KY-MANI MARLEY “Just Allow Me to Be Me”
Interview and photos by Jan Salzman
January 17, 2008 – Los Angeles, CA – Ky-Mani Marley was born February 26, 1976, to Jamaican table tennis champion Anita Belnavis and Reggae legend Bob Marley, in Falmouth, Jamaica. Ky-mani is an East African term meaning adventurous traveler. Ky-mani was only five years old when his father died and shortly thereafter, he moved to Miami with his mother. He grew up in the Magic City’s inner city, hence the amalgamation of musical styles represented on Radio, his newest CD release with the Vox Music Group. Radio shot up the charts and held the #1 slot on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums chart for two weeks running.
With a starring role in two movies, One Love (2002) and Shottas (2006), it is clear that Ky-mani loves not only music. He is a multi-faceted individual who is making his own mark on the media of today. His reality show, Living the Life of Marley, featured on BETJ-TV, is another avenue of his expression. He also garnered a Grammy nomination in 2002 for his Reggae album Many More Roads.
Ky-mani has been on tour with rock group Van Halen since September 2007, and has been headlining his own shows when not performing with the rock legends. We had a chance to catch up with Ky-mani after a show and record signing at Amoeba Records in Hollywood, CA on Nov. 26, 2007. Here is our wonderful conversation with the genuine and kind Ky-mani Marley:
JS: How has the tour been going with Van Halen?
Ky-Mani: So far, the tour has been great, you nah mean? I’m really having a good time. Just out here showing, improving. I feel very privileged and excited to be here.
JS: Do you write songs while you are on the road?
Ky-mani: Yeah, I’ve started to write a few. I haven’t finished them. I try to stay in that creative zone, always. I try to let my day to day inspire me. Of course, while I’m out here, you know, we go through a lot of things getting by, so I’ve been definitely writing.
JS: I love the CD Radio. I think it’s some of the sexiest music I’ve ever heard (Ky-mani chuckles). What brought about this change in your music, which was previously Reggae?
Ky-mani: Well…let me tell you. You know what it is for me? Is that, I hate, and hate is a strong word, but I really dislike being labeled as just a Reggae artist. Because that’s so limiting to my capabilities and the work that I do and put forward, for [one] to just say, ”You’re a Reggae artist” and that’s it. Because my last name is Marley, then I’m bound to sing only Reggae? My whole thing was, at first, a lot of pressure. My whole thing was, if I don’t give you myself then there’s no way you can appreciate me. If I come and try to replicate what my dad did then you’re just gonna take me as, “Okay, that’s just another Marley child singing Reggae…exactly what we expected him to do.” I just felt as though I had more to offer than that, you nah mean? I’m a musician by birth. Music wasn’t something that I wanted to do…period. It’s not like I was out there trying to live off of the name. Or, because I had the last name, therefore I had to do music. Music was something that was on the back burner for me. As the years went along I started to realize this is my destiny. That this is something that I was placed here to do…that I can’t get away from. So my whole thing now is to do it and to do it to the best of my ability. And the only way to do that is if I’m staying true to myself, first of all, and who I am, and expressing that in many different ways. You know, like I said, I do some Hip-Hop, we play the Reggae…that’s the root, and also play a little soft rock…what you would call alternative music. For me, it’s always challenging myself and always take it to the next level.
JS: That’s great! Do you have any special messages for your fans?
Ky-mani: My message is always the same, you know? My message always is to stay positive in your life. My father’s music and words teach me of One Love, so therefore that’s a great legacy for me to carry on. So, I’m always preaching about One Love, and at the same time my message is, you know, life is hard! I’m not here to knock anybody. And, by all means necessary, whatever it is you need to do to survive, then that’s what you need to do. Society doesn’t give us all the same privileges to go out and make the same dollar like everybody else does. And that’s where the song “Hustler” comes from. And when I say “hustler” it doesn’t necessarily mean a person that’s out in the street selling drugs. A lot of times, when I say the word hustler, people automatically take it that way. But a hustler is just somebody who is out there fighting for life. So, whether you’re a lawyer, doctor, or a janitor, you nah mean? If your intent, when you get up every day, you’ve got to go out there and fight to survive…then that’s what your doing…you’re hustling.
JS: I have to hustle all the time.
Ky-mani: There you go.
JS: I’m hustling now (we laugh).
Ky-mani: Exactly, exactly. So when I use the word “hustler” I’m not glorifying drug dealers or gangsters. You nah mean? I’m talking about the every day, day to day people, who literally have to go out there and hustle to survive.
JS: Cool. Do you have a favorite song from the CD?
