By Shelah Moody
The traditional king of Buganda, a region and former kingdom of southern Uganda.-dictionary.com.
- (in ancient Egypt) a quadrilateral masonry mass having smooth, steeply sloping sides meeting at an apex, used as a tomb.
- (in ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Central America) a quadrilateral masonry mass, stepped and sharply sloping, used as a tomb or a platform for a temple.—dictionary.com.
Call him young, gifted and dread.
Not only is Kabaka Pyramid gearing up for the release of his debut album, “Contraband,” produced by multiple Grammy-winner Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, he is embarking on a summer world tour with his band, the Bebble Rockers, that will take him throughout Europe, Canada Jamaica and the U.S., with high profile dates such as Reggae on the River in Humboldt County, CA (August 3, www.reggaeontheriver.com) and Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay, JA. (July 16-22, www.reggaesumfest.com).
As one of the leaders of the millennial movement of conscious, educated artists, which has been dubbed the reggae revival, the Kingston-born singer/songwriter/producer has a number of collaborations under his belt including “Giants,” with Akala, ‘Accurate Full Mixtape’ presented by Major Lazer and Walshy Fire, “Warrior” with Protoje, “Lyrical Anomaly” with Chronixx and Kabaka also appears on the track “We Are” on Morgan Heritage’s new album “Averakedabra.”
In December, 2016, Kabaka Pyramid performed on the line up with Damian Marley at the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, CA, and also delivered a DJ set with his favorite Bay Are Sound system, Jah Warrior Shelter Hi Fi.
This spring, Kabaka Pyramid joined Jah 9 and other artists/activists in a panel discussion on the reggae revival movement a the massive South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, TX. (https://www.sxsw.com)
While searching for an Afro-centric moniker in his younger, hip hop days, Keron Salmon began rapping under name Ronnie Pyramid. His study of African history and the spiritual power of ancient Kemet inspired him to become the artist known as Kabaka Pyramid.
“A pyramid is a house of fire, and I’m a fire sign, Aries,” said Kabaka, who incorporates the pyramid symbol in most of his visual productions.
Via telephone, I grabbed a few minutes with the young star before he hit the road.
Island Stage: So, on June 23 and June 26, perform some shows in Manchester, England. Do you have a message for the people of Manchester in light of the lives lost as a result of the bombing at the May 22 Ariana Grande concert?
Kabaka Pyramid: For sure. I posted on my Twitter account that my thoughts were definitely with the families and the people who have lost someone. It’s sad to see that happen at a show attended by so many young people. It’s a tragic thing. We are singing this music so that we can rid the world of this kind of violence and the need for people to lash out. People are lashing out because the system is rejecting them. If we can remove the need for that then we can remove violence like this. That’s why we do reggae music; to bring about change in the lives of people. We’ll be in Manchester soon to bless up the place and to bring back the (positive) energy.
IS: When you travel, do you ever worry about acts of violence taking place at your shows?
KP: You know, I don’t really worry because I know that the Most High guide and protect us, and what is to be will be. I just know that we are on a mission, and when you are on a mission, things tend to not get in your way.
IS: Reggae on the River 2017 is another high profile stop on your summer tour. What can your Northern California fans expect from your performance? A lot of people are looking forward to it.
KP: Yeah mon, I’m looking forward to it as well; it will be my second time. I haven’t been there in awhile; I think the first time was back in 2013 when it returned to its original location (French’s Camp). I performed with Chronixx’ band, Zincfence last time and this year, I’ll be back with my band, Bebble Rockers and I’m definitely looking forward to bringing a ton of energy and a ton of fiyah! For me, it’s all about the message and reaching out to the people. I’m looking forward to doing some of my new material. I’m dropping my first single from my new album and I’m definitely looking forward to performing it at Reggae on the River as well.
IS: On that note, tell me about your new single, “Can’t Breathe.”
KP: It was produced by a brethren named Genis Trani Nadal from Barcelona. The song is an emotional release; it talks about how the system is kind of frustrating and how it feels suffocating sometimes; the way our people are going through sufferation in Jamaica and in certain parts of the world. It’s a late nineties Xterminator, Fattis Burrell kind of vibration and riddim and production. It’s very, very dubby and it’s a heavy one!
IS: Since we are on the theme of protest music, one of my favorite Kabaka Pyramid tracks is “Never Gonna Be a Slave.”
