by LIZA MITCHELL
If reggae music is all about island culture, it only makes sense that the founder of the group Chillakaya1 would come up with a name that is rooted in all things “irie.” “Chillakaya signifies ‘Chilla’ for chilling out, relaxing,” says lead vocalist, Kemwa. “Kaya is for Bob Marley’s song ‘Kaya Now,’ and the ‘1’ was added after the name Chillakaya for the meaning of one love and unity.”
As reggae entertainers go, Chillakaya1 is the real deal. Kemwa hails from Antigua, the village of Old Road, and has been expressing his love of music through reggae since the age of six. After attending the show of reggae and dancehall artist Delroy “Junior” Reid, Kemwa realized that his journey would carry him down the same path. Kemwa’s family is also deeply rooted in the reggae community, so the inspiration was always a part of his daily life. Kemwa left the beautiful island of Antigua and relocated to Jacksonville where he found his place within the creative community.
“Being from Old Road Parish on the island of Antigua, reggae music has always been a part of my life. We have Carnival, and it’s the Caribbean’s greatest summer festival,” he says. “All of our events, holidays and celebrations are all filled with amazing music and, of course, great food. But to me, reggae captures the energy, and I can bring it across in music with the island vibe.”
Kemwa got his local start as the former vocalist and keyboard player for the band Eyes of Reggae in the early 2000s. After the group disbanded, Kemwa put together his own band. “That was the beginning of Chillakaya,” he says. Chillakaya1 features Jawren Walton on saxophone and keys and Evan Peterson on drums. Kemwa is currently touring with his band, as well as working to release an album with H&M Productions and Marcus Ratzenboeck this year.
As the band’s primary songwriter, Kemwa says he abstains from the classic reggae stereotype of spliffs and blunts to help give his mind, and the music, a sharper edge. “I feel very good about not drinking or smoking being a musician, because, to me, that is why my creative process is so clear,” he says. “Whether it’s early in the morning or in the middle of the night, my mind stays clear.”
From the beginning, Chillakaya1 has adhered to the DIY philosophy of music making. The band writes its own music. They haul their own gear from show to show, and they deliver a slice of the islands whether they are playing on an open-air deck along the Intracoastal Waterway or tucked away on an indoor stage in Palatka.
“We do get awesome outcomes in coastal areas. We travel all over, sharing the reggae energy. There is a movement in the music that gets people up and dancing no matter where we play. We have been very blessed that way,” Kemwa says. “People love reggae. It is the way you bring it across to them that impacts the crowd.” Creativity has always been Kemwa’s passion in music, which makes the do-it-yourself approach have more of an impact. “The creative process is very spiritual as well as musical. Sharing emotions or telling my story with music becomes a journey.”
Visit Facebook at Chillakaya Chilla or Chillakaya 1 for current show listings as well as islandstylechilla1.com. You can find Chillakaya1’s music on iTunes.
Chilling With Love & Unity, 'Mon Chillakaya1 Brings Reggae Energy
by LIZA MITCHELL