San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Music Beat

Reggae royalty with a new rhythm: Ky-mani Marley

It has to be tough to be one of Bob Marley’s sons: You are forever living in the shadow of one of the greatest artists of all time. However, Ky-mani Marley has a special spirit. He seems to be a man of the people like his father. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that he is the hip-hop artist in the family. Hip-hop has given Ky-mani a space to step out of his father’s shadow. At a recent show in Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo, he managed to mix hip-hop and reggae sensibilities in a way that was very entertaining.

I was in Puerto Viejo with my family, but didn’t buy a ticket for his show: To be honest, I was afraid it might go as badly as the Chronixx show I attended in San José at La Rumba in September, where technical problems left the audience waiting for more than two miserable hours. I decided to see where Ky-mani’s Oct. 10 show would take place before purchasing the ₡20,000 ($40) ticket, and my intuition paid off. The concert stage was set up in front a muddy area the size of a football field directly across from Playa Negra. The stage was large and high, and the sound system was state-of-the-art, but the concert was happening in the wrong venue.

This was the second reggae concert I had attended in a month where the promoters of the show just didn’t plan the event properly. I thought about the idea of Ky-mani singing to a crowd stuck in the mud, and felt disappointed. This should not be his Costa Rican experience. By virtue of the Marley name, he should have access to the best venues in the world. I decided I could just enjoy the concert from outside the venue, because the stage was facing the road that divided the muddy concert area from the black sand beach.

My family and I ate at Chile Rojo on the main road of Puerto Viejo. The Thai curry was delicious, the weather amazing, the sky almost free from clouds despite the rainy season. After dinner, I could hear the opening band playing funk covers as I approached the concert venue: Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder. I was mildly surprised that the promoters would hire a cover band from Los Angeles rather than a local band, but perhaps they wanted to stay with the concert theme, “Funk in the Jungle.” (A better title might have been, “Reggae at a Muddy Beach.”)

Ky-mani started his set off with “Roots, Rock, Reggae” by Bob Marley. It was an excellent choice, but it got me thinking about his father’s music. This made it hard not to make comparisons. As I danced and watched from the road amid clouds of ganja – there was no smoke-free zone anywhere, of course – I noticed that the muddy area was empty. The whole crowd was crammed near the stage on a concrete strip– the designated VIP area– avoiding dancing in the mud. To Ky-mani’s credit, he did not let the strange setting distract him. He represented his family name with his whole spirit. There were more people watching outside from the street than inside near the stage, with about 500 outside and 200-300 inside.

Outside on the street, the crowd included Rastas, surfers, Gringos, Ticos and prostitutes. Costa Rica loves reggae. I met people from all walks of life who came together to experience the Marley vibe. Ky-mani entertained the audience well, showcasing songs from his new album, “Maestro.”

For me, the most memorable of his new songs was “Keepers of the Light”:

Where are the believers who believe in life? That would risk it all just to do what’s right.

This song seemed to be an anthem in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States. Ky-mani stays in the tradition of his father by keeping his music relevant to political issues of the day.

As a true Rasta, he had to do a song in support of smoking marijuana. His latest ode to cannabis is not subtle: It is called “Get High.” However, this command wasn’t necessary in Puerto Viejo. You might say he was preaching to the choir when he sang, “Mek we get high… gwan build your spliff burn it and push it inna di sky.” The crowd was already sky-walking by the time Ky-mani introduced this new anthem.

Ky-mani also played his father’s song, “Is This Love.” The older generation seemed more in tune with his versions of Bob’s songs than his hip-hop oriented material, whereas the younger generation sang along as he went into “Rasta Love,” a collaboration with Protoje. This song has been getting continual airplay on Radio Urbano in Costa Rica for months, and all the young people knew the chorus: “She didn’t know how to tell him. She was in love with a rastaman.

