88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Ital-K of Ital Rhythms
Having been in the radio industry for over 30 years, Ital-K is well known worldwide in the reggae community. In this interview Ital-K, host of Ital Rhythms on 88.1 KDHX, discuses the depths of reggae culture and music as he lives it, his connection to the Marley family and how he plans to bring quality reggae acts to St. Louis for 2011.
“Part of my goal is to make KDHX and even stronger force,” Ital says, “not only in the community here in St. Louis but worldwide.”
A few weeks ago I met with Ital-K on a Wednesday evening at the St. Louis Bread Company located on the Delmar Loop. The sun was starting its ritual of winding down for the day as the crowd of clocked-out professionals and after-hours students quietly filled the restaurant. In this setting Ital-K (the K standing for Kevin) shared with me his roots in reggae music and what he considers to be the “musical arc of the covenant.”
Dannie Boyd: Where did everything start for you music wise?
Ital-K: Music wise (pauses). That’s a generic question. But music wise, it’s from birth. I’ve been playing music on the turntable since [I was] at least six years old. I’ve always been involved with music; it’s a part of my blood. I was born into it and I’m so blessed to have been. Here in America, [involved] 30 years professionally. I’ve worked in New York, [and] I worked in Florida for 20 years. I’ve had very, very high ratings. Number one ratings for several years. Rated number one station playing Caribbean music every night of the week over night, seven nights a week. I’ve had a lot of experience.
How did you come up with the name “Ital-K?”
Ital is a name that was blessed to me from members of my community when I was in Florida. As I am a Rastaman, there is a very popular phrase that says “Ital is vital” and that was transferred to me. The “K” represents my first name which is Kevin. Instead of saying “Ital Kevin” it’s “Ital-K” for short. Ital is a word that means natural. Nothing artificial, no preservatives. Knowing that, the music that I play and the manner that you get it in is real [and] authentic; not imitating anybody. It’s all natural. Right from the almighty Jah Rastafari.
What’s been the road for you as far as getting to where you are on KDHX and how you got your show started?
When I came to St. Louis I was always involved with volunteering. I’ve been a firm believer in volunteering since I’ve been in America. [It's] something that I’ve done for over 30 years. It’s a part of service unto the almighty. We all have to do one thing which is service to mankind and to each other. I got started on KDHX because when I came to St. Louis three years ago I looked to get involved with radio. Radio is what I’ve done for 30 years so that’s what I wanted to continue doing. Reggae music is what I’m known for professionally [and] worldwide. I came to St. Louis and saw that there was a small Caribbean community here, and there was an acceptance of the music. KDHX was the only place [as an independent radio station] in town so it’s only natural that I’m here. I’m glad to be on KDHX. There’s no station like it.
Do you have any ties or connections with the Marley family?
Yeah! My connection with the Marley family runs very, very deep. It all started before me. It’s 1979, my mentor in broadcasting Clint O’Neil. He was in Miami, Florida and was very, very, very close to Bob Marley. Clint was the only DJ besides David Rodigan in England who Bob Marley recorded jingles for. Clint has five of them. Five authentic jingles from Bob Marley, no other DJ has it. Bob and Clint were very tight. I met and started working with Clint in 1996. In that time period, for nine years, we were rated number one overnight, including all of the commercial radio stations in Miami.
Clint passed in 2004 and in that time period I was a member of the Grammys, and I attended the Grammys in 2004 when Damian Marley created history-winning two Grammys in one setting. I was one of the few amount of people that was there to see that. I’ve always been a fan of the Marleys. I know all of them. When Ziggy came here to St. Louis two years ago I went out to a Barnes & Noble in Chesterfield where he was promoting his new album called B is for Bob. Ziggy was playing his acoustic guitar and singing “Three Little Birds,” and as Ziggy was singing I was giving him vocal backing. As Ziggy was singing I was toasting and we were rhyming and having a great vibe. So Ital-K and the Marley connection, very, very, very firm, make no mistake.
Can you give a description of the type of music that you play on your show?
The music that I play is taken from what I call the “musical arc of the covenant.” We cover everything in the music from its inception. [Everything] from slavery, from mento which is the early form of reggae music through ska, rock steady, reggae itself. [Also] roots reggae which is what we specialize in, dub, lover’s rock, steppers, rub a dub, the whole works we deal with it. But the only thing we do not play on “Ital Rhythms,” we do not play any music which is disrespectful of the black woman or women — period. We do not play any music like that and we do not play any artists who sing vulgarity towards women. We don’t condone that anytime.
If you look at mainstream [music] everybody sort of lumps reggae as one big genre and it’s clear that there are many subgenres of reggae. Could you give a description of what the different subgenres are in reggae?
There are many subgenres of reggae music. You’ve got reggae dancehall, reggae bashment, reggae jazz, Spanish reggae, latin reggae. Every culture in the world today has a flavor of reggae music. Within the musical arc of the covenant we can feature songs played by reggae musicians and reggae fans worldwide, worldwide! Some of the places you think I’m playing reggae music you’d be surprised. They are playing it and playing it loud!
