A Grandson and a Rising Son

by John Zelazny, Time Out Music Columnist
Being out on tour is not a new thing for Jo Mersa Marley. As the son of Stephen Marley, he was on tour from an early age, either alongside his father or one of his many reggae-famous uncles.

As the grandson of the legendary Bob Marley, obviously Jo Mersa's music has been deeply influenced by the reggae culture, but his artistic vigor asserts his natural enthusiasm for creating music and performing. Through time, he has formed his own identity with a style that ranges in an array of genres, including pop, dancehall and hip-hop.

I caught up with Jo Mersa while he was on his way through the mountains in the middle of about two months worth of touring. He didn't know exactly where he was but he did know they were en route to Aspen. He and his father will be playing at the Belly Up on Friday, May 2.

Jo Mersa says the highlight of his career so far has been the opportunity to travel and tour with his father. He's been touring with his father since he was a little boy. As a grownup, he's been on tour opening Stephen Marley's shows for the last five or six years.

“I didn't literally grow up on tour,” says Jo Mersa. “There was a point in my life when my dad said appearance at school was important. At that time I wouldn't be on tour, I would be at home crying and wishing I was. I would be anxiously awaiting what tour I would go on next.”

While he has been on tour for years and has released singles in the past, his first EP is about to drop. Titled “Comfortable” and six songs long, the EP took him years to perfect.

“Some tracks were easier than other tracks and even when the track is finished you still have a lot of fine tuning to do,” says Jo Mersa. “There is a lot of work that is put into the tracks, even the ones that come easier than others.”

With such an extensive family business in the music industry, Jo Mersa has to work extra hard to stick out yet stay true to the roots of his past and his families past.

“I be myself, and do what I was taught growing up,” he says. “I know of my roots and know where I'm coming from. With my father coming out of the ghetto and then being privileged. Knowing those things, that's my roots. I give myself my own little wake up call, I am blessed to be where I am, and I wake up everyday acknowledging that I'm blessed to be where I am. I give thanks for that, I wouldn't ask for no more, no less.”

He says jokingly that his style is, “younger” when compared with his father, but admits to learning a substantial amount from his father.

“My father is like a historian of music so I grew up listening to a lot of people,” says Jo Mersa. “I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin. I grew up listening to Ray Charles, Nina Simone. Then it went into Snoop Dogg and Biggie Smalls; it's a huge catalogue.”

Because of his last name, Jo Mersa is going to be in the spotlight and he has quite a reputation he is expected to fulfill.

“There is a point where it is tough shoes to fill,” says Jo Mersa. “There was a point in life when I would get up on stage and I can't mess up. I'm standing next to an icon which is my father, standing next to my icon, my biggest influence. Its kinda hard and kinda how I got tested. It seemed like I only had one chance even though I had many chances. Every time I go on with him it always feels like the first time again. I feel like I want to wow this person.”

Jo Mersa says that it depends on the vibe but he and his father often play together during a performance. Friday’s show will be his third time playing in Aspen and he is ecstatic to be developing an audience in our mountain community.
“I love my fans in Aspen,” says Jo Mersa, “and I hope to see them, and God bless.”

John Zelazny's grandfather used to write this music column. He appreciates your comments at zelazny@aspendailynews.com.