A flurry of tweets and Facebook posts advising that Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley would be speaking on his career at the UWI Mona on Friday, February 10, brought a decent turn out to the Assembly Hall, despite the short notice. The session was staged by the Dept. of Literatures in English, and their poster boasting images of Shakespeare, Bob Marley, Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, Jean Ryhs, T.S. Elliott and Jimmy Cliff suggests that the department embraces different kinds of texts.
Indeed, the talk was staged to complement the Reggae Poetry course taught by main organizer, Prof. Carolyn Cooper. The talk is also well timed as February is Reggae Month. Cooper explained that she had asked Damian to give the talk at last week’s Trench Town Rock concert and it had only been confirmed on Thursday night hence the limited advertising. Another member of the Department, Tanya Shirley, was the evening’s opening act, and she delivered a few of the pieces of her “dancehall” poetry a jaw dropping orgy of sensuality and spirituality.
The cavernous room that is the Assembly Hall isn’t the best place to have a talk, the sound is horrendous. Yet it was a good session where Damian fielded numerous questions giving his views on talent, spirituality, music and his mother. Several of the questions seemed to have expected that he would be critical of those who espouse different views. He is asked what he thinks of Vybz Kartel, and expresses admiration for Kartel’s talent even though he does not agree with all his life choices. When asked if he thinks his music was impacted by the fact that he had it all, Damian rebuts that people don’t merely listen to him because he’s Bob Marley’s son. He cites Michael Gladwell and argues that people need to realize that success takes more than talent, it takes hard work. When asked about working with his brothers he points out that music is just one of the things that they do together and he refers to Stephen’s influence as that of producer and big brother. The dynamic between the two is always intriguing to watch on stage.
Damian admits to having come to music when as a very young child he pretended to be his legendary father. Now, several albums into his own career, and no longer having to declare “a me name Jr. Gong”, he has been able to embrace his father’s magnetic shadow without being swallowed by it. His rise even received its own pop culture reference in the post apocalyptic film “I am Legend”, when a reference to Bob is mistaken for a reference to him. Though of all of Marley’s sons Damian is not the most physically similar, something about his relaxed yet confident stance on the stage echoes Bob Marley, and certainly his music bears Marley’s rebel/rude bwoi spirit transmitted through a dancehall aesthetic.
The talk reveals a man, clearly still on a journey who appears to be willing to accept several viewpoints. He is able to speak of his achievements without showing hubris, and at the end of the night, he said more than a few things that were worth remembering:
“It’s not about being a Marley, it’s about being a human being.”
“It’s a privilege to be remembered, I can’t tell people how to remember me”
“I think religion is a guiding tool to spirituality.”
“Follow your passions responsibly.”