Maui Arts & Entertainment

The Man Behind the Music: Marty Dread

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Marty Dread, courtesy photo.

Marty Dread, courtesy photo.

By Cassandra Hastu

We recently got a chance to sit and talk story with musician Marty Dread. Here in Hawaiʻi we know him as the friendly “Reggae Ambassador,” but we wanted to dig a little deeper into the man behind the music. Here is what he had to say.

Q: When did you pick up your first instrument? Did you know right away you wanted to be a musician?

A: I wouldn’t call myself an instrument player, mainly a singer and sometimes rapper. I accompany myself on guitar sometimes when I play solo. Mostly I just compose songs on guitar. I first started playing guitar in high school. I knew I wanted to play music when I was very young, maybe age 12 or 13. I did my first real gig as a talent show in high school and was hooked. I cut my teeth as a DJ on the original KAOI reggae radio show in Hawaiʻi which exposed me to all the best music. That experience helped me greatly as a songwriter.

Q: How would you describe your fan base?


A: LOYAL!! The folks