"Time does get away from you when you're not paying attention," he says, laughing. "It wasn't like I was thinking, Oh, I need to do something now — it's been ten years. The inspiration comes. I don't think I'll be taking any more breaks like that, but the inspiration takes time. You don't want to rush music."
The passing of time has been on Julian's mind a lot lately, and for good reason. Saturday, March 9, he's set to perform at the 25th edition of 9 Mile Music Festival alongside Nas, Sizzla, Capleton, Shabba Ranks and others. The event was founded in 1993 by Cedella Booker Marley — Julian's grandmother — as a tribute to her iconic son Bob Marley and to carry on his mission of "teaching the people through music," Julian says. "For my grandmother, it was something very deep. That's the roots of it. It can't get no deeper than that, right there."
A mostly self-taught musician, Julian first performed at the festival in 1996 or '97 — he's a little hazy on the precise date — and has reveled in watching "all of the great and legendary artists" who have played 9 Mile over the years. And not just the reggae ones: Past performers have included Carlos Santana, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and T.I.
"It was one of the first festivals to bring in the authentic reggae artists and mix it with fusion," Julian says. "I had never experienced that in Miami before, you know? There's always a show somewhere up north, but to have something down here, in our neck of the woods, it's a very special event."
Keeping with the giving spirit of 9 Mile, a donation of four canned goods is required upon admission. This year, donations will benefit the local food bank Curley's House of Style.
"Reggae music is giving music," Julian says. "The giving action becomes part of it. When we put together a festival like this, being able to feed the hungry, giving back, you don't even think about that. We agree with that, and it's right. So much things on Earth happening that people need to support... We're showing the love."
In that sense, Julian is carrying on his father's life's work. He was only 5 years old when Bob died of complications related to melanoma at the University of Miami Hospital in May 1981 and has only one memory of him. Seeing his father backstage at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl during his final tour is a moment Julian recalls vividly, however.
"I remember going backstage to the dressing room and seeing this Rastaman in his red, green, and gold jacket and smiling, looking down at me," he says. "I remember he gave me a good handshake, like, What's up, son? Then I'm off gallivanting with the rest of the young children at the festival. That's all I can remember of this man we know as a man of love... You grab onto that memory, and it goes deep enough in your thoughts I feel it sometimes. I'm right back there in that moment."
9 Mile Music Festival. With Nas, Julian Marley, Sizzla, Shabba Ranks and Capleton. Saturday, March 9, at Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami. Tickets cost $60 to $175 via 9milemusicfestival.com.