I can't see his face while I'm talking to him on the phone, but if I could, I'm sure he'd be smiling. There's reggae on the other end of the line. It's not music, but it's a spirit and energy. It's in the blood.
Ky-mani Marley may have one of the most famous last names in music, but he doesn't let the pressure get to him -- or control him. The second youngest child of reggae legend Bob Marley has chosen a path in music, but it's one that veers more toward the hip hop side of the road. It also takes turns at corners for blues, rock, dancehall and world music.
"I play minimum reggae, but what I do bring from that department is sometimes the vibe of it," Marley says during a break from rehearsals in Miami. "It's not so much the music or even the structure of the music, but that vibe, that approach, that energy, that attack."
The 31-year-old has landed one of the most coveted performing spots in the music today -- opening for Van Halen on their upcoming reunion tour. The shows will also coincide with the release of his latest album, Radio -- his first CD in five years. "I'm excited and overwhelmed," he says. "I'm ready to show and prove. It came at a perfect time."
Marley says the album's title comes from the blend of music found on it. "A radio is where all genres of music meet," he says. "This album touches a little of everything, yet it's condensed. It reaches out to different genres of music and brings it back to one spot."
Born in 1976 to the icon Marley and table tennis champion Anita Belnavis, Ky-mani wound up moving to Miami at age 9. He was only 5 when his father died. "I have one memory and that's going to the countryside," he says. "It was me, my older brother Stephen, my dad, my mother and a friend of his. I remember going up into the hills and shooting a slingshot. I remember losing the slingshot and Stephen telling me that dad was going to be upset about it. I just remember walking right up to him and telling him I lost the slingshot and him just laughing. That was it. For some reason, that memory stays with me."
He says the most difficult part of being in the music business is dealing with critics and those in the industry who expect him to have a certain sound. "OK, my dad is Robert Nesta Marley, but I'm a son," he says. "I'm from a different time, a different era. I've lived my own life and faced my own struggles and know how to express that in music. So, why not allow me to express myself and appreciate me for me?"
Growing up in Miami gave Ky-mani a strong foothold in R&B and hip hop. He says his father would often bring him to Kingston when not on tour, which also gave him strong roots in reggae and with his family. He has recorded a lot of music with his brothers, but nothing has yet been released.
Ky-mani listened to his father's music a lot while growing up and knew he was important because he'd see a T-shirt or hear a reference everywhere he went. "Maybe at a young age I didn't understand it to the magnitude that I do now, but I definitely knew he was something special," he says.
His music career "started as a joke," but he eventually ended up in a studio and performing in front of friends. He says he "just got on the bus with no destination." When he realized it could go somewhere, he decided to "go steer the bus" and get more focused. He also doesn't mind the comparisons to his father or the mentions of his name. "That's what we're here to do," Ky-mani says. "To continue that legacy."
He's also done a bit of acting, having starred in 2006's Shottas and set to reprise his role in Shottas II. He'll also be in Haven starring Bill Paxton and Orlando Bloom.
As far as fitting in with Van Halen, Marley says he isn't worried about trying to win over the crowd. "I've taken the time out to mold myself as an artist who can play on any stage with anybody, anywhere," he says. "I already play on the same stage. I want to be a part of the puzzle and not an extra piece of the puzzle. I'm gonna fit right in."
Ky-mani Marley will open for Van Halen at their sold-out show at Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Sept. 27. His new album, Radio, will hit stores on Sept. 25.