Since I’ve been put on Kabaka’s music, I’ve been spellbound. The music is intelligent, the penmanship is sharp, the soul is alive and potent, and the music is timely.
It has all the traditional Reggae components we have come to know and love. Still, there is a renewed sense of urgency, a call to action, stronger kicks and bass, and an expansive message of justice, healing, and love. This is what we talked to Kabaka about, justice, healing, and love.
Our goal at TRAD is to share the ideas of African peoples from around the world. To ensure Black people connect to each other and reconnect with themselves. We discuss ideas. This is the intention I am entering this conversation with. We talk about his music because it is brilliant. Still, we also talk about the ideas behind the music, the intention, and his philosophies. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Let’s start with the intro to Kontraband. On Make Way, you sing, “there is too much pollution, inside our institutions, Rastafari is our alternative solution”..you continue to talk about using renewable energy, climate change, social instability and geopolitics.
You also ask us to watch the food we eat, the school and what they teach, and then you reflect on studying the principles of life and universal laws. There’s a lot to unpack here, but at its core is a call for justice and a search for the right knowledge. What lens do you see the world through?
My journey through consciousness and real self-awareness began with Rastafari and began through reggae music. And mainly through the artist called Sizzla Kalonji. His music really opened my awareness of reality.
I grew up in a traditional Christian home. I went to church and was baptized. I didn’t have any strong feelings about anything too deep. I was just enjoying life, loved music, and partying. The shift towards Rastafari; that’s when I started reading books. It was really that drive to understand the real depth behind Rastafari and what it was about.
Not growing up in it, I always felt I have to arm myself with as much knowledge of the culture and its message, so I can truly represent it in a genuine way. For me, that really was about Afrocentric consciousness, connecting to the continent. Seeing divinity represented in a Black person with His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie (H.I.M.) as was prophesied by Marcus Garvey. Leonard Howell spoke about His Majesty. [Even] Bob Marley, you know the whole legacy of Rastafari and the symbolic nature of H.I.M., and that kick-started my journey into an alternate curriculum of consciousness.
What experiences have you had that have shaped and influenced your knowledge and ideas? What is your philosophy of learning?
We are not really taught about certain things in school. Especially In Jamaica, being a British colony, we have so-called independence, but I consider it pseudo independence. We are still dominated by the U.K.’s imperial powers, and the U.S. through the I.M.F., and situations like that.
So you find out that the education we receive is the education of a colony and not an independent nation. So you don’t learn about your roots, you don’t learn about your Jamaican history! You learn about “national heroes”; people like Bustamante, was considered a national hero. This was someone who slaughtered Jamaican people through the police force and is still considered a national hero.
Rastafari was an uplifting education. It came out of the rising against this kind of domination and slavery mentality. That was symbolic in me as well, coming out of this system mentally and taking myself away from the system and this uptown Jamaican mentality that I was born into. This high society people feel that they are better than the large percentage of poverty in our Nation.
I started to go and sit up in the ghetto and burn ganja with the people that are less fortunate than I am financial. That opened up my mind to the real reality of what was happening in Jamaica. You can grow up in certain places in Jamaica and just not know what the average Jamaican is going through. Because you are a small percentile of the reality of Jamaica.
Even as a youth who is “uptown” just being a Rasta youth and having locks on my head, I can walk freely into any Ghetto and get treated with respect. Rastafari is that symbol of the freedom fighter in Jamaica. Everybody loves Rasta because Rasta represents the people. That really spoke to me. And the fact that Sizzla’s music can do that for me is all my motivation to the music because if I can do that for another soul, I have achieved something.
Was this journey a straight line? Being disillusioned with status quo Jamaica, feeling like you wanted something else, and then pursuing it. I can imagine there must have been push back from your family, from the community.
I remember when society started to reject me. For me, my particular transition happened when I attempted to migrate. I had a couple of attempts to migrate to the U.S. The first attempt only lasted for about 9 months, and it was towards the later part of these 9 months that I found Rastafari and twist-up my-hair and locks up my head.
When I came back to Jamaica, I visited my friends at Campion, which was one of the more prestigious schools. And visiting my friends on campus, the Vice-principal told me I was banned from the school, and I can’t be on the campus. He literally told me that the views I was expressing are not in alignment with that of the school.
That, for me, stood out significantly through the years. That obviously, society was not accepting it. The most disrespectful thing about it is that Jamaica gave Rastafari to the world – in terms of its culture, the expression of it, the attributes of it, the thought process towards Rastafari freedom. We have seen how this has impacted people around the world. From Zimbabwe to South Africa, and yet still, even in Jamaica, it was not appreciated.