KP: That song was produced by DJ Frass out of Jamaica. He’s a well-known producer who produced a lot of dancehall stuff, but I think that this was one of his first one drop riddims. He sent me the track and I wrote the song and we recorded it and we shot the video in Jamaica. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVmux6zIUko) It’s been one of my premiere songs; I pretty much start all of my shows with that song. I’m changing up my set list a little bit for this tour. You can definitely look for “Never Gonna Be a Slave” at Reggae on the River.
IS: In your opinion, why should people of the African Diaspora learn about the history of slavery?
KP: Well, I think that because of what happened during slavery, we’re at a disadvantage in terms of our development as black people. The more we know about what took place, the more we understand the reasons why we are in certain situations, and the closer we can get to getting out of those situations. As they say, a tree without roots won’t grow, so it you don’t have knowledge of your past then you won’t know where you are going. It’s as simple as that.
IS: Tell us about you history of work with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley.
KP: Well, the first time me and Damian linked was on the song “Well Done” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8rClH-Jbno). We’ve been working in studio together ever since. This album that we’re working on now is actually collaboration with Damian and the Ghetto Youths International label and my label, Bebble Rock Music. Along with “Well Done,” Damian has produced about five tracks that we’ve done and he’s also executive producing my album. Look out for more stuff from myself and Damian in the future.
IS: I hope to see both of you on the list of 2017 Grammy nominees for Best Reggae Album.
KP: (Laughs). Hopefully! I’m looking forward, because it’s very good.
IS: What’s it like working with Damian Marley in the studio?
KP: He’s very serious on the outside, but once you get to know him, he’s kinda funny; he’s got lots of jokes. The music vibration is great. Composing music together, he’s making the drum patterns and then his keyboard player will add some sounds and then we’ll play a little guitar. Damian actually plays the drums on the tracks on his productions. We do a lot of deep reasoning in terms of music and we play football (soccer) together in the yard. It’s a family vibe.
IS: What is your definition of the reggae revival movement, and do you consider yourself a reggae revival artist?
KP: Well, my thing is that, the revival came about because people saw a change that was happening. It’s not up to me as an artist to define the revival; I think it’s something that people who are fans and supporters of the music conceptualized. They saw a new set of artist rising up and trying to be true to the music. They perform live music with their own bands on tour; they are artists who have a level of unity; who support each other as well. With artists like myself, Jah 9, Chronixx, Protoje, Jesse Royal and Raging Fyah, people saw a all sorts of of young Jamaican (musicians) coming out at one time and that kind of defines the reggae revival, you know?
IS: In terms of performances, your 2016 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival set was one of the best. Tell us about your experience at Sierra Nevada. (www.snwmf.com).
KP: Sierra Nevada was special for me; it’s a festival that I loved from the first time. I really took to the festival and the crowd and the energy. Even though I performed during the day, the energy was great. Yeah, it’s one of those festivals that I think I’m gonna be doing many times through my career.
IS: Tell me something about your background. Where did you grow up?
KP: I grew up in Kingston, the Mona area near the University of the West Indies. It was a nice place to live and grow up. I didn’t have a bad childhood. I give thanks for the opportunities that my parents gave me as a child. Depending on where you are, it determines he experiences that you have in Jamaica. I try to become a well-rounded person and experience many things in Jamaica so I can express the pain and he anguish of the people. I go everywhere in Jamaica, from the ghetto to uptown to the country. It’s such a joy to represent such a special island. My mother is currently a supreme court analyst in Florida; back in Jamaica she was a teacher. My father is an electrical engineer. I learned a lot from my parents and I actually earned a degree in electrical technology from DeVry University in Orlando, Florida. I am the third of six siblings. I still live in Jamaica, but Florida is my second home.
IS: What is your ultimate goal in terms of your music?
KP: I never have a good answer for this question, because I don’t really think about these things too much. I know I want to do albums; I’d love to produce some classic albums. At the end of the day, my music is always what’s on my mind, and I’m always pleased with my music. It’s a good feeling when people recognize what you’ve done. I’d like to produce for other artists from Jamaica, Africa and all over as well.
IS: Name one thing that people don’t know about Kabaka Pyramid.
KP: Hmmm…They probably don’t know that I played table tennis in high school and made it to the finals one year.
Follow Kabaka Pyramid on tour: https://www.songkick.com/artists/5263573-kabaka-pyramid
On Twitter @kabakapyramid
On Instagram: @kabakapyramid
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KabakaPyramid/