Do you find any type of stereotypes with Caribbean culture or reggae culture that you think should be addressed?
There are many things within the Caribbean culture that have been stereotyped by society today, one of which is the dreadlocks. The dreadlocks is a covenant that one takes when you decided that you are going [to] follow in the righteous path and following god’s teachings. The use of it today, I’m seeing it worldwide not only here in St. Louis, but the youths of today like to wear saggy underwear, expose their behind, wear dreadlocks and commit crime. That has absolutely nothing to do with the Rastafari and I as a Rastaman frown on that and dislike people who like to disrespect the Rastafari culture.
Are you still co-hosting with Erica Lewis?
No. Actually, my birth at KDHX was in 2008, August 23. We both got to host a show called “Midnite Rockers.” I knew about Erica prior to coming to St. Louis. It was a great opportunity for me to work with somebody who was known here. I respect and give her the utmost respect to this minute. Actually, last night we were fundraising. We support 100 percent each others activities. It’s a real brother and sisterly love combination here in St. Louis. We started on “Midnite Rockers” [for] a year and a half or a year and a quarter. It was January this year when we were both given our own programs. She kept Friday night 11 o’clock, I moved to Tuesday night and got a new program “Ital Rhythms.”
If someone wanted to experience the reggae culture, the Caribbean culture or hear reggae music where can they go in the city of St. Louis?
That’s a tough question because not all businesses or concert venues here in St. Louis are receptive to bringing good reggae acts here to St. Louis. That’s the key. It’s not just a reggae act, it’s a good quality reggae act and that’s what’s really necessary. There are some people who want a certain type of reggae music which is not really authentic. If it’s not really authentic then you don’t want it. If you see something that’s fake in life, you’re not going to pickup something fake, you want the real thing. So that’s what’s necessary here, for certain concerts areas to bring real authentic reggae acts here to St. Louis and it can flourish. It has a potential. People love reggae music, especially here in St. Louis.
From the time that you first got involved with reggae music how do you think it’s changed over the years?
It’s changed a lot with generations. The generation that I’m a part of we love and respect the core foundation of reggae music. The youth of today, the mid 20s or 30-year-old youth they tend to go for reggae music with a beat. They’re not really concentrating on the lyrics. It’s just the beat, and there’s a lot of profanity and bad language and lyrics that are being said. The music has taken a turn. It’s good to see though, on the contrast, that elders who started this music like Monty Alexander are still around today making great music. In fact, Monty Alexander has a song called “Sneaky Steppers” which I use as my opening theme song. That’s enough of a statement to show honorable respect to people like: Monty Alexander, Jackie Mittoo, Sugar Minott, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Peter Tosh, Garnet Silk, Jacob Miller.
Are there any specific artists that you approve of or that you feel should have the most recognition?
The most recognition right now goes to the foundation artists because they’re the ones who started this thing. A lot of people I’m finding now-a-days are fans of the music but do not know much of the music from its roots, and its roots are the core. The roots music, the foundation of reggae music is the sweetest music that there is because reggae music is know as a Rastaman chant. That [foundation of reggae] was the words of the Rastaman that was put to song. The pain, suffering, tribulation that the Rastaman went through. The killings the murders that Rastafarians went through, the oppression that they went through. All of those times and pains and feelings and expression were put into song and that’s what created reggae music, what we know now. Some people don’t see it that way but that was taken from the root.
Are you still hosting on the BBC?
Actually, I’m hosting a show here also in St. Louis called English Pound Radio. It’s a weekly show right here from St. Louis on Sundays from 9 a.m. to midday central time. Three hours on a Sunday morning. The BBC, I’ve worked with them before. Many things have happened with me myself. I’ve been involved in a Smithsonian Institution Festival that was on parade for three years showcasing rastafari in the 2010 century. I was a big part of that. So yeah I’ve been around.
Outside of reggae, what other genres of music do you listen too?
I love all forms of music provided that it’s not offensive, but mostly instrumental. Jazz is one of the musical art forms that I love to listen too. The reason why is [because of] jazz artists from back in the day [such as]: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, those type of artist. When they sang you didn’t hear any type of foolishness in the instrumentals that were used. Count Basie, all of those guys used pure instrumentation. Their lyrics live on forever. That’s part of the foundation.
How do you feel about musicians that are using programs like ProTools to create music rather than using actual instruments?
I find that they’ve actually destroyed the music because the quality of the music has disappeared. Producing music is an art form. From production, it’s not a one-man show. When you produce a song there are many people involved and many people have to give it a specific touch. That’s why once again my preference is with the oldies and the roots music because that was the genre. [That was] the real time of reggae music when reggae music was at its finest because you had pure musicians playing everything; not like today when you get one man on his laptop.
From the beginning of reggae as with almost any other genre you had artists that fought to get their music distributed through a mainstream outlet, and now that reggae has become more mainstream how do you feel the mainstream has affected reggae music?
Too me mainstream has really watered down music because what the big labels are passing off as reggae music is really pop music. For example Shaggy, he’ll tell you himself that he’s not known as a reggae artist, he’s more of a pop artist. He doesn’t sing roots tunes. He’ll sing a few reggae tunes. He’s mostly a dancehall artist but he brands himself as a pop artist because that’s what he appeals too. He doesn’t appeal to the hardcore reggae fan, he appeals to pop artists.
