Socially conscious singer-songwriter Sizzla Kalonji is one of the most prolific and commercially and critically successful contemporary reggae artists of all time. He is a Grammy nominee with a catalog of over 70 albums, but he remains an enigmatic figure in the music industry at large.
The August Town, Jamaica-based artist rarely grants interviews and makes only select live performances, but, on any given day, he can be easily found in the community center he established, the Judgment Yard, milling around with the locals and mentoring young artists in the facilities’ state of the art studio
“I am not a person for the camera, that’s not me. I’m humble, do my work, and let the music speak for me,” Sizzla says.“The love of the people keeps me going, and seeing how I can sooth and heal a world in crisis drives me forward.”
Sizzla is a fiery and prolific writer who’s always pushing himself to explore fresh and fertile creative territory. Not merely a reggae artist, he’s shamanistic musician with a distinct identity that’s fluid across many genres. In his work, he’s explored pop, urban, R&B, soul hip-hop, and all strains of Jamaican roots music, including dancehall and lilting roots reggae. “It doesn’t matter if it’s R&B, reggae, dancehall, and hip-hop—we are all one family—we all use music to express struggles and freedom, and we inspire each other much like a cultural exchange,” Sizzla shares.
Hallmarks of his aesthetic include his expansive range as a vocalist, and his poetic and purposeful lyrics. Sizzla is a boundlessly talented vocalist equally adept at conjuring a burly militant flow with rhythmic cadences, machinegun-quick rhyming, and smoothly emotive pop palpable singing. He’s also a cornerstone artist in a new wave of musicians rediscovering core Rastafarian values. His lyrics are spiritual, political, and socially conscious.
Never content to merely sing about change, Sizzla embodies change. In 2006, he established his own record label to free himself from what he deems is a corrupt and oppressive system. “I’ve seen too many people sign away their rights, and, at the end of the day, have nothing for themselves. If I am the artist, I should be recognized as such, and be able to record when the vibe hits me,” he explains.
Further testament to this bold enterprising spirit is Judgment Yard, the community center and studio Sizzla built on the site of his father’s garage where Sizzla learned the trade of being a mechanic. Judgment Yard is hub of positive creativity for the community, the youth, and Sizzla.
“I can remember as a young artist walking the streets the whole day baking in the sun while looking for a place to record. No one gave me a break. This is a place to give back through offering people a chance to record,” he says.
Sizzla grew up in the 1980s, during the dancehall music boom. Surrounding him was a formative dissonance of Rastafarian ideals set against the violent and drug-riddled culture of Jamaica. His parents were devout Rastafarians, and, as early as nine years of age, he began chronicling his surroundings with an uplifting commentary style songwriting.
Sizzla burst forth on the world music scene in 1995, and two years later had his commercial and critical breakthrough with the album Black Woman & Child(Brickwall Records) produced by Robert "Bobby Digital" Dixon. The stirring title track in particular became a smash, and something of a cultural reggae anthem. Other standouts from the album include “Like Mountain," "Babylon Cowboy," "Kings of the Earth," and the Luciano duet "Build a Better World.” Black Woman & Childnetted him his first nomination for “Best International Reggae Artist of the Year” at the 1998 MOBO Awards and positioned him in various magazines' top 100 albums of the year. This began a successful streak that continues to this day. In his 70-album body of work, 21 of his albumshave made it onto the Billboard's Top Reggae Albums music chart. In 2014, his album The Messiah earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Reggae Album.”
Up next, Sizzla will harness the breadth of his profile to start a charitable organization to give back to children, families, the sick, and the hungry, continuing the mission of his music and his life’s work. He says conclusively: “It’s my duty to unshackle people from physical and mental slavery and to make the world a better place.”