He ended his set with the Bob Marley classic “One Love.” This could have been a corny moment, because, let’s face it: Every reggae band in the world plays “One Love.” However, Ky-mani seemed to be singing the song as though the lyrics had special meaning for him. It was touching to hear that classic bass line spreading out across Talamanca amid the sounds from the sea. Everyone left the concert feeling good. Even the mud couldn’t stop Ky-mani from being a class act. I found a video a couple of days after the concert of Ky-mani dancing with Los Rumberitos de Puerto Viejo. They are a group of children who are being trained by Carter Van Houten, a local percussionist in Talamanca, and I learned that they had been one of the opening acts for Funk in the Jungle.

When I saw the video of Ky-mani dancing and singing with the children, I realized that he knows the meaning of “pura vida.” He had no problems with a mash-up of mud and sand because he is a man who knows his father’s humble start in Trenchtown, Jamaica. Ky-mani Marley is a tree that has not forgotten his roots.

Masauko Chipembere is a singer-songwriter who was born in Los Angeles while his parents were in exile from Malawi. He is  best known internationally for his work as part of the acoustic duo blk sonshine. He is a Nelson Mandela 46664 ambassador and was nominated for a South African music award in 2010. In 2014 he was given a Limón Roots award in Costa Rica for his unique musical contributions to the local scene. He lives in Heredia with his family. Check out his music here, or reach him through Facebook

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I was initially enthused to see your coverage of Ky-Mani Marley’s performance at the Funk in the Jungle: a Concert for Earth event held here in Puerto Viejo on October 10th. It was good to see one of several very ambitious local productions assembled here in recent years receive some media coverage outside of our immediate area, though sadly well after the fact. Being somewhat of an insider on the community’s music scene, I feel compelled to comment on and make a few corrections to Masauko Chipembre’s article.

First off, the date of the event, October 10th, was actually in the middle of the our local dry season on the Caribbean, not the rainy season, as he stated, questioning the timing of the event’s scheduling. The date chosen, by conventional wisdom based on our usual weather patterns, would have been a perfect choice for normally predictably dry weather, which would also have meant no mud problem. However, this year has been the antithesis of typical for weather here, with our dry Caribbean summer arriving much later than usual, and we instead got the storm of the month on the night before the show. Well, we are on the edge of the rainforest out here – one never really knows for sure. Should/could the promoters have been better prepared for the unexpected rain? That would have been ideal – but where does such a venue exist in this part of the country?

Secondly, had Mr. Chipembre purchased a ticket to the concert, his much closer view of the facility would have allowed him to see that the audience who did pay the admission fee was enjoying the comfort of a large wooden dance floor, not a “concrete strip” (which may have been a reference to the path put down to get the attendees through the stretch of admittedly quite muddy terrain leading into the concert area). And if he had come a bit earlier, he would have discovered that the concert, which started in the early afternoon, was opened by several local acts, including some of our best loved Africaribbean artists, followed by sets performed by various combinations of the touring members of the Funk Foundation, the “L.A. cover band” he referenced, often in collaboration with Puerto Viejo singers, hiphop performers, musicians, and dancers, which featured both original material and, yes, a number of classic R&B covers that were noticeably well received by the largely foreign resident population of the audience.

To be clear, I heard some of my neighbors here remark that they had stayed away from the event due to the unexpected rain and less inviting conditions it had created on the venue property, which a small team of local volunteers – many of them local musicians who performed that day – worked very hard to build in the days before and adapt to the adverse conditions right up to the opening hours of the event.
But I doubt very much that it was so much the mud, or the flooring, or the concert lineup that hurt this wonderful event’s attendance or financial success, but rather other. factors like inadequate advance publicity and ease of ticket access – especially outside the Caribe Sur area. My web search today for any mention of the event in either La Nación, in prior issues of the Tico Times, or anywhere else other than the concert’s website and Facebook page resulted in zero entries. Who was responsible for that I cannot say, but if Ky-Mani Marley had instead performed in the national stadium or La Sabana Park, or even in a local Jacó venue, I think we would have all known about it well in advance, the event’s producers might not have suffered such an enormous loss, and Mr. Marley and the large assembly of musicians who flew into Costa Rica for the show would probably have gone home with quite a few more dollars in their pockets. But then we would have all missed out on the howler monkeys in the nearby trees on the way home, the moonlight view of the sea just across the road, the delicious cheap local food served at the venue, and probably the biggest music event to ever come our way out here on the east coast. And your writer probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy and review the artists’ performance for gratis from out in the street.

