Throughout his life and career, Damian Marley has been synonymous with reggae music. The youngest son of Bob Marley has settled into his status as one of the genre’s pre-eminent voices, all while serving different roles as a commanding performer, visionary producer, and cruise director. Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise completed yet another sold out journey in December 2022; sales for the 8th edition—a 5-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, departing Miami on Dec. 4, 2023—have been brisk, with only a few cabins still available.
“It’s a reggae lover’s heaven, it’s paradise. You’re there with likeminded people, everyone loves reggae,” says Marley of the cruise. “Yet it’s interesting because it’s people from all walks of life, it’s very diverse. You get to interact with different people from different places who have their own cultures, but yet still come to share their love for the culture of reggae music.”
Passengers visit idyllic Jamaican destinations like Falmouth and Ocho Rios, all while dancing along to some of the world’s top reggae artists as they perform in multiple venues on the ship. Each cruise features a book drive that goes to Jamaican schools in need, with one of the featured performers dropping off the books to a nearby school when the cruise docks in Jamaica. Each passenger is asked to bring a children’s book to be donated to the Jamaica Library Service (JLS).
Since 2014, the Jamrock Cruise has grown in prestige, becoming one of the most in-demand music cruises in the world.
“It’s a statement for the genre,” Marley says. “Over the years there weren’t a lot of people who thought it was possible, a lot of people questioned whether or not we we’d be able to pull out such an event even based on wondering if fans of reggae music would spend that kind of money to go to an event like that.”
Marley, 44, recently spoke to Penta from his home in Miami.
PENTA: What is it about the cruising experience that makes it an ideal fit for a reggae festival?
Damian Marley: It’s obvious, what do people go to Jamaica for? They go for the music, food, weather, sunshine, sea, beach…and so a cruise ship is very much parallel to that experience. It’s out on the sea and in the sunshine, and then we’re providing reggae music and Jamaican food. And then you get to stop in Jamaica and get on Jamaican soil. So I think it all is a very obvious marriage and partnership.
You’re involved with various philanthropic efforts but have said you like to keep a low profile. Is there a particular cause you’d like to share with Penta readers?
Something I’m a part of that I do like to speak about is the Last Prisoner Project, it’s helping people who are locked up on cannabis-related charges to gain their freedom. That’s something I would love people to check out. Being that cannabis has been illegal for so long over the years and is something that we’ve been chastised for, there is a responsibility part of it where it comes down to social reform, and getting justice for the injustices. I just want people to educate themselves and spend their money responsibly.
How do you feel about the current state of reggae music?
I think that the genre is in an innovation phase right now, you have a lot of young artists and producers who are trying new things. I don’t necessarily think that they have fully found themselves or a new sound that’s really going to resonate on a really wide-scale scale, but I think they’re experimenting. There needs to be a balance of us still giving a platform to the original cultural style of reggae music, the orthodox style.
Do you have any current thoughts about your father’s legacy and the meaning of his music?
He’s pretty much as relevant as he’s ever been. He’s consistently been relevant throughout the times. Hats off to my family members who all work very hard at maintaining his legacy. It’s not just by chance, you have a lot of people who put a lot of hours into it every day, making sure things are going the right way, and exploring different opportunities to keep his legacy alive.
What do you say to readers who haven’t been to Jamaica?
Jamaica is a special place. For such a small country with such a small population, we have affected the world. We have created a genre that is loved the world over. We have various great leaders and names who come from Jamaica and excel in their fields. Whether it be Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, or Marcus Garvey…our impact on the world speaks for itself! For a dot on the map, there must be something special about that place. When you go there to visit, it’s more about the energy…it’s something I think people would enjoy experiencing.
What’s your go-to recommendation for visitors to Jamaica?
Well, I always recommend that people go to Hellshire Beach [near Portmore] and try the fried fish. When I worked on a video project with Jay-Z, that was one of the places I brought him to…it’s always one of the places where if I’m taking a guest to experience something that’s a good look for Jamaica and is unique to Jamaica too, it would be Hellshire Beach. The guy we go to there for seafood is called Screechy, but the whole beach is filled with different places for really good fresh fish.
What gives you hope for the future of reggae?
People still need human connection, you know It’s still a very important part of our lives. Throughout the pandemic, we were trying to find what is the importance of music? Is it essential to people? Do people actually need music to survive? I want to think yes, I would hope so.
There’s a spiritual element, there’s an energetic element, there’s an intangible element. You know, I make a product that you can feel but you can’t touch. I just really hope that through music we can influence some positive vibrations. When it comes to that cultural, social aspect of reggae music, a big part of it for us is we’re trying to uplift underprivileged people. I hope the music continues to be known for that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.