I remember when I used to smoke ganja, and you could see people looking down on me. It was almost like they feel sorry for me. You can see that on their face. I always took pride in myself as an intellectual person. I would always be conscious of how I am representing myself. I don’t feel like anything deteriorated in my character.
At the same time, we were rebellious too. There’s always that vibration with the rebellious ones as well. I could definitely see when people stopped talking to us, some people didn’t want to invite us to certain parties or gatherings.
What is always funny to see is, now that people see me as a public figure, and we started to grow through acknowledgement from the music, some of the people come back to establish relationships.
Did you ever doubt your decision?
For me personally, I didn’t doubt myself at any point, even with my diet. That same period I decided to say Rastafari is for me, I switched from beef to fish and never looked back. I have been practicing a vegan diet for about 18 years now. There was no point I was thinking this is not right for me.
It was always pressure coming externally. I remember my father saying he was disappointed when I locks up my hair. My mother kicked me out when she found a chalice in my house, and I flew back to Jamaica.
You definitely feel the resistance. Now that my parents have come around, they see that I have made something of my life. And that love and that respect are there.
Jamaica has a unique way of expressing its Christianity. The expression of Christianity in Jamaica kind of supersedes cultural expression. I think in other countries, nothing really holds back their cultural expression. If you go to Mexico with Mardigras or Brazil or Trinidad with their Carnival, cultural expression is what they put forward and how they represent regardless of any national or religious state. In Jamaica, because of the Christianity and the high society view towards Christianity, things like Reggae, Dancehall, Rastafari, ganja, all of these things are looked down upon. But this is what Jamaica is known for. This is what Jamaica is to the outside world. This is what inspires me to keep going with the music and really hits some of these nails on the head.
You look at all the conflicts in the world right now, racial, political, environmental. Are these the times the Rastaman has been speaking on, and what should the reason for Reggae be in these times?
For me, the most powerful source behind Reggae music has been its association with Rastafari. And that is where the inspiration for singing about social injustice, and about appreciating and loving your roots, and loving Africa. That is where the root of it is coming from. For me, Rastafari is something that breaks chains and breaks bondage. And as long as there is bondage, as long as there is chains, there is a place for Reggae music.
But you find that it doesn’t get the appreciation that it deserves because typically, with music, it’s about the emotions that people go through. People want to feel good, people want to feel sad, they want to feel like they are in love.
But when it comes to fighting social injustice, this is not a mood that people are always in. This is not something that the average person always thinks of. So you find that the big record labels don’t have it as a valid source of income. Barring certain exceptions with extremely potent and strategic songwriting like Bob Marley, excluding individuals like that, it’s not this type of music that has been the most successful. So you find that there is an uphill battle for Reggae music just as a genre.
I find that because Dancehall music, which is a more secular form of Jamaican culture, is at the forefront these days. And it is more representative of what Jamaica is to the outside world. So you find Sean Pauls, and the Shaggys and the Craniums, getting the number one hit songs that reach the world. Because it is not making you think too hard. So I find that this is an uphill battle for reggae music.
I think that [Reggae] it is so important in this time, the world is literally changing in front of our eyes. And the reality is if we don’t do something like people, then the reality is these tech corporations are going to transform the world into whatever they want.
The music is really our weapon to use to tackle these things. Human beings need awareness; once we have awareness, once we arm ourselves with information, then we can organize, then we can protest, then we can find different ways to create social change. The music, for me, is the driving force behind all of that.
You can see how the rappers are being used to gain votes in America, so they can forward political agendas and things like that. Rastafari has never been about that. We are directly about the people. We never allow politicians to manipulate us. Unless it’s being done the way Bob Marley did it, he had both political parties in his hands. It has to be about Unity. That is the only way we will allow any political involvement.
I think Reggae music is pivotal, and that is why I would never leave it behind. I feel like it is still the driving force for change. I just urge everyone to support conscious music that raises awareness. Good music too. We don’t want music to be boring. We don’t want music to not feel good. When you see somebody that is representing something, and they are really putting out good music, we have to support, just as we support everything else.
What meditations or reasonings shaped your ideas on health, and what are your health practices?
When I first found out about Rastafari, the word Ital was always presented. That means everything you eat and consume is of the earth. It’s from plants, and everything you eat is from the earth, and being in tune with nature will bring about ideal health.
That was the driving force. For me, I can tell you that I have felt transformations in my overall health, not needing to go to the doctor very often—[I now go to the doctor less – just for check up]. We use herbs to heal ourselves instead of drugs and pharmaceutical toxins and things like that. That has been a part of the Rastafari journey and philosophy. And then you just grow and begin to read. African Holistic Health was one of the transformative books for me very early.
