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This is Brukout! Seani B talks to Kabaka

CHILLED VIBES: Kabaka Pyramid is influenced by different artists and genres

KABAKA PYRAMID is a man on a mission.

He is currently making waves across Europe with his “Contraband” tour, which includes three dates on these shores. It’s not his first visit here, he performed last year and has an affinity to the UK. “I was surprised at how the people actually knew the songs – some of the tracks that I didn’t expect them to know – particularly in Birmingham and London. You can tell that the UK people aren’t just watching who is being spoken about – you have people who are really penetrating the music and the messages, and are real fans of the movement”, he tells me on the line from Jamaica just before heading over to Europe.

“The love is there from the people from the first time we came here and that’s why we wanted to come back this year.”

That love is also spreading globally. “Early on I never thought about actually performing the music – I was definitely a studio artist, but when u start working on shows you start thinking about the parts that people can connect to. If you have a message and it doesn’t connect then it doesn’t make sense. Not just for Jamaican audiences, but ears from all over. It has helped me to grow and helped me to be more rounded.”

The backbone of the roots scene has been strong generationally for over 40 years, but recently it seems that there has been a strong resurgence in it’s popularity. The late 90’s roots scene proved influential on Kabaka. “Sizzla’s era of music was one of the key factors of me accepting Rastafari and helped me when I was growing up.”

It’s not just reggae that influenced the young Kabaka. Hip Hop played a key role in his musical shapings, and he acknowledged this on his Major Lazer produced “Accurate” mixtape.

“My hip hop roots were displayed on that session – working with a icon like Raekwon was next level for me – just knowing the connection with him was a big look. He is a man that some of the hip hop legends rate, so for him to work with me is a good look. I tried to show the people what I was about and I’m thankful to Walshy and Major Lazer for the opportunity.

So what does he feel about the current relationship between Hip Hop and Dancehall? “I think it is very strong right now – the early 90’s was pretty strong too – the works that Shabba Ranks and others did was amazing. Now you look at what Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Drake are doing with the dancehall sound and it shows the strength. It’s a good look for the public to see that reggae culture is a real thing. We have a lot to do to establish our own industry, so if others are coming to strengthen it, then it is now down to us to make it stronger.

Popcaan, Mavado, Konshens are all out there doing their thing. Jay Z was in Jamaica recently with Gong (Damian Marley), and I got to meet him. Some of the pictures made him look uncomfortable, but that definitely was not the vibe when we were there. He was cooling out with Gong, Junior Reid, Tarrus Riley and a few of us. I got to speak to him and told him of my favourite verse of his – the first verse from The Dynasty album – and he said it was his favourite verse too. I got a good vibe from him. He came across as a humble brother.”


BIG PLANS: Kabaka is hoping to release another single before the end of the summer

The link with Damian Marley is strong. “Gong executive produced the album which is due in October. His label (Ghetto Youths) are in partnership with my team Bebble Rock. He produced five tracks on the album too. Most of the mixing has been done in his studio. The link up came about when he reached out to me before “Well Done”, which he produced. The vibe was strong and we sat down and he proposed doing a project. Gong has always been a major influence and inspiration to me. We had a listening session where we focused on the tracks I had already done and we then started to work on music that would compliment those.”

The latest single “Can’t Breathe” is a strong piece of lyrical commentary which has a relentless and forceful energy which has been received very well by audiences.

Kabaka tells me the driving force behind the track. “I was listening to Lauryn Hill and felt that I need to add more emotion to my music so people can feel it. It helped me to channel my “inner” Sizzla – some of those early Kalonji tunes, and lay it all out there. We worked tracks in the dances in Kingston and the reaction has been amazing.”, he says enthusiastically.

There seems to be a re-emergence of harder lyrics and subjects in reggae right now – a movement that isn’t missed by Kabaka.

“I feel I have to talk it how I see it – people want information – we are heading into an intellectual time, and I want to do works similar to what Kendrick (Lemar) does with his audience. The whole texture of the music changed when the artists started to be denied visas and shows started to get cancelled. People’s outlook and output changed, and in some ways it is understandable because artists need to feed their families and need to be working, but we are looking for ways around that, without diluting the message.”

An artist with something to say, and wants to say it to as many people as possible. This is confirmed with his actions on this tour, which include a Q&A session and reason night in Birmingham called “Contraband, Consumption and Control” which looks at life in 2017 for the human race.

“Things are changing in Jamaica – everyone has cable, everyone sees what is going on around the world – these actions can shape a society, and music has a part to play in ensuring the stability of the people.”

So right now Kabaka is a man in demand – as well as touring the continent what else does he have on the horizon?

“I’m trying to put out another single before the end of the summer, but both options are produced by artists who are touring! One is by Gong, and the other by Protoje, so we will see what happens.”

Elite company to be around, and rightfully so for Kabaka.

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