing harmonically.
Among the audiences, some were hugging each other while others were bouncing along the reggae, dancehall and hip-hop fusion. Reflecting on the crowd’s harmony Damian said, “Music is a communication. I go to places where they don’t speak English but they sing along. We communicate through music.”
Around the end, the stage light was dimmed and when the crowed thought it couldn’t get any better, BOOM! “Out in the streets, they call it merther…” blasted the huge speakers. “Welcome to Jamrock” being his most popular song in Ethiopia and other countries too, everyone was heeding passionately.
When his performance was about to end the audience cried for more. He respectfully expressed his love once again and closed off saying “Until next time Ethiopia, take care. Take care of each other and spread the peace.”
All through his performance, he was full of energy and giving his audience why he was awarded a slew of Grammys, not for imitating his father, but for his own way, his own sound. Not too many artistes could say that and prove it onstage. Damien can!
Even when he ventured in his father’s territory, he was at his best. As said in “Africa Unite” “We are the children of the Rastaman…” – one did not have to live the words to know the magnitude of being the son of Bob – the expectation, disappointment and be successful in his own right. But Damien has arrived.
For Damien, he has his own assessment of what it means to be the son of one of the most talented and gifted reggae artistes of all time. “It’s easy to be the son of Bob,” he told The Reporter. “But, I am my own man.” With energy that is in full display and talent that is unmatched, it is no wonder, only for him and for him alone; it must be easy to follow the footsteps of Bob – one of the greatest artistes of all time.
The youngest son of Bob Marley, Damian has been performing since he was 13. The Shephards was the band he started off before perusing his solo carrier. He is the only Jamaican artiste to win two Grammy Awards on the same night. He received Best Reggae Album and Best Urban/Alternative Performance award for his third studio album, “Welcome to Jamrock”, which sold 86,000 copies in its first week of release in 2005.
Produced and co-written by Stephen “Ragga” Marley, “Welcome to Jamrock” reflects up on tough realities in his home town. He narrates about the poverty and crime in the country, challenging political figures. The proceeds of this album went to building schools in the Congo. Many critics agree he is one of the musicians who dare to challenge the system, reflecting people’s frustration and also tries to shows a glimpse of hope as in one of his songs “My Generation”.
Damian said conscious music plays an important role in being a voice to the people. The stressing things in the world such as having people who can’t find a meal or send their children to school should be focused on. “Music communicates ideas, feelings, emotions, love and spirituality. We find music as a common thing around the people,” he stressed.
When asked by The Reporter about his experience of performing complemented with people adoring him, Damian replied, “People feel music. You can’t quite put it into words all the time. It is something you experience and feel. You can’t see the breeze but you feel it.”
“Half Way Tree”, an album he released in 2001 also won the Best Reggae Album award. The name of the album states Damian as the son of an underprivileged father and an uptown mother, in another way expecting all segments of society would be able relate to the songs. According to him, in music, experiences like this inspire him. “Life inspires me. My experiences, the experiences of people I have conversation with inspire me”, he elaborated.
He has collaborated with many renowned musicians including Steel Pulse, lead vocalist of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Eve, Bobby Brown, Bruno Mars, and of course his brothers, mostly Stephen. In addition to Bob’s sons Julian Marley, Ziggy Marley and Ky-Mani Marley, his grandsons including Jo Mersa Marley, Skip Marley and Daniel Bambaata Marley have kept the family legacy.
Damian, who considers himself as a spiritual revolutionary, told The Reporter his album “Stony Hill” will be released July 21. “Nail Pon Cross”, one of the singles he released recently gained critical acclaims. During his stay in Addis Ababa, he shot a music video and visited his father’s statue around Imperial Hotel. He canceled his anticipated trip to Lalibela, since his trip was cut short.
One of Damian’s hardcore fans Melat Messay said, “It was an incredible show. He performed nonstop with an unbelievable energy. His connection with the audience was so solid and everyone felt the love. I was happily weaving my locks listening to the songs I love with the people I love.”
She was amazed by how the stage light was hand in hand with the pace of his performance. “He gave a world class show. I was amazed by how he goes from one song to the other.” She is one of the fans who got to take a picture with him backstage. (There were photographers who took pictures of fans with Damian and they charged 100 birr per picture.)
As fans were lining up to take pictures with Damian, the police were disrespectfully pushing them around. This incident pushed his buttons and he shouted the people be treated politely. One can say, he lives his music and he is certainly always on the side of the people.
Nonetheless, Melat was disappointed by the security problems of the night. “Many lost their cellphones, including a friend of mine. The police didn’t do anything to stop the robbing. In fact they were hustling people. They were pushing people disrespectfully.” She was so mad when the police mistreated people and she points the organizers should have been well prepared.
“People who had tickets and those who were going to buy at the gate shouldn’t have been standing in the same line,” she said. Many stood at the gate for hours, some until midnight, waiting to get in but, there are people who couldn’t. Some people posted their distresses on Facebook.
Leoul Seyoum, who believes music is a means of communicating vigorous ideas, adores Damian and his father as well. He said he was satisfied by the performance which included songs about Ethiopia and Africa. He was also delighted to see Zeleke Gessesse perform “Hagere” (My country) and the other songs he loves “Don’t let me down” and “Almaze”. He said Johnny Raga and Henok Mehari too delighted his night.
Leoul shared Melat’s opinion and said “There shouldn’t have been so much worry at a concert preaching peace.” In a country where there aren’t much concerts, he was thrilled thousands of people who attended this one. However, he fears the hustle might scare away people from future concerts.
Aside the snags, he said he was glad to see a crowd that shared similar values. “I am pleased the concert brought the ideals of unity to the forefront. People were singing along as he preached about peace and love. What I appreciated most about him is how he respected the people,” Leoul said. He is amid many who hope Ethiopia gets to host Damian and other reggae sensations frequently.
That sentiment is also felt on Damian as he told The Reporter how much he hopes to do more shows in the country and he hopes the One Love concert can lead the way for future concerts. “I hope this can be a regular thing, like I do in England or Jamaica,” he said.