The idea of a “family business” may be an antiquated notion for some but not if you’re a Marley. Bob Marley’s progeny have been making hits for decades and there’s no sign of that tradition ending. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley recently took the spotlight at The Anthem in DC. The three-time Grammy winner performed his signature dancehall reggae, father’s timeless classics, and possibly introduced us to the next Marley hitmaker.
The July 13 line-up, which included Spragga Benz, Sizzla Kalonji, and DC’s own See-I band, may have been the Anthem’s largest reggae show to date. If not the largest, it was certainly the venue’s most vibrant. The heavy bass of dancehall pounded through the expansive auditorium as the energetic vocalists, commonly known as deejays (rappers), lit the place on fire.
Damian’s set began in darkness. The quiet before the storm. A solitary figure walked to the front of the stage as a spotlight illuminated his all-white attire. The emcee lifted the mic toward his dreadlock beard to greet the audience in a heavy Jamaican patois and to marshal the proceedings of the evening. He stepped back into the darkness as footage of former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie flashed on a screen at the back of the stage. Like his father, Damian is a devout Rastafarian whose music is partially shaped by the religion of which Haile Selassie is a central figure.
A standard-bearer waving an Ethiopian flag with the image of the crowned Lion of Judah led the way as Jr. Gong entered the stage. “No punk can finish what Bob Marley started…” Damian roared on “Here We Go.” The once “youngest veteran,” who released his first album in ‘93, displayed the poise, confidence, and lyrical braggadocio of a top-rank general. The song is off Damian’s 2017 album Stony Hill, which delves into different topics but at its core is about people.
The image of silhouette bodies crucified on old-style utility poles appeared on the screen as Damian performed “Nail Pon Cross.” The imagery may have come across controversial or led some to judgment but that’s the point of the allegory. “He without sin/may he throw the first stone…” Damian commanded on the song.
Watch the official music video for “Nail Pon Cross” by Damian Marley on YouTube:
Throughout the concert, the Rasta flag-bearer twirled the Ethiopian flag at a rhythmic pace, while Damian’s pair of background singers belted their vocals with flare, but it would be a pint-sized version of Jr. Gong who would steal the show. Damian’s nine-year-old son Elijah joined him on stage to perform an a capella version of his grandfather’s song “Natural Mystic.”
In the ‘70s, an adolescent Ziggy Marley would also join his father on stage. This opportunity wouldn’t be afforded the youngest of Bob Marley’s male children. Damian was only two when his father passed. His apprenticeship in the family trade would be spent studying Bob Marley’s catalog of music. Dad would be proud of Damian’s performances of “Is This Love,” “Get Up Stand Up,” and “Could You Be Loved.”
Stephen Marley, brother to Damian Marley was in town a few nights previously. See our Parklife DC photos of Stephen Marley at The Fillmore Silver Spring.
The themes of resilience and dignity for the downtrodden in Bob Marley’s music are as relevant today as they were nearly 40 years ago. It’s debatable whether that means the legendary musician was ahead of his time or that history is repeating. What’s not up for debate is that Damian has become the torchbearer for the same brand of righteous tunes.
Damian ended the night with his 2005 breakout hit “Welcome to Jamrock.” The song, which still goes hard 14 years after its release, is a stroll through a treacherous side of Jamaica. The Kingston that attendants at Montego Bay resorts tell tourists to avoid at all costs. “Out in the streets, they call it murder…” fans chanted in unison.
Other highlights from the night included Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s performance of…
- “More Justice,” Halfway Tree (2001)
- “Hey Girl,” Welcome to Jamrock (2005)
- “Beautiful,” Welcome to Jamrock (2005)
- “Affairs of The Heart” (2012)
- “Medication,” Stony Hill (2017)
- “Love and Inity,” Mr. Marley (1996)
- “Move,” Welcome to Jamrock (2005)
- “The Mission,” Off Stephen Marley’s Mind Control Album (2007)
- “Everybody Wants to be Somebody,” Stony Hill (2017)
- “Patience,” Distant Relatives (2010)
- “So A Child May Follow,” Stony Hill (2017)
- “Road to Zion,” Welcome to Jamrock (2005)
Here are some photos of Damian Marley’s performing at The Anthem on July 13, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Will Colbert.