Jamaican singer-songwriter, Kumar Bent, is the Grammy-nominated former lead singer of Raging Fyah. The Pier was able to sit down with the gifted singer after a stellar performance in snowy Vienna, Austria back in December 2018. The 30-year-old Jamaican artist discussed his excitement for his blossoming solo career, as well as the challenges that coincide with his decision to embark on that new path. Kumar also talked about a handful of his surprising musical influences, including everyone from Beethoven to the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries.
Kumar, a humble, jovial character, wears his passion for music on his sleeve. He aims to highlight his ability as a reggae vocalist, while also unearthing his affinity towards a more diverse range of music, including rock, blues, and pop. He openly, and positively reflected on his time as a member of Raging Fyah, while also sharing his excitement for this new stage of his career and the new music he’s been working on.
Enjoy our conversation with Kumar below.
The Pier: Entering this new chapter in your career as a solo artist, what have been the biggest challenges or surprises so far? And on the other side, what has been the most exciting aspect of your new career path?
Kumar: The challenges were just moving that barrier from my mind, outside of being in a band. Those guys are my brothers, man. They still are, I love them. But I had to move on, and that was a challenge. Looking to my right or left and not seeing who I used to see. You know, sometimes it’s just me.
What has made me excited is that I was brave enough to attempt it. And man, I’m having fun. It’s the best time of my life right now. My birthday is on Dec 12th, and I’ll be on tour. Entering my 30th year doing what I want to do, with a new album coming. I’ve got offers for festivals in 2019. I’m grateful right now… And tonight, oh god!
The Pier: You’re certainly not the first reggae artist to go solo…
Kumar: or artist in any genre…
The Pier: For sure. So, have you received any advice from fellow musicians who either are solo artists, or who have made that jump and gone solo after being in a band? Or just anyone in general.
Kumar: Yeah, there has been a lot of good people in my corner. One is Karen Lister of Media Fyah. She has been a lot of support to not just me, but Raging Fyah in general over the years. About how to handle ourselves as a band, and business. When I left, she was the first person there trying to help us out, trying to make things go smoothly. She’s been integral since day one, she really pushed us, you know.
And also, Robert Livingston, who was Shaggy’s original manager. It’s been amazing having them lead me. Teaching me how to handle myself, because I’m only human, and sometimes you express yourself wrongfully. Say things that you shouldn’t be saying. And I’m guilty of that. Of expressing myself.
But over time, having Robert Livingston in my ear, saying, “Kumar, you can do this.”
Then I got some offers to come on tour to Europe, and I thought, “alright, let’s do it.” And I jumped on the opportunity.
The Pier: So you mentioned an album coming out in 2019, and you have the new single “It’s Alright.” What angle can we expect from you on the new music coming soon?
Kumar: Honestly, what I think is missing from Jamaica…Jamaica has never had an artist that just made music. Bob Marley is our greatest artist, and if you listen to most of Bob’s songs, the lyrical content of it…a Led Zeppelin could perform it, or Guns N’ Roses. For me I’m a huge Rock n’ Roller.
The Pier: I always assumed that because of the leather jacket, and then also the Metallica song you did with Alborosie while with Raging Fyah.
Kumar: Yeah, you like that one! The Wailers played the track for Alborosie and I just did the hook.
I’m a huge fan of Tracy Chapman, I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. One of my favorite tunes from Led Zeppelin is “Kashmir,” and people say, “Why do you listen to that shit, Kumar!” And I say, “Yo! It’s not shit, if you listen to it.” Plenty of others, I like Guns n’ Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Certain songs that connect with me, you know? Fleetwood Mac. I listen to Fleetwood Mac, and they say, “Why?!”
The Pier: I was going to ask that…Who have been some influences on your music that we might not expect? Tonight we heard you play a cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries
Kumar: Yeah, for Dolores (O’Riordan)! The Cranberries have a history with Jamaica. With Chris Blackwell and Island Records. In 2010, when I was leaving university, Edna Manley College, at my final day presentation I performed two Cranberries songs, “Ode To My Family” and “Zombie.” The school was shocked. I got an A+ for my exam, for the choice of songs.
There’s something about lyrical content. You could sing so smooth, I don’t give a shit. What I like, is when you can speak to me.
People label me as a great reggae singer. Dem like me and my reggae music. But I think once they remove the label they’ll see what I can really do. It’s not to say I’m the best, I’m far from it. I don’t play great guitar. I play guitar enough to support my singing. What I studied in school was piano, and I read classical music. I like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Bach.
The Pier: And does that play into how you write songs?
