Interview: Ky-Mani Marley On Carrying The Marley Gene And New Album ‘Maestro’
After eight years since his last album, 2007’s Radio, Ky-Mani Marley is back to release a new project titled Maestro. The Rastafarian singer-songwriter and son to legend Bob Marley is known for his smooth reggae sounds and gun-toting role in the 2002 film Shottas. During his musical hiatus, he’s kept busy performing all over Europe and South America while feeding fans music for the soul.
Still, the Marley gene is in full effect now that Ky-Mani is ready to share the project he has carefully been piecing together for the last two years. Combining the talents of universal artists such as brother Damian, Matisyahu, Gentleman and Kreesha Turner, the 17-track album stands on its own, despite his famous ties.
“I’m not an artist just because my last name is Marley,” he tells VIBE. “I’m an artist because I have things to say and I’m passionate about the craft.”
With peace, love and unity as his mantra, Ky-Mani drops gems about his new LP Maestro (due June 30), perfecting his craft and why an artist should never call favorites on their own album.—Mia B.
VIBE: How does it feel releasing a new project after eight years?
Ky-Mani Marley: I’ve been working on [Maestro] for the last two years. I went through a time of making sure I was free and cleared from my last recording situation. Not being in the market place for so long, it was important [to me] that I came back with the right production, the right lyrical content and just the right energy and vibe, so it took a while.
What do you do when you’re not busy in the studio?
I’ve been fortunate enough to tour. I’ve been touring Europe and South America quite extensively last year. We toured maybe four times throughout the year going through Germany, France, and the entire Europe. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have an album out in eight years, and still be able to tour every year.
Who is your target audience?
I would like to reach all demographics if possible. We made this particular album kind of fun. It’s modern [in terms of] what’s going on right now as far as production. We also touch on some social and political issues that we’re facing right now. We also touch on some love songs and some party songs. We have a deluxe version of the album that consists of 17 songs. It’s like where reggae meets soft rock, and a little bit of gospel, and contemporary. For me, it’s about trying to bring forth good music. Whoever gravitates to it and chooses to listen to it, the more the merrier.
Talk to me about the title. Why Maestro?
Maestro is actually a nickname I received when I was younger. When I was about 14, 15 years old, my little cousin started calling me “Maestro,” so it stuck with me. At the time, we were going through several names for the album but we couldn’t really find one that stuck so I just said, let’s call it Maestro.
Maestro means a distinguished musician. Do you feel as if you’ve mastered your craft?
Not at all. I don’t feel as though I mastered the craft but I am on the quest to. There’s always more to learn, so can you ever really master a craft? You can never know everything.
Are you nervous about the way the public will respond to this album since it’s been a while since your last project?
Ehhh, I guess I am a little antsy. It’s been a while. The market place has changed a lot and it’s changing every month. At the same time, I’m comfortable [with putting out this album] because I put a lot of hard work in there. I made sure that all of my I’s are dotted, my T’s are crossed and that this is the best project I have to offer so I just have to put it out and pray for the best.
Take me through your emotions on the big day of releasing a body of work. Do you have any rituals? Do you check the blogs?
[Laughs] No, I don’t have a ritual—I just take it in stride. Sometimes you can get caught up in some real negative energy. You have people out there who are going to love you, and people who just throw hate because that’s who they are. I stay away from the blogs because I’ll get to answering and sh*t will get heated. I look at it this way. As far as we know, the Bible tells us that they crucified Jesus Christ so if they crucified Jesus Christ and I’m nowhere near that, can you imagine what they would do to me? I try to stay away from the negative energy as much as possible. I try to stay focused and keep a positive vibe around me so hopefully, that influences me to make positive music.
I don’t feel as though I mastered the craft but I am on the quest to. There’s always more to learn, so can you ever really master a craft? You can never know everything.
Your father is considered a global legend in the music industry. Do you ever feel pressure when releasing new music?
I never really feel pressured. I just know that I have to stay in line with what the legacy is while being true to myself. I’ve always done what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, if I tried to replicate what my father did then the talk would be, Oh, he’s trying to be like his father. I think people appreciate when someone is true to themselves. People can see and feel when you’re being true and when you’re being fake, so to me, it’s always important to take the time to make the mistakes and learn from them.
How is your relationship with Damian and all of the Marleys?
Not just Damian but our family has a very close and strong relationship. We’re no different from any other family—we are very close. We agree, we disagree and we agree to disagree. We know how important it is to the legacy and to our father. There is no way we can come from a legacy that speaks of ‘one love’ and be divided as a family.
Talk to me about getting Gentleman and Matisyahu on the album.
As far as Matisyahu, we have a mutual friend and I‘ve been a fan of the music, so he asked if we wanted to link up and I said, ‘Yeah, I would love to.’ We linked up at Tony Kelly’s studio—[Kelly] did a lot of work with Shaggy, Beenie Man and a lot of dancehall stuff. It was so funny because they played the track, and we didn’t communicate with each other about what we were going to write about. We both sat in our corners and started writing. At the end, when we got on the mic, it was a perfect fit. We came to a point where I was dealing with his management for the clearance and it seemed as though we weren’t going to be able to get the song cleared. So I called Gentleman, who I thought would be a perfect fit, as well. During the process, Matisyahu called me back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re going to make it happen.’ It worked out so perfectly because the song is talking about, ‘We are the voices of love, we are the voices of peace.’ So I have Matisyahu, who is Jewish; Gentleman, who is German, and me, the likkle rasta yute out of Jamaica.
Which American hip-hop artist would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
There are so many. I’m a lover of music. Who am I not into?
What is your favorite hip-hop song out right now?
I don’t listen to the radio too much [because] I hear the same 10 songs. Sometimes, it’s like they condition us to like these songs. They don’t even give us a chance to like them ourselves.
What’s your favorite song on Maestro?
It’s important to not have a favorite. It’s important to make sure you give that same amount of energy to each and every song. If you do that, they should all be favorite. They should all be your best work. I try not to have a favorite. That means I’m not satisfied with something else that I did.
What are some messages we can find on the LP?
Love and unity. We also have a record called “Fancy Tings,” which is more of a party vibe. I also have another dance song on there with Kreesha Turner.
What is the one thing you want your fans to take from this project?
I’ve always wanted to make music that inspires change in peoples lives. It is important to be able to provoke thought and make you want to do better for yourself. I also want them to be able to enjoy the music, and not only think about their strains and struggles because no one wants to hear about that all day either.