Jo Mersa grew up touring, but he wasn't the star. As a 5-year-old on stage in front of thousands, he left most of the singing to his father, Grammy winner Stephen Marley, and his other musically gifted family members. They are, after all, the descendants of reggae legend Bob Marley.
"All the Marley children would come up on stage," Mersa recalls. "I'd mimic my father's verses."
Coming of age around tour buses and recording studios, Mersa knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Whether fiddling with GarageBand or sharpening his production skills in his father's Florida studio, he's been working toward his professional goals for most of his young life.
But Mersa sees music as a calling, not just a career.
"The music was talking to us, calling to us," he says. "There was nothing else we could do."
Mersa will open for his father at the Barrymore Theatre on April 26, along with reggae and dancehall artist Wayne Marshall. This tour stop is to promote Marley's forthcoming album Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life.
Speaking from Miami, Mersa says he's looking forward to performing music from his own new EP, Comfortable, a mix of love songs and dancehall tracks.
Mersa is equally at ease rapping 16 bars and crooning lyrics about true love. The influence of his father and his grandfather Bob Marley isn't hard to locate, either. But his rapid-fire delivery and sly wordplay, which includes a reference to the film Superbad, show his unique artistry.
Of course, stepping out of the Marley shadow presents challenges. Lofty expectations come with that last name.
"Making music is kind of two-sided, with what you feel and what people expect of you," he says. "It's something where I have to prove myself, that I'm here to do my own music that will speak for itself."
As he works to bring the clan's music into its third generation, Mersa wears his lineage as a badge of honor.
"I'm carrying on that message my grandfather started, of love, and I'm proud of this opportunity," he says.