Kumar: Definitely. For me, there are so many songs in the air, everyday. It’s like a garden of flowers, and you could pick a rose, but it’s gonna die. So, you have to keep that rose alive if you pick it. Sometimes it’s over my head. Every artist has that opportunity. Sometimes I hear a melody and I don’t move towards it…and then I hear Post Malone come and sing the same thing, and I’m like, “Shit! I heard that.” But it flew over my head, and I never had the time to capture it, and I just let it pass by. So it’s important to be in the moment as a musician.
The Pier: Are there any artists or maybe certain producers you plan on working with in the studio coming up? I think of someone like Protoje, and how collaborating with Winta James really took his music to a new level.
Kumar: Me and Winta are good bredren. Some work with Winta, with Riff Raff (Llamar Brown). I’ve been doing some work with DJ Bonnot from Italy, he’s the producer for M-1 and Dead Prez. So me and M-1 been linking and Dead Prez. I was at DJ Bonnot’s house in Italy before coming to Prague and Vienna, and we did 9 tracks. One with M-1, Dead Prez. It’s been great, bro!
Start linking with other people and get the sound out there. And the songs are not just reggae anymore, they’re songs of freedom. Songs that my son can listen to because his friends are listening to that beat, to that sound. I believe that Jah bless me with a vocal where I could deliver whatever message on whatever beat.
Watch: Kumar – “It’s Alright”
The Pier: That’s definitely clear on the new single “It’s Alright.” Are there genres that you’re looking to explore that you haven’t in the past.
Kumar: Right now the Blues. I wanna sing the Blues, man. And as you saw tonight with the acoustic singer-songwriter kinda vibe. I really enjoy that. I could play this in stadiums too and have people jumping, moving to the beat. Mumford & Sons are one my influences now. I listen to them a lot. I love the style of music they play. Lot of movements in right now in terms of how music should sound, and people are speaking to the truth. Leon Bridges, all these guys. Bruno Mars is one of my all-time favorites. Because Bruno’s doing 80s music in 2018. Nobody realizes that’s what he’s doing! And he’s doing it successfully.
So why can’t I come and sing how I want to, why can’t I come and say how I feel about Kumar and not be judged. Like, “Oh, I sing reggae.” Yes, I know reggae, I have three albums of that. I have a great appreciation for reggae, and I don’t think I’m more than reggae, just that it’s not what I’m limited to. I can lend my voice to something to anything that has a message.
The Pier: You’ve come to Europe to perform your first solo tour, what drew you over here?
Kumar: What brought me here was respect. I love the people. I can’t help the fact that I love the people. Sometimes you pay me to do a show for 45 minutes, and I want to stay on the stage for 2 hours if it permits. I don’t care. I love to see people happy.
So leaving the band in July before a major show in Jamaica, at Sumfest, that hurt me. It was a painful decision. So I didn’t do Sumfest or go on the following tour. We had a tour lined up and everything promoted. So for me, I must apologize to all the fans for that. Because that was…I wouldn’t say disrespectful, but that was sudden and caught off-guard for the fans. I apologize. But I was dying.
So me apologize, and because of that fans from all over messaged me. It’s not like I’m making a lot of money on this tour. I’m just out here having fun, playing new songs, and just giving back. Building a relationship with these people again.
This tour has been…I have Gizmo, who was also part of Raging Fyah with me. He left the band a year ago, nobody made any fuss about it. Debo with me, he had been the engineer for Raging Fyah for years, and he left the band in 2014. So me just stick with me bredren that me know. Because Debo and Gizmo wasn’t in the band I brought them on tour. Imran, who now lives in Slovakia, recorded some of the first songs of mine before I was even in the band. So I brought him on tour. I love them and I want to bring them on tour with me. It’s my first solo tour, so I have to remember the people who pushed me out there. From Robert to Karen to my wife to Gizmo to Chris Chin from VP. To all these people standing behind me. Saying Kumar, “You can do this.”
The Pier: Finally, where can fans expect to see you next as we move into the new year?
Kumar: I have a song coming out with Ponto De Equilíbrio from Brazil. Hopefully I can head out there. Also, next year possibly a US tour. I’m tight lipped about it, but it’s in the process. There’s a lyric video coming for “It’s Alright,” plus a behind-the-scenes of the making of it. 2019 there’s an album coming. And I’ll be doing some festival. It’s a new journey, but I’ll still be singing some of the songs I wrote with Raging Fyah.
The Pier: Big thanks to Kumar for chatting after his show. We’re looking forward to all the new music coming!
Watch: Alborosie – “Unforgiven” ft. Raging Fyah [Metallica Cover]