Photo by Sabriya Simon.
For those who believe reggae music was meant to be a purist regime, Kabaka Pyramid proves the countercultural revolt can be much more rewarding. While reggae at his core, this rising Jamaican artist-nouveau manages to mesh elements of classic hip hop into his island jazz, giving beat to the off-rhythms, and a spin to the rocksteady roots of his bloom.
A DJ, rapper, songwriter and producer, Keron “Kabaka Pyramid” Salmon was born on the streets of Kingston, where insurrection fueled the stammer of his walk. It was in the air he breathed, the sun that lit his days, the stars shining overhead, and before long, the music chanting from his mind. He studied the leaders before him, passionately and creatively, and is quickly becoming a groundbreaker in his own right. His music reflects a pervasive instinct balanced by peaceful resonance. His character parallels the maxim of reggae, which has always been a dichotomous movement between peace and activism. It’s blunt, and meant to shatter the surface of normalcy as much as it is a call towards ubiquitous harmony.
“My awareness of the social impact of music evolved gradually over time,” explains Salmon, who began his career at early an age when he rerecorded his own version of pop music with his mother’s tape recorder. “I began to see how reggae affected people and fueled revolutionary movements. We were united by Marley, and in the ‘70s, it influenced the Black Power movements. Then, hip hop came in the ‘80s, and has been really prominent in similar movements of South Africa.”
Salmon pulls his moniker from greatness, channeling the spiritual dimensions of the universe as a measure of his own metaphysical latitude. The term “Kabaka” is a Ugandan word for “King,” and he likewise draws upon the structure of the pyramids, considered to “house the mathematical proportions of universal laws.” His sonic knack is matched by his spiritual pull; his lyrics are a memento of rap’s earliest pioneers while his music keeps the ebb & flow of Jamaica’s archetypal hymnal. It’s what he describes as a “hip hop mindset with reggae delivery,” a technique he shaped while working as a producer and spinning records in dancehalls.
In response to critics who claim Salmon’s contaminating the purity of the genre, he wards off any logic to their argument. Bring it on – and bring it far and wide – as the sound-minded innovator believes reggae can stem from any demographic and continent.
“It’s less about the individual, and more about the sound and message,” he comments. “I don’t think it matters what race you are or if it comes from Germany or Africa, as long as you’ve got the message.”
The message, that is, of love, Africa, peace, unity and freedom fighting, and a backing fervor for the world. Rebel Music, his latest LP, was released last year through Bebble Rock Records, stirring up a generous buzz amongst the reggae community. From rock and ska to Mos Def and Wu-Tang, the record characterizes Salmon’s personal investment in music, and allows for a reinterpretation of elements, in the way he first taught himself the art. Currently, he’s working with a few different producers on music he hopes will develop into a larger project, though his primary focus is on performance. As Kabaka Pyramid, he hits Europe in April and May, and promises to tour the U.S. as soon as the government will give him a work visa. He’s also got a few music videos set to be released soon, as he continues along a path towards greater magnitude.
“You have to be able to inspire, most importantly,” he notes, citing amongst the list of issues most dear to him as imperialism, overdue reparations for his people, and the international green movement. He clings to a spirituality divinity within us, which he describes as “an expression of our connection with the Creator and nature.”
To be a revolutionary, observes Salmon, you must fight for a cause beyond the surface; surpass those who think but fail to act; and have enough valor to give rise to the energy. Accordingly, Kabaka Pyramid sings to the light.