Ky-Mani Marley, second youngest of Bob Marley’s seven sons, dropped his new album last week. In a somewhat unexpected pairing, “Maestro” first premiered exclusively on The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog on June 23rd.
Marley is kicking off his tour for the new album tonight at the Nectar Lounge in Fremont — to be followed by a series of shows in Northwest cities Spokane, Bellingham and Portland before he heads down the West Coast.
I spoke with him over a conference call about his new album and his legendary father’s influence on him and his music style — which he describes as “Ky-Mani Style.”
The first thing I noticed when I spoke with him is his Jamaican accent. Despite growing up in Miami since his was nine, it sounds like he retained his Jamaican roots.
“I grew up in Miami but I am Jamaican,” he laughed as I asked him why he called it “football” when discussing the U.S. Women’s soccer team’s recent World Cup victory.
“For me growing up… my father was great musician and and my mother was an athlete [Jamaican table tennis champ Anita Belnavis]. I was around a lot of sports.” he said. “In Jamaica, we’re very passionate about football.. football will always be my first love.”
Marley has a lot to say about his music style.
“For me the, The fusion of music is very important. The fusion between reggae and hip hop and country and… rock and roll,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it is music and music has no boundaries and no barriers. Therefore, for me, it’s just about creation.”
I asked whether he made a conscious decision to stop doing hip-hop after his last album.
“No,” he said, “there is another time and place. I still have some hip hop songs… that just didn’t make it in this album and maybe they’ll be in a next album.”
He said his albums are inspired by what is taking place in his life and the “beautiful world around us.”
Marley had plenty to say about music, but he didn’t seem so keen about speaking on personal matters. Lucky for him our call got cut off (“due to bad reception” on his end, according to his publicist) just when I asked about Rastafari — the religion celebrating Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie that was popularized through his father’s music.
Although I don’t begrudge a rare Black divinity, many Ethiopians, myself included, have strong opinions about Selassie’s political career, and are intrigued by his divine status for Rastas.
It’s worth noting that I know many Ethiopians who share Rasta as subculture without subscribing to the late Emperor’s divinity. Maybe the genius Emperor will be more revered 2000 years from now, like Jesus (and he’ll probably similarly pass as White).
Anyhow, we’ll update you if Ky-Mani gets back to me and shares more about his spiritual experience.
He did talk about his new album at a considerable length though.
“It’s been eight years since my last album. With this particular album, I want to say it’s my best body of work thus far,” he said. “It’s a very special album because on this album I was able to share a track with my younger brother Damian.”
He also collaborated with Matisyahu and Gentleman on some tracks.
Taken together, the album sounds like a celebration of the fight for freedom through hope, love and partying.
Knowing that I tend to be bad at picking up messages from lyrics, I asked him what he was trying to communicate with “Maestro.”
“This album is really taking me through the walk of life. So there is some love songs on there, there are some party songs on there, there are also uplifting and, you know, revolutionary songs on there,” he said. “It’s not focused around one particular subject, but all subjects of life that we live naturally. Whether it be love, partying, spirituality and fighting for our rights.”
This is exactly in the iconic tradition of his legendary father. Surprised that I even had to ask whether his father’s legacy influences his life and music, he patiently said that he’s just like the next Bob Marley fan, who’s moved and inspired by his words.
“For me, I’m just fortunate to be a part of the blood line… my father’s music is everything to me,” he said. “My father’s legacy is influencing my life the same way it influences the lives of others and maybe even you.”
So does he feel pressure to fill the big shoes of a giant?
“No,” he said, “I am just doing my part to continue the legacy… I am not trying to be greater than anyone. What is for me will be for me.”