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Allen Eisenhart

Yeah, I have to agree with my friend Jim Vick. A bit disappointed with the shallow investigation of the event I produced that was put together to benefit the people of Talamanca in a very rough year of monsoon with ground water all the way up to the surface. We chose the best day of the year according to knowing when the dry season is, which I guess you do not Mr. Chipembre, but hey there’s a chance to knock the promoters right? Especially since you couldn’t get a refund, oh wait right you decided not to pay for a benefit event to support Talamanca and it’s culture. Rather stand and watch for free a historic event of bringing a Marley to a people that love the Marley’s that had a tough year great example you set for your kids there why pay when you can take it.

And the lie about the concrete slab and everyone in a mud bath, that was all not true at all, but that’s how you portray it because your investigation was lazy. Those who paid actually were standing on flooring that was nice and they had a great time. Also we had lots of local artists on the stage that is another misrepresentation of our production, you just missed it again you weren’t there to support them so you turn it into us not bringing them and publishing this. Does anyone fact check you?

And the ignorant comment about “the cover band” from LA. That happened to be The Funk Foundation who are legendary musicians from Stevie Wonder’s band, Earth Wind n Fire, Ray Charles band and many others. 100’s of years of combined touring and recording in that band with the greats, very ignorant commentary. You were lucky to have heard any one of them in your life if you think you are a musician. The sax player alone played with Ray Charles for 20 years, and you insult them knowing nothing about them, did you bother to check the event web site for your “critic?” Some of the most notable musicians on the planet and you would have known had you simply googled it. Journalism?? Heard of it??.
Have you ever heard the song “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson? That was the bass player that recorded the original with Quincy Jones, Bobby Watson, but you weren’t that close so I guess you couldn’t see you were in the presence of greatness, nor would you know anyways I guess. That’s why $40 is a great price so you can stand in front of legends, beyond seeing our great headliner Ky-Mani Marley, what they don’t pay you enough to do a real review?

#1 all proceeds go to the rainforest and community, “THE BIG PART OF THE STORY YOU LEAVE OUT” You do not mention The Concerts for Earth Foundation once.
#2 you get the best “cover band” in the world with musical legends. And the people loved it, and next year will be much bigger and we will have more than one week to sell tickets having permits in line much sooner. You see Mr. Chipembre there was much at play when two american’s are trying to do something good that also happens to be big in Costa Rica, they get stalled until people believe in them and they have proved themselves. They only gave us one week to sell tickets dude, that’s what happened, now we are past this “test”. Now we will continue to bring historic acts to Costa Rica and the people will love it. And since you don’t like to pay for admission and just take the show for free that cost many thousands of dollars to produce out of good faith and BALLS. You don’t have to come to the next one. Please tell your superiors to send a real journalist next time who at least knows the weather in CR before being critical about the producers who are doing this not to make money but out of charity and love for the people and nature of Talamanca. A journal who will buy a ticket to the show he is going to critic, duh? Tell them to give this one some per diem so he gets to come into the show actually for an honest review.

Why not get on board with supporting Talamanca or anything else Mr. Chipembre and buy a ticket next time you attend a benefit concert you cheap bastard, that you even mention you decided to, in effect steal the show, from a charity event, is amazing to me but don’t mention the charity itself, gross even.

The people were happy Mr. Chipembre. many kids will never forget this experience and we have started something that is growing and will benefit many in this area in the future. We were told by several business’s that because of the tough year if we hadn’t done the show they would have had to close but it got them trough to the high season. But that’s not in your article either is it. Did you bother to do any interviewing in town at all doesn’t sound like it. Sounds like your the hack, not me.

Yes the freak rain killed us the night before in the DRY SEASON, but in a normal year with normal ground water a rain the night before which happened wouldn’t have been a problem, we had monsoons dude. And we still tried to give the people a party, why not be supportive and mention the good work THE CONCERTS FOR EARTH FOUNDATION is doing for Talamanca that no one else is willing to. We made history that night and you took it for free from the street with your family even, so tackey.

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