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Damian Marley says music is not a competition and the Reggae Industry should learn from South Korea’s K-Pop Industry

Photo of Damian Marley

March 5, 2021 | Donovan Watkis |

Known as the “youngest veteran”, Damian Marley has made a name for himself locally and internationally in the music business although he is from reggae royalty. We talk about his sojourn into music, hit biggest hits and collaborations in reggae music. Damian is passionate about the music industry and dismisses false missions of music as he explains why reggae artists deserve to win Grammys. He also gives advice to up and coming artists who wish to make a name for themselves.

Donovan Watkis : Greetings Damian. Thank you for coming on…

Damian Marley : Greetings! Thanks for having me.

Where are you right now?


Let’s start from the beginning. How did you enter the music business?

Well my family has been in the business before I was born. My brothers and sisters were all in the music. I started out being a fan. I imitated persons who I was a fan of and that’s how I started to want to do performances for myself. People like Ninja Man, Shabba Ranx, Super Cat, I wanted to be like them. I started a group with a childhood friend Shai Coore, who is the son of Kat Coore from Third World. We used to do mother’s day events and such until we were able to gain enough momentum to open up for Reggae Sunsplash.

You say Reggae Sunsplash, What is your take on the live music culture now for Reggae Music?

Hopefully more events will come back. A lot of events have gone away because of lack of sponsorship. It is great for the island, great for tourism, great for the culture. It is great for branding our culture of reggae music. 

You make a You don’t make a distinction between the two (Reggae and Dancehall)

To me Reggae and Dancehall are all the same. Dancehall originally was a place. The genre has evolved from the original roots sounding music compared to modern dancehall. It still falls under the umbrella of Reggae.

I believe it’s one family.

Just like Hip Hop has fast Hip Hop and slow Hip Hop?

Yes, its still Hip Hop whether it is from the 80s with Slick Rick or present day trap.

That makes sense. So how do you suggest the roots artist get some of the (modern) market that is available for Reggae?

They have to put out good music and mingle amongst the people. Sometimes when I go out in Jamaica (before covid 19), I don’t see a lot of roots artists out in the streets. Again the most important thing is to put out good music.

Do you think reggae music is getting the reach to sell the kind of records it should sell?

I think that with streaming, when you talk about selling records, that’s a thing of the past. I hear that iTunes will soon close their music store so streaming is the future. Within the Caribbean we never traditionally buy albums anyway but everybody is now streaming. For example you can upload something on YouTube and just wishing for the Caribbean you can amass millions of streams. Streaming has helped to validate our numbers within our own reggae core market. Then of course you don’t need a big machinery to get physical coins in stores. A youth that is working in Kingston putting together some music with the click of a button can upload music for the world to have access and that is going to be a benefit for musicians

You put out albums and you are a part of album culture, do you think albums still have a place?

Albums still have a place…but nowadays there is no right way or one way to do it anymore. Now you are not bonded to put out an album you can put out an Ep. The more creative you are the better right now.

You are a serial collaborator, you collaborated with Jay-Z for “Bam”, what was that experience like recording with him and what’s the relationship like?

I met him a few times before doing any music with him. Of course I was honored to be considered to be part of his music. Jay -Z is definitely one of the legends when it comes to modern music.

What did bam specifically do for your career?

I can’t say that “Bam” did this or that. I have made other great collaborations over the years. I think every ‘mickle make a mukle’, so consistently releasing good music is what does it and not any one thing.What do you think of Reggae music sales?With streaming, records sales are now a thing of the past.I have been hearing that iTunes will soon close their music store and focus on streaming. Streaming is the future. That opens a lot of avenues for Reggae music. You can upload something on YouTube and gain in the Caribbean alone millions of streams let alone other parts of the world.

Tell me about your deal with Tidal?

I had some conversations with Jay-Z before making music with him and the deal with Tidal was one of those conversations. They invited me to be an artist owner, they offered me some shares to be a part of Tidal and support Tidal. In return, they have exclusive release for a certain amount of time. Example if I release a video now you will notice for the first week or two it is only on Tidal. It was an opportunity that presented itself to me and I am glad for it.

Do you think there is a space for artists to start their own streaming company?

Yeah you know I was thinking about that. It is possible. Depends on how much music you have and the bandwidth. I couldn’t speak to the computer tech side of that in terms of servers and whatever else needed to make it happen.

Maybe there could be a reggae streaming site in the future?

It possible.

Who does Damian Marley listen to?

All kinda music, all kinda things. Mostly the music I am working on. Seventy percent of the music I listen to is what I am working on in the studio to double check and make sure things are right. But if you want me to call a name, Koffee (songs)

If you could make some changes in how music is governed in the Caribbean and Jamaica in light of the UNESCO designating reggae as an intangible piece of cultural heritage, what would those be?

The noise abatement act needs proper attention. I understand the need to respect residential zones but Jamaica’s Reggae music is part of brand Jamaica. It also feeds a lot of people and a lot of people depend on it. I also don’t like the censoring of the music. Just like we should be free to pray we should be free to cuss’ who we want. I don’t like censorship. Other than that, we should also investigate and take a page out of the K-pop movement. The Korean government made very direct moves towards fueling their music industry. When we say we want support from the government what exactly are we speaking about? What are the details of that? We should look to other places and see what worked and what didn’t. We can learn from them because investment is what is needed.

You don’t drop albums often. Are we going to see more albums from Damian or you will keep your mystique as you said on your last album?

(laughs) I will definitely be dropping more albums regularly. It is not purposely why it took so long in between solo projects. I was working on a lot of other things. As the years go on I get more involved in producing. I did an album with Nas and another with Mick Jagger and a whole crew of people over den suh. Over the next few years I would like to release more solo albums. 

What are your thoughts on the Grammys?

We have to be careful about this Grammys thing because music is not a competition. There is a lot of great music that gets put out every year and we reach to this point now you get a lot of tension and unfair criticism because to becomes a race and a competition. Whoever wins deserves to win…we are fans of all music. My brother Ziggy deserves to win every time he wins because he constantly stays working, constantly release music of a certain quality and integrity.  It goes without saying if someone else wins they would have deserved to win also, everybody deserve to win.

Damian Marley thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Maximum respect!

Donovan Watkis (JR)

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