It outlined a lot of the issues with the food that we eat. And not just fast foods, but also the products we use. Artificial lotions and shampoos and soaps and all of these things introduce harmful minerals to the bloodstream through the skin. That book really opened my eyes. That book gave me the way to a lot of knowledge I was gaining through Rastafari. A lot of books I was reading in Rastafari was more to do with Ethiopia and about His Majesty, but I would learn from the elders don’t eat this or don’t eat that, but as I start to read this book, I start to understand deeper why these things are the case.
You find that there are certain dietary habits in western society that are particularly harmful to Black people. You find that a lot of people end up getting diabetes and arthritis, and that is because it is an overuse of calcium, or your body is creating acid based on the stuff you’re eating; the fried food and the heavily starched diet when we were put on this earth to eat fruit and green leafy vegetables.
There is also the side that we know, where there is a systematic aim by these corporations to have a cycle of decay in humans. We [eat] the food that earns them crazy money. The same food makes you sick. You go to the doctor, the doctors prescribe the drugs, but there is no real thought of actual healing. It’s all about subduing the symptoms. But the doctors are not talking about your life choices; the doctors are not talking about your diet. So the cycle just continues, and you get sick.
Reggae music has always had a call for justice, but your music has increased and also emphasizes the protection of the earth. It feels, sometimes, that discussions on climate change are led by white people. But you have had incredible contributions to these conversations through your music. On Mama Earth and everywhere I go, you ask us to give the earth a try? For those who want to answer the call, what is the next thing to do?
For me, even just a plant-based diet, that’s one thing. So many resources are being wasted to feed animals so they can feed humans. The amount of water that is used up just to feed the cows! There are acres of land in South Africa that are used to grow soya beans and corn to feed animals for the meat industry when this land can be used to grow [actual nutritious] food.
Self-sufficiency is something we talk about in music a lot. Coming from Marcus Garvey days, where we really try and be self-sustainable. Where we have local distribution of food so we don’t need to be using all the oil and gas to be shipping from one country to the next when we can grow it ourselves. Because of I.M.F. stipulations in Jamaica, we are forced to buy food from other places when we can grow it ourselves, and this undermines the local growing industries in Jamaica.
We see change is happening, though. We see electric cars coming into play. I do think that solar-powered home systems should be accessible to people, and right now, because of the cost of batteries, it is very expensive. But I feel like governments should subsidize these things because it can benefit the Nation.
There should be large wind farms that prioritize getting electricity to ghetto communities. These are things that can be done simply, and I think the government they are responsible obviously, but also the billionaires.
Every country has billionaires, but what are they doing? Is their motivation just to turn profits each year and have money in their bank accounts for generations and generations? That is all well and good, but use a percentage of that to benefit the people!
I do feel like the reason why white people can talk about climate change is that, as a race, they have positioned themselves in a position to be thinking about these things.
The average black person on the planet is not in a position to think about climate change. And that is just the reality. There is always an economic imbalance that has to be addressed. I’m all about starting from social-economic issues. And once we have those systems in place to create that balance, then as a human race, we can start to address these issues [climate change] head-on. I do think these initiatives have to go on, but for me, the focus is on raising the standard of living for poor people, not just Black people, but poor people all across the planet, so that we can move forward as one human race.
I want to stay on the topic of healing but focus on healing the connection of African peoples around the world. And let’s start with your approach to Hip-Hop and Reggae and how you seamlessly blend both genres. Was this innovation intentional?
It was always intentional! When I started off in music, I wanted to sing like Sizzla, but I had no background in singing. I had no vocal ability, so I would record Reggae songs, but it just literally sounded like shit. [ At the same time] between age 10-17, seventy percent of my music consumption was Hip-Hop. I really dove deep into Hip-Hop; Wu-Tang, Nas, Big Pun. Mob Deep, Cannabis, Talib Kweli, Most D.E.F. for me, all of these rappers were my inspiration. A lot of my early musical expression was for me to get out what I wanted to get out. Hip-Hop and rapping was my first way to do that. I was sounding like I was from New York even though I had never lived in New York before.
From 2002 we built our first studio, and from that time, I’ve always been recording, handwriting songs, making beats, mostly keeping it to myself. I didn’t have anybody to teach me, just my friends, and we were all learning together. Hip hop was something I kind of mastered the craft over those nine years, but at the same time, my voice was developing, and my Reggae music was improving. My ability to sing and construct melody was improving.