Ky-mani: I don’t, you know, because I feel as though I put in a lot of hard work in each and every song. But, I mean, I guess if you ask me to pick one, I pick “I Pray.”
JS: The musicianship on the album is fantastic. Are the musicians you use on the road the same as the musicians on the album?
Ky-mani: Some of them. J. Vibe, who is my keyboard player, did a lot of my production. I try to keep the majority of it in-house, but no, not all of it. Half of it was done in-house; the other half was done by outside producers.
JS: The bass player on “Slow Roll,” in particular, was great. So who in show business inspires you the most?
Ky-mani: Who inspires me the most? Wow, I’m inspired by many different artists. I’m inspired the most by music, not particularly the artists. You nah mean? I love musicians. I love all musicians that are true to the art. From the Eric Claptons, to your Stevie Wonders, from your Ray Charles to your Alicia Keys…I’m just a fan of great music—period—even if I don’t know the name of the artist.
JS: Okay, cool. Is there any kind of music in particular that you like to listen to?
Ky-mani: There’s no music in particular that I listen to. Like I said, I’m a music lover right across the board. It don’t matter from hard rock to rhythm and blues to jazz…yeah, you name it…I listen to it.
JS: What is in your CD player right now?
Ky-mani: Well, I’m listening to some tracks. I’m trying to do some writing. But the last two albums that I bought…well, I just bought some Tupac albums…but before that was Sam Cooke and some Kenny Rogers…just to show you some range.
JS: (we laugh) A spectrum…right, right. What would surprise us to find out about you?
Ky-mani: I don’t know. That I listen to country music?
JS: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, that surprised me right now! What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Ky-mani: I guess, right now, my biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome is being me. You nah mean? My biggest obstacle was to come out of that box I was placed in. That I’m [a] Marley so therefore I have to sing Reggae, so I have to do it this way, and the words have to be this. So, my biggest obstacle was just basically breaking away from that, and saying, listen…my dad is my dad. I’m Ky-mani from a different time, a different era, raised in a totally different environment, and therefore I have something to say. I have something to speak of myself. I’ve been through the struggle. I was raised from a great man, but growing up for me was like any other kid. I was raised in the inner city. I know what it is to suffer. I know what it is to struggle. I know what it is to lose friends day in and day out. Therefore, I have a story to tell. My whole thing was just allow me to be me. And, that was my biggest obstacle.
JS: I know you’re an actor. Do you have any favorite movies or TV shows?
Ky-mani: Favorite movie, no…Shawshank Redemption…I love that joint. I don’t have a favorite movie. I am a movie buff, you nah mean? So I do go out and see almost everything that comes out in the theaters. I love The Gladiator, The Last Samurai, let me tell you…was it The Notebook?
JS: Yeah, the romantic movie.
Ky-mani: I loved that show.
JS: Oh, you’ve got my heart (he chuckles). Can you tell us anything about your new movie The Return? Is it a follow up to Shottas?
Ky-mani: Not quite. It’s along the same lines but it’s not a follow up to Shottas. It’s something we’re looking forward to working on, hopefully this summer. I was looking forward to starting in February, but the tour was extended to April, so we’re looking to try to do that right after that (the tour). So, you know, it’s on the cutting board. I also did just write the synopsis [for] Buffalo Soldier, which is a movie that I want to do in Jamaica, set around a little rebellious group. Really, like guerilla warfare that’s set against the government and the crooked politicians who are doing business with the underworld. It has a great story line behind it and we’re working on that also.
JS: That sounds fabulous. I look forward to it. How are you enjoying your participation in the TV show Living the Life of Marley?
Ky-mani: Well, so far so good, you know? When we started shooting, we were actually in the building process of my album. So, that’s what they were able to cover at that time. Otherwise, [when] we move on now to the second season, there will be a little more exposure to the family…how we operate, how we work, what we do for recreation…how we live as a unit. How we make it all possible.
JS: What do you like to do in your spare time…if you have any?
Ky-mani: I enjoy time with my children. I enjoy the beach. I have a really bad knee injury right now…torn ACL and MCL…but I enjoy a run on the beach. I enjoy friends. I enjoy having a good time. I’m not too much a club or a party person. I like the country living versus the city living. I like corn flakes versus cheerios (we laugh).
JS: I used to have a horse so I like country-like stuff.
Ky-mani: I like to keep it simple.
JS: What in life makes you happy?
Ky-mani: My children make me happy.
JS: How many children do you have?
Ky-mani: A few…enough!
JS: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Ky-mani: Radio’s in stores right now. Go get it!
JS: Thank you. It’s been a beautiful interview. Bless.
Ky-mani: Yeah, man. Love.