KAMAU Mbonisi Kwame Agyeman—which literally means quiet warrior, affectionately called, little brother by his father, has always been a passionate and creative soul. His path in life seemed to be almost certain from birth. As a child KAMAU was very original and slightly unorthodox. Little brother was known to be always friendly with a wacky, witty sense of humor; deeply meditative, and possessing a strong sense of intellectual independence. Ironically, the beautiful, odd and abstract sounds of gibberish we hear in KAMAU’s music, was at times, a source of parental irritation, at least around the dinner table.
A native of Washington, D.C., currently residing in Brooklyn, New York, KAMAU was raised in Upper Marlboro, a subdivision of Prince Georges County, Maryland. At home, his parents emphasized the importance and value of family and culture. These two concepts would form the cornerstone of KAMAU’s musical philosophy. Later, these principles would be reinforced by his initial academic experience at Ujamaa Shule (school), an independent private school in Washington, D.C., founded upon the ideas and basic values of the Nguzo Saba (seven principles). At Ujamaa, KAMAU experienced culture and family outside of the home, as well as the sound and rhythm of the African drums. KAMAU and his siblings would eventually graduate from Frederick Douglass high school in Upper Marlboro, MD; but remained a part of the Ujamaa family, attending and participating in local community celebrations, which exposed them to a variety of African instrumentals like the djembe, fontomfrom, dundun and donno—the calabash, bara and gita gourd—the mbira, balaphone—and of course, the high pitch vocals of ululation.
As a child, KAMAU found daily inspiration within his home. Always tuned in to his surroundings, even while at play, he could hear his mother’s voice singing in the background— She would become his first favorite singer. The Sunday morning atmosphere in the Agyeman home was a jubilant time. His parents would rise early, filling the atmosphere with the spicy-sweet aroma of freshly prepared vegetarian meals. Dad would invigorate the household with joyful, inspiring and often passionate music from around the world. Hugh Masakela, Vieux Diop, Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, Des’ree, and numerous other renowned artist would serenade the family’s breakfast time. The volume always set at a festive level.
Creativity and imagination were always encouraged and nurtured by his parents. As a child, KAMAU and his siblings were captivated by the personalized extemporaneous bedtime stories narrated by their father—featuring KAMAU and his siblings as heroes. Like most children’s stories, the setting was always some far off land—mystical, exotic and adventurous.
KAMAU is the expression and extension of a strong loving family that commonly offered abode to friends and relatives through the years. It was during his time of occupancy, that Cordell, KAMAU’s cousin helped him to conceive rap as a craft. The relationship KAMAU shares with his siblings were among his strongest adolescent influence. The three Agyeman siblings were very popular in high school sports as well. His elder brother Kwasi, a resilient, savvy minded sibling is an accomplished artist in his own right, who works closely with his brother. N’jeri, KAMAU’s tenacious, tough-mined little sister, holds a BS degree in business from Manhattanville College in White Plains, New York. N’jeri is a model, fashion stylist and owner of ArtsyJunkie.com.
KAMAU and his siblings were always urged to reason for themselves, to find the answers. With a father that loved the outdoors, nature was frequently proposed as a great place to learn. Philosophy, history and poetry were common themes in KAMAU’s natal environment, however, practical truths were the rule. There was no substitute for a strong work ethic. KAMAU’s mother worked a number of traditional jobs. His father served as a career firefighter, arson investigator and real-estate investor, who sought practical hands-on methods, as well as simple, fun educational tools, such as family board games (Cash Flow, Monopoly, etc.) and books to convey basic business concepts in the home.
While there are a number of artist and musicians who have had an impact on KAMAU’s music, it would be a mistake to limit his musical and artistic expression to a single field of influence. KAMAU has always had an intuitive sense—capable of extracting sounds and images from his environment to create his unique style of music. His love for warrior cultures of the world, universal principle, nature, family and ancestral legacy, are also a part of his musical make-up. His often playful and light-hearted sounds convey thought provoking messages. As a graduate with a BA degree in film, from Pratt institute in Brooklyn, New York, KAMAU has a way of integrating various genres of theater into his sound. His appreciation for all forms of art is evident in both his music and his person.
KAMAU’s voice spans a range of instrumental and natural sounds that lay the framework of his music. His intricate use of free vocal expression, unique sounds outside of spoken word, percussion, beatbox, integrated vocal gibberish, doo-wop and stacked ad-libs within verse, all lend themselves to a very unique and spirited style of musical expression. The music of KAMAU’s childhood, though heavily indigenous, African/African-American, also reflected the sounds and rhythms of many other cultures, including the serene, peaceful sounds of nature. Morning meditation, frankincense and myrrh, yoga and martial arts, the spirit of the quiet warrior—KAMAU’s music reflects both past and present, offering encouragement for the future—a natural multicultural fusion of sound. It is, at its core, an attempt to bring balance and unite all things.
Some of the more noticeable influences on KAMAU’s music are Vieux Diop, Hugh Masakela, Lauryn Hill, Tracy Chapman, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Andre 3000, Roop Kumar Rathod, Tupac Shakur, Heavy D, Sade, Lupe Fiasco, Asa, Hans Zimmer, Ipi Ntombi, The Temptations, Des’ree, Donnie McClurkin, Al Jarreau, Sammy Davis Jr., Vieux Farka Toure, Issa Bagayogo, Boby Mcferrin, Mystic Warriors, Keiko Matsui, Yanni, Arrested Development, 50 cent, John Legend, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, K-os, Two Steps from Hell and K’naan and many others.
While KAMAU’s love and broad concept of family is reflected in his music, it is demonstrated in his practice. In college he founded the RoNiN CiRCLE, a kinship of creatives that support each other and cultivates communal and individual growth within crafts and life in general. KAMAU’s ultimate, collective desire is summed up in his special brand of kuumba (creativity): to consciously contribute something as great and beautiful as our existence to the world and “to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community [and world] more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”
Support and personal thanks
Aside from his biological family, there have been a number stepping stones along KAMAU’s musical path—who without, the journey would have been nearly impossible. The artistic precision and patience of Erick Cespedes has been invaluable to my development as an artist. My friendship with Abudu Nininger has been indispensable in maintaining my personal equilibrium. Michael Marantz was instrumental in reinforcing a love of cinema through music. The individual persistence of Chet Green along with the insight of BiGCiTYBiGCiTY helped to revolutionize the way I viewed and presented words. No Wyld was instrumental in reminding me of the importance of openness in collaboration. At a very crucial time in my thought process, a serendipitous encounter withOddisee, led to a binding friendship, support and refuge that reminded me of the importance of family and that, true growth involves the entire body. The wisdom he shared evoked values I grew up with, and the emphasis on family resonated deeply. There are so many others not mentioned but who have equally contributed to my journey.