Damian Marley. Picture: Supplied

Damian Marley’s 2010 collaboration album with Nas, Distant Relatives is littered with references to Africa’s rich cultural background. During the recording of the album Marley and Nas dug through archives of African music in search of songs to sample and reference.

On one of the album’s more popular songs, Africa Must Wake Up, Marley sings the prayerful chorus, “Africa must wake up, the sleeping sons of Jacob – For what tomorrow may bring, may a better day come – Yesterday we were kings, can you tell me young ones, who are we today?”

When we spoke over the phone last week, Marley explained how the song came about and his personal affinity with the African continent: “That song was inspired by a song I was doing with K’naan, who’s a friend of mine from Somalia, and we ended up using it on Distant Relatives. Africa has the greatest history and it probably also has the greatest future in terms of the possibilities and what’s to come. I’ve always been encouraging African unity where it comes down to African countries kind of binding together, almost like the United States where you have different states but you’re able to come together as a united force.”

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Marley will be performing at The Groove Live in Newtown, Johannesburg on Friday and then on Sunday at the Zakifo Music Festival at Durban’s Blue Lagoon Beach. This will mark his first trip to South Africa.

“Going somewhere new is always exciting,” he said. “And of course you know there’s a connection between Jamaican culture, rasta culture and the continent of Africa, let alone South Africa. You look in our music and we have a lot of songs about the struggle of the people of South Africa. When Mandela was released from prison there was a huge celebration in Jamaica, I remember going there as a little kid. All these things play into my excitement of coming to South Africa.”

Marley’s music is generally centred on healing and empowerment, themes that we grapple with daily in South Africa. Asked if he would tailor his usual set in an effort to resonate with South Africans, Marley responded: “We’ll definitely do a few songs that we think will relate to the South African audience. But we’ll be adding that to what is our normal set. Music itself is pretty much always relative to people no matter where you go. So we do have one or two songs we’ll be adding especially because we’re going to Africa.”

Marley talked me through his Ghetto Youths Crew label, which was founded to empower destitute Jamaican youths.

“The label came about when my brother Stephen and my other brother Ziggy wanted to create a voice for youths from Jamaica. It was really to help kids in the streets to be able to get out. And then once I came of age and I started to do music that’s where I released my music. The label is now run by Stephen, Julian and myself.”

When I asked him what he gets up to in his spare time, Marley said that he often plays and watches soccer. He’s also heavily involved in the marijuana business.

“What’s really great about what’s happening with marijuana right now is all the medical research being done and all the benefits that we see it has the potential to bring.”

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Marley’s fourth solo studio album, titled Stone Hill, is due for release in the coming months.

“The album is finished and we’re looking to release it on the 21st of July.

It shows some growth in terms of me trying some new things. I’m trying a bit more singing on this album and I have a few more tracks with a bit more of a traditional Wailers kind of feel.

And then of course I cover my usual ground in terms of my kind of hybrid hip hop-influenced stuff. It’s just an expressions of what I’ve been going through since the last album, so it’s a whole lot of things in one.”