The world embraces Bob Marley as the most iconic reggae artist to date, but to Ky-Mani Marley, he is Dad. Now a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and philanthropist, Ky-Mani chronicles his scanty childhood and the monumental impact his legendary father imparted on him in his telltale biography, Dear Dad. “I got a lot of slack early on in my career saying, you know, how can I sing of struggle? How can I sing of ghettos when, you know, your father is Robert Nesta Marley? For me, it’s important that people know that the things that I sing about, I sing about them because I have experienced them first-hand, because even though I am from a great legacy with a great last name, I am from very humble beginnings,” says Ky-Mani.
In his book, he revisits the strife he endured as a child, living in Falmouth, Jamaica with his mother, Anita Belnavis. He was only five when Marley passed, cheated from a father and a lifetime of memories. And just as the world mourned a king, he too had to watch his own father’s funeral on TV. A son of music royalty, Ky-Mani was exiled from the Marley estate. His mother, who at the time was a leading table tennis player in the Caribbean, was one of several women that gave birth out of wedlock to an already married Marley. “It’s hard when you know that you are from a great legacy and you know what your background is but yet you’re still living in a two-bedroom wooden house with nine people living in it,” says Ky-Mani.
In hopes of a better future, Belnavis and Ky-Mani left the vibrancy and energy of Jamaica for the Promised Land. Yet in Liberty City, Miami, a concrete jungle teeming with gangland warfare reared its ugly head. Ky-Mani was living the life of the people his father spoke of in his songs. “I was raised up in a neighborhood that was guaranteed a shoot-out if not once a week then we definitely got one every other week,” says Ky-Mani, who was hustling the streets of Liberty City at nine-years-old.
Dedicated to carrying on his father’s legacy of one love, Ky-Mani started the Love Over All Foundation in 2008, which helps to alleviate illiteracy and poverty, promoting positive change in low socio-economic communities across the Caribbean, Africa and the United States. Sickle cell and diabetes research is also part of the foundation’s aims.
Ky-Mani’s genes kicked in when he visited the school of his early days. “Just seeing the condition of some of the children … their uniforms are not clean and their shoes have big holes in them … and to find that there was still another 30 per cent of children who were not in attendance because they can’t afford the uniform or they can’t afford the shoes or, you know, they can’t buy lunch, that touched me,” says Ky-Mani, who was named Philanthropist of the Year by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Better World Awards. Two of his children have been diagnosed with sickle-cell disease. “I wanted to be a part of change.”
Finding redemption through the art of song and word, Ky-Mani’s musicality is arrestingly similar to Marley’s. Set to release his fourth album – Evolution of a Revolution – in February, Ky-Mani’s philanthropic and musical genius runs through his veins. www.kymani-marley.com www.loveoverall.org