Grammy Nominated Singer/Songwriter Releases Solo Album
Interview By Shelah Moody
Straight out of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, vocalist Kumar Bent is gearing up to make a huge impact with his first solo album, “Kulture Walk,” releasing May 1st .
In the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the former Raging Fyah frontman and his family are sheltering in place at home. On lockdown since March, Kumar’s spirits were high, despite social distancing measures in Jamaica and not being able to travel.
The Grammy nominated singer/songwriter/musician, known for his ebullient tenor, spoke of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, such as jogging, bike riding and quality time and meaningful discussions with his wife and son.
On “Kulture Walk,” Kumar draws from the slave experience, gospel and roots reggae traditions and demonstrates perfect mastery and understanding of the blues idiom. In this writer’s opinion, “Kulture Walk,” is definitely a Grammy contender for Best Reggae Album of 2020.
Here is our recent conversation.
Island Stage: What inspired you to name your new album; “Kulture Walk?”
“Kulture Walk is a concept that was born out of constant searching and constant innovation and constantly traveling and visiting countries such as Indonesia and Mauritius. I really did some traveling and had some experiences in the last year and a half. I gained some experience and made some friends along the way and I made more music. I think that’s what came out in my new album, “Kulture Walk.”
IS: The video for your first single, “Remember Me” is beautiful. What inspired that track?
I had many concepts for this video, in terms of what to show people. In the end, sometimes I think it’s best to just be very simple with what you’re trying to do. I was in my hometown, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and thought, let me just see if I can come up with something that works for my community. I wanted to showcase some of the people here and the town and the scenery. I think it was significant in getting a visual for the song, which was produced by J. Morrison, aka Weekday. We both worked together on that track trying to get the best sound. That song has been in my head for the last year and I’ve been performing it with my band when I traveled to places like Mauritius. It’s been a part of my journey. Having a music video for “Remember Me” and releasing it as the first single was a no- brainer, even before I had the rest of the songs figured out. I think it happened at the right time. Now is a good time for people to actually check the lyrics of that song.
IS: Tell us more about the town you grew up in, St. Elizabeth.
Well, I grew up in a small farming community, you know. It’s actually on top of the Santa Cruz mountains. My community is called Bellevue; the Bellevue district. The surrounding communities are Top Hill and Treasure Beach; everything is within a 10 minute drive. You have Monrovia, which is the home of Bethlehem Monrovia’s College. Most of these communities have European names as well because of slavery times. St. Elizabeth in itself is a parish that has history; it was regarded highly by the queen of England; it’s named after her. It was a parish known for a lot of rich farmers and a lot of land. Nowadays, it’s really about farming; it’s the bread basket of Jamaica, because it is where most of your (vegetables), everything that people use for their pots mostly comes from St. Elizabeth. By profession, My dad and mom are teachers, but my dad still plants corn and carrots; he still farms. Sometimes we sell and sometimes we don’t sell. Even now, we have carrots and pumpkin and tomatoes and we make quick drives to Kingston to deliver to our friends. Having a farm taught me a lot about independence growing up, but I really wanted to shape my culture because of the world view I had. I had to travel, I had to go out, unlike my dad, who does not do a lot of traveling, I had to go out and see what the world was like in terms of other cultures and music. It has helped me with the understanding that I have. This is what is coming out in my music now: growth.
IS: Another lyrically potent track on the album is “Dry Bones.” Tell us about that one.
It came out of a feeling like…there’s no other way, there’s nothing a human being can do to actually be liberated. What’s a life without freedom? What’s a life without being able to decide and choose? When I did the song, I started with the piano version; that’s all I had while I was in Italy with producer Walter Bonnot. I ended up linking with Clive Hunt, and he put together a team of musicians, and we decided to re -record “Dry Bones” inna reggae version. So, you have two versions of “Dry Bones” on the album—one that I did by myself on piano and one that was rearranged by Clive Hunt as a roots song.
IS: I read in your bio that you studied classical piano. Do you still play?
Well, I still play, but I don’t know if I still play classical. I haven’t practiced my sight reading for years. Even when I was playing the new song “Dry Bones,” it was the first time in a long time that I decided to play piano again. I had visions of touring and playing the piano. When I’m performing, I get really into my music and I realized that with the guitar, I’m able to do that with my roots songs. I have to practice,(the piano); there’s no doubt about it; think that’s what makes things permanent. I’m back to the drawing board, perfecting my piano skills and getting them up to par.
IS: I hear a lot of the Memphis soul influence on this album, “Kulture Walk.” Were you influenced by soul singers and is so, which ones?
When I think of soul music, I think of the Isley Brothers and Sam Cooke and Bill Withers. And Toots and the Maytals. When I listen to Toots doing a song like “Daddy,” it makes me feel like I can sing anything. I don’t believe in putting myself in a box because it might not sound like reggae now, but when you listen to it two or three times, you definitely get the feeling that you’re looking for, which is reggae music. Reggae music is a feeling, reggae music is truth; just honest. Once I put (soul) in my music, I have no issue, because it’s how I feel; it’s my best effort, when it comes to giving of myself, ‘cause I never short change people on that.
IS: Speaking of best effort, “Loyalty” is a beautifully executed ballad.
I’m really grateful that you mentioned this song, because I’m happy that my brother, P. Anderson, is really getting the shine that he needs, because he’s a good songwriter. We wrote the song together, but he brought me the idea of the song and most of the lyrics. It was a really good experience working on that song.
IS: Tell us about the inspiration behind the closing track, “Jamaica.”
Well, that song has been about a year and a half in the making. Notis and Budwise Productions…I remember getting the idea for that track from Wayne “Unga Barunga” Thompson. For a long time, the song didn’t have a second verse. For a good while, we were ok without the second verse until I thought of the album. I moved back home to St. Elizabeth and “come a Jamdown,” “mek we have some fun,” tek a Kulture Walk,” “check the beach..” all these nice things about my parish I tried to include in the recording. It’s not really one of Kumar’s hit song to go on stage, but it’s definitely an advertisement for Jamaica and my parish and my life and my lifestyle.
IS: This year on 4/20, due to the pandemic, a lot of public smoking gatherings around the world were canceled. What does 4/20 mean to you?
Yeah man. I went live on Peter Tosh’s Instagram in tribute. I did a little talk and sang, too, a cappella. I was been invited by his family to participate in the Peter Tosh 4/20 special. Other artists went live as well. It’s a good look, good vibes, you know. Peter Tosh sang “Legalize It,” so I see 4/20 as a celebration that we all should acknowledge. He went through a lot for the marijuana.
IS: What is your goal for “Kulture Walk.”
Well, my goal, honestly, is to let people realize that I’ve been making music for a very long time, and I hope that people can enjoy my work. At the end of the day, really and truly, music is life, music is joy. I if I can keep doing that, no matter how big or how small, that would be an accomplishment for me, my family and future generations. When people research music from Jamaica or music from around the world, I would love for them to realize what I was working on. I think that’s why I make the songs that I make, because they have some life and longevity in them.
“Kulture Walk” Available May 1st on all platforms