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Interview: Kabaka Pyramid

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Christian-turned-Rastafari, Kabaka Pyramid, is a man deeply in touch with his culture. He uses his music as a platform to articulate his ideas about religion, culture and politics, backed by infectious fusion flavours.

Kabaka exudes creativity. Not simply a vocalist and a songwriter, this ambitious artist is learning the fine art of production, receiving mixing lessons from Damian Marley’s sound engineer and teaching himself different instruments in his home studio in Kingston, Jamaica.

On stage in the beautiful grounds of Forty Hall Estate in at the 2018 edition of Reggae On The Lawn, Kabaka touched on aspects of current social, political and community-lead conversations through a clever amalgamation of lighthearted reggae beats, tinny instrumentals and audience engagement.

A true musical chameleon, Kabaka takes his early influences - his mother’s love for Gospel music and his father’s full collection of Bob Marley records, his favourite childhood records from Shaggy and Wu-Tang Clan - and fuses different aspects of their cultural expression.

“Even before I recognised it was something I liked, I gravitated towards it and it ended up being the theme for my whole career...that beautiful fusion of reggae and hip-hop.”

Kabaka succeeds in bringing together the very best of hip-hop and reggae to produce provocative, philosophically-engaged music to the masses. Now, the hard-hitting political themes of hip-hop and the feel-good spirit of reggae have culminated in his latest album Kontraband.

“[Kontraband] was a great learning experience, because I like to learn from everybody who I work with.”

Working closely with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley on his production techniques and vocal style (from balancing his levels of aggression to sharp lyrical tact) was an eye-opening experience for an artist accustomed to an isolated studio setting. Even moreso when you throw Steve Marley into the mix to work on the album’s arrangement.

“You know, if I love a song, nobody can tell me nothing...but just being in that professional environment is a different vibe for me altogether. It opens up my creativity,”

Kabaka used this learning experience - one of many in his life - to continue to build on his platform for personal expression. A man deeply in touch with the Rastafari culture and beliefs, Kontraband does more than just sell for Kabaka, it operates as a space for him to fall more deeply into discussions about religion, evolution, reincarnation and karma.

“I think a lot of people act as if life is all so random; so you’re just randomly born into a good situation or a bad situation and you either feel good about yourself or you feel sorry for yourself...The situations we’re in don’t define us.

If people came to realise things like karma, how the things you do effect and come back to you later on...it takes away the anxiety and takes away the stress and depression of our situation and we can start to look at it as a learning experience.”

The main lesson Kabaka has learnt during his stay is that he always seeks to help others. Be that in his personal life, his music, or as a positive force in the reggae community.

“I’ve been told that I always come back to help people. I think that helps me on my mission as an artist. Being an artist and a musician, you could take the road just for fame and fortune, or you could take the road and push ideas and be thought-provoking.

It’s having an effect on people that gives me the strength and motivation to know that I’m on the right path. It motivates me to keep the music on a level that it’s always being a positive influence.”

Kabaka’s presence in the reggae community is so prominent, it seems to have its own gravitational pull - huge names like Chronixx, Protoje and the Marley brothers frequently collaborate on projects which push the boundaries of reggae culture. Meanwhile, new and upcoming names in the business like Koro-Fyah are being taken under the musician’s wing, soaking up his mentorship and sage advice.

“I definitely believe in the 10,000 hour principle. Whatever you’re doing, just put in the work. Once your inner light starts shining, people will gravitate towards you. People start believing in you and your career.

The strengths that you have determine what kind of role you have in life. I think, somebody said it best, that you make a living off of what you’re good at, so you can do what you want to do. If you’re good at it, do it. The right things will fall into place."

Listen to Kontraband on Spotify now.

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