Do you just do DJing or do you do music production or any other type of activities involving music?
Yeah. I do not only hosting, I do production, engineering and also video, light and sound. Mostly things that deal with media I do a lot of, especially marketing.
Do you have any type of education in media or is that sort of a hobby of yours?
Music really is my hobby. Reggae music is my hobby. That’s my life, that’s what I do as a Rastaman. That’s my mission that Jah has blessed me to do. I know I have a unique talent and that talent is what I do, so I really don’t stray far from what I do. I stick with what I do best and what I do best is spreading the music of Rastafari through I and I to the ears of the people.
How do you promote yourself?
(pauses) I don’t do any promoting. I think that the problem [social issues] does its own promotion. Plus the listeners themselves worldwide they do the promoting for me. And the almighty he does the rest.
When you’re not DJing or working with music what hobbies do you have in your spare time?
In my spare time I spend quality time with my wife and my two pets because that’s the foundation. Your home is where you live, it’s your foundation. [What] you’re supposed to do as a man, a black man, [is] to set an example. You have to set an example and I lead by example. It’s not just talk it’s action. My home, my palace is where I live [and] it’s where I’m most comfortable. I spend whatever free time I have with my wife and with my pets; I have two dogs. I’m also close to my children. I’ve got four children in college at the same time, all of them on scholarships. I’ll be attending two graduations in two weeks. That’s what I do in my spare time. I’m all about family.
How do you feel about the current social issues of today, whether it’s involving African Americans, black people in general or any other ethnicity relate to reggae music and the struggles that are portrayed in reggae music?
All forms of humanity have experienced suffering and know suffering. The voice of reggae music is all about expressing the pain that the Rastaman has felt at the hands of the oppressors, both white and black. Many people of today can relate to the pressure that the rastaman has been singing about for years. The style of life the Rastaman lives, the vegetarian natural life, that’s been apart of our life for years. It’s only now catching on, but we’ve been doing that for years. Simple remedies that cure the natural ailments that we have, it’s all in the music and our lifestyle, it’s within our culture. Because society has recognized not only the powers of reggae music but the culture in itself, society is now trying to change itself from being stuck on taking 20 pills a day to a more natural lifestyle. And that’s what I [already] live.
How do you feel about the current state of Jamaica, which is the home of reggae music?
I have mixed emotions about what’s happening Jamaica. Crime, they’ve got a skin bleaching issue, they’ve got political issues, economical and social issues. From that aspect I’m not happy to hear that. But I always think about the beautiful side of Jamaica, it’s people and it’s culture. That’s what makes me happy. Whenever I go down to Jamaica I know where to go and I always know how to have a good time and enjoy my homeland because it’s my home. So when I go home I know where to go and where to have a good time and I make the most of what Jah has blessed Jamaica with. The best place on earth.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced to get to the point that your at now?
The biggest obstacle (pauses). I would say is respect and support. (pauses). Unity is also an important factor. I do what I do and I’m here to promote reggae music and the beauty of people worldwide and to showcase the very best of people here in St. Louis so that the world can hear. As I said, I’m known around the world and I put out a positive message about St. Louis. That’s part of my purposes. Unity and respect, it’s lacking but one has to lead by example. Whatever is negative I and I as a Rastaman turn it into a positive and concur that.
What goals do you have for the year of 2011?
Part of my goal is to make KDHX and even stronger force, not only in the community here in St. Louis but worldwide. Also, to spend more time bringing quality shows to St. Louis. I know all of the major reggae artists. The people in the reggae industry I’m known to them. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to bring a very exciting package to St. Louis for 2011.
How do you feel about the proposed budget cuts for public media?
Well that’s just typical of the system because anything that’s positive they always try to concur it. The so-called politicians can find a couple of trillion dollars to go to war but yet our children here don’t have food to eat, clothes to put on their back, as well a community outlets for them to get the fair, unbiased and apolitical viewpoint. Those things that we cherish as a society this schutzen is taking it from us piece by piece. So no, I’m not happy to see what’s happening, but it’s for the people to recognize what’s happening and all of us stand up together because one person can’t do it alone. It’s got to be a united effort and a united voice.
To sum up the interview, how would you describe the Ital-K identity?
The Ital-K identity is one of pure natural. It’s natural and it’s love. It’s an identity where if you have any negative intentions in you it can pick it up from a distance without saying a word. It’s positive, it’s full of love. If you embrace love you’ll get love in return. What you put out is what you get back. If you’ve got positive things to say and interact with I and I feel free to do so. If you’re negative stay away! I want to attract positive people and that’s what I’m bringing here to St. Louis. So if you’re positive, come on board Ital Rhythms has some great music like you’ve never heard before. If it comes from England or if it comes from Jamaica you know that Ital has got it. That’s why it’s called the musical arc of the covenant. You’re welcome to come on in 11 o’clock Tuesday nights, pure niceness guaranteed.