To be frank, there is no outlet for hip-hop music in Jamaica; there is no appreciation for a Jamaican person rapping. It was always just an underground scene, with some very talented rappers and producers, but the scene hasn’t really grown over the years.
For me, I knew I had to step into the reggae music scene, and it was strategic for me to stand out using my lyricisms, using the hip-hop rhyme schemes. There are certain songs I wrote to hip-hop beats and then sang them on reggae beats after. I was just doing what I was most comfortable with and bringing it to reggae music.
From a production standpoint, even working with Damian on the contraband album, we have a lot of the same influences, a lot of the same journey. He talked about when he was young, and Steve them telling him, “you need more melody, you need more melody, these fast, fast rapping things no go work” he went through the same stuff, even walking on my album, you are working with someone who has the blueprint for what you have been doing. That was a great experience for me, and is till these days – I am working with him on my next album.
At the end of the day, hip-hop comes from a Jamaican living in New York, and we come from Africa. At the end of the day, the vibration within music is stemming from Africa. So I am never the one saying afrobeat is stealing dancehall music or hip is stealing reggae culture because we are all cousins; we are all distant relatives like Gong and Nas told the world. I am always strategic about that looking to collaborate and make the link happen.
How did the link with Stonebwoy happen?
Over Twitter! I dmd him. I saw we were following each other, and I saw the progress he was making, and obviously, he was watching what I was doing. And that mutual respect was there right from the benign. So we said we need to work on a track, and we both sent each other tracks from our respective albums. And within a month from each other, we were both on each other’s albums. We are still good. I produced a rhythm for a song for his last album .. it has definitely been a pleasure working with him.
How can we be intentional about sharing the genres with each other in a way that increases the essence of the music? I feel sometimes we share the shell and leave the spirit. How do we make sure we are sharing both?
The real way to do that is by actually linking, and reasoning, and talking, and talking about the history of the music, and that’s how you really get to know the culture, and you get to share the culture.
Last year, I planned to go to Ghana and work with an organization called Habesha, building self-sustainable living quarters for ones to transitions when they are repatriating, and that is something that I am passionate about, and I would have loved the opportunity to be there last year, and I would have gone this year, but with Covid, we still don’t know, but for me. That would have been an opportunity to link up and to reason, and talk about the industry.
The soul of the music is preserved by having real conversations, talking about what is happening, by sharing resources. We need to share resources across the genres.
The more we can collaborate, the more we are all sharing in the reach of the music, so it is really about collaboration. It’s easy to just say send me a riddim or send me a vocal. But we need to actually talk about what is happening. Having real conversations and meaningful conversations, what are we trying to do, what are we trying to accomplish. What is the direction of the music? How can we reinvest money into these industries together? We need to talk about the big picture stuff.
How do you begin to believe in yourself? What do you want to share with them about living well, and how do you begin to believe in yourself.
It starts from really looking into yourself and questioning what you want out of life. A lot of us start from a disadvantage because we don’t have certain guidance from parents.
One of the things that has been very empowering to me is the knowledge that; this concept that we only live one life is very limiting. What it does for me is that life is more than any one problem that we are having at the moment. It was what we take from that experience and do to build up on it. And we have been doing that for millions of years as souls evolving through different cycles and phases and different epochs. We have rich histories within our souls.
Different from attachment to any race or anything, we have divinity literally within ourselves. I think once that can start to sink in. I know that is a heavy concept for most to grasp, especially if they are in a position of self-doubt or poverty, or whatever it is. But all of these things begin in the mind.
Once you define yourself as divine, then we start to see that things open up for you; no matter what the situation, you have confidence in yourself. We are at a time when any information you want you can access it, go online, learn about what is happening in the world, and once you do that, you will attract all the positive energy you would need.
A collaborator of yours had said that reggae music is one large endless song, and every artist contributes a verse to it. What verse are you trying to write in the song of reggae music?
For me, I just want to leave a legacy of Unity. To unify our people across the globe and create that balance for all races, and my focus in doing that is uplifting my race, the black race. And for me, there is a universal goal in that. It is not a race centred goal, in that sense, but it is a means to an overall unity. For me, I try to provide people with information that they can use to uplift themselves. And for those who are not in the Black race, they can say, “am I contributing to the imbalance or the balance.” And that is something we can all ask ourselves, no matter what race we are.
Your name “Kabaka” means “king” in Ugandan. What does being a king mean to you?
Having integrity, standing for what you believe in, defending your family, defending your Nation, and doing that with long term vision, with goals in sight that benefit the collective.