The Prophet’s Rising Son: Ky-Mani Marley

November 16, 2011, admin

Imagine being the son of a musical prophet. Your father was at the forefront of a cultural, political and social revolution. Almost everywhere you go, you see tee-shirts, stickers, and posters bearing your father’s image. You can hear his words and messages every day on the radio. Would the decision to enter the music world loom over you because of your father’s legacy? So what would you do if you were the son of a musical prophet?

If you’re Ky-Mani Marley (pronounced key-mon-ee), son of reggae icon Bob Marley, then you take it all in stride. Everything is irie for the 23-year-old Miami resident, and second youngest of Bob’s 11 children. Considering the pressures placed on him as a result of nepotic associations, Ky-Mani has a remarkably positive attitude that reflects on his debut CD, The Journey (Gee Street/V2 Records).

In the middle of a month-long tour supporting his new album, the soft-spoken Ky-Mani pauses after completing a soundcheck (at Cincinnati’s Electra night club) to offer some insight on what it’s like to be a prophet’s son.

“It’s a wonderful thing for me to be compared to him, there’s no other person I’d rather be compared to than my father,” says Ky-Mani, about the constant association. “Sometimes the only pressure I feel is people’s expectations.” Inheriting Bob’s zen-like Rasta philosophies, he adds, “Ky-Mani can only give what Ky-Mani can give. I’m not Robert Nesta Marley, but I’m always giving 110 percent.”

On The Journey’s cover, Ky-Mani’s surname is excluded. “Yes this was intentional,” he declares. “Not only am I a Marley, I’m also an artist, and I feel I have a lot of things to say. Listen to what I have to say and contribute. Listen to Ky-Mani because I’m Ky-Mani, not only because I’m a Marley.”

Although he speaks in the first person quite often, Ky-Mani does not come across as arrogant and self-serving, like many of today’s artists. On the contrary, his music is full of heart, soul, and spirit. Fitting attributes for a man whose East African name means “adventurous traveler.”

Describing his passionate songs, he explains, “My message is always to deal with love, peace, and unity … one love, one aim, one destiny. That’s the most powerful thing, and if people can feel that on these tracks, then I have done something right.”

Despite being only five years old when his father died (18 years ago of cancer at age 36), Ky-Mani still looks to him as a major source of inspiration. Perhaps the best way to explain Ky-Mani’s feelings toward his mystical father is to examine the lyrics from “Dear Dad.”

Dear Dad – I really didn’t get to know you / And sometimes I sit and wonder and it makes me blue / But there is one memory that stays on the back of my mind / And this memory got me thinking ‘bout you all the time / Wow! I swear we miss you so / and I wish that you were here to see your boys grow / In case you’re wondering, mommy she’s doing fine / And she tells me stories ‘bout you Papa all the time …

The fond memory Ky-Mani holds dear to his heart – it is the only one he has about his father – is the time when Marley came to pick him up in the Jamaican countryside town of Falmouth. Ky-Mani was playing with a slingshot along with his brother Stephen. Ky-Mani does not mention anything specific, there’s nothing in detail he recalls about this event, but there is a sense of pride in his tone, having shared an experience with his father, a man who some called “the first third-world superstar.”

“Growing up, I never thought of being a musician. I didn’t set out to follow in my father’s footsteps,” claims Ky-Mani, who plays guitar, piano and drums, and is a father of three. “I was into sports growing up.”

Ky-Mani, who still plays soccer, is the son of former Jamiacan/Carribean National Women’s table tennis champion, Anita Belnavis. When Jamaica played against Brazil during the World Cup Finals in ’98, Ky-Mani had the honor of singing the Jamaican national anthem.

As a teenager, Ky-Mani started rapping and deejaying. He started laying tracks and experimenting musically with Stephen and his other brothers Julian and Damian. Singing, however, would eventually be his inspiration.

In 1997, Ky-Mani made major headways with the new generation of reggae and hip-hop artists. He teamed with Praswell of The Fugees on the hit cover of Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue.” Ky-Mani became the subject of record label bidding battles after his appearance at Midem, an international music showcase.

Other buzz-worthy collaborations include one with Gee Street/V2 Records label mates P.M. Dawn, for the Senseless soundtrack (“Gotta Be Movin’ On Up”), and another with reggae star Shaggy, covering the Marley classic, “Thank You Lord.”

It is Ky-Mani’s fondness for all genres of music, not just reggae, that help portray his personal insight and universal themes. Just like his father was a maverick to the reggae world, blending elements of rock and jazz into his repertoire, Ky-Mari’s The Journey has sounds of hip-hop, soul, and R&B among others.

Asked if his father would like today’s reggae and hip-hop, Ky-Mani responds, “Ya mon. I think as long as there is a positive message in the songs. For my dad, it just wasn’t about the rhythm, it’s about the words and the message.”

It’s a shame that Ky-Mari wasn’t old enough to have more memories of his father, but perhaps his innocence at the time will keep the memory of a prophet pure.