When it comes to promoting African pride, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley is a global sound ambassador. He recently lent Rastaman vibrations to Jay-Z's reworking of Sister Nancy's dancehall classic "Bam Bam." He even collaborated with Nas to produce an entire album centering the concerns and conscious reawakening of the African diaspora on 2010's Distant Relatives.
But, as he tells NPR, "You can't just be talking about Africa and not go." So in 2017, Marley did just that by taking a musical sojourn to Africa and documenting the trip, which also retraces some of his father Bob Marley's footsteps on the continent. "It was very important for that reason for me to actually get my feet on the soil."
Originally a three-part doc directed by B+, Stony Hill to Addis documents the African leg of Jr. Gong's 2017 tour preceding the release of his first solo album (Stony Hill) in 10 years. After a Tidal-exclusive debut this summer, he's debuting the wide release of the short doc on NPR Music.
Of course, Marley's affinity for Africa is rooted in his heritage as a Jamaican and a Rastaman. He chose to document the trip to South Africa, Kenya and "the promised land" — as he refers to Ethiopia in the doc — to shed a different light on the continent and encourage a deeper connection to the motherland.
"In the Western Hemisphere, when we look at the media and see things [about Africa], we more so see the wildlife and the country, the land, the bush," he says. "We don't really see much of what's happening in the cities. And because of people not knowing what to expect they become a little bit hesitant."
That lack of exposure fuels suspicion and cultural stereotypes that continue to persist about Africa, especially among black people of the diaspora. "You kinda worry if you're gonna go down there and eat something and then your stomach is gonna be running for two weeks," says Marley, who ranked the food he ate while touring Africa over everything he had during the European stretch of his tour. "Some of the things that we in the West are worried about is because we're not exposed to what's really happening in the cities of Africa. It's just for us all to open our eyes and see what's going on."
Stony Hill to Addis features majestic cinematography, concert footage — including Marley performing his father's anthemic "Africa Unite" — and interviews with the likes of Dinka Basuki (an Indonesian scholar of African Studies living in Kenya) and Kassaye Araye (Bob Marley's driver during his Ethiopian visit in 1978) to contextualize the importance of Jr. Gong's visit. Jay-Z also makes a quick cameo in visuals filmed in Jamaica, Marley says.
This is Marley's first return trip to Africa since the release of Distant Relatives with Nas, which fused their musical styles on an LP that focused on the diaspora.
"I was always saying, 'Why can't we tour Africa like how we tour Europe?' But it's historic for us and I'm very proud of the fact that we've been able to do that," Marley states in the film. "I'm hopeful that we'll encourage more of that kind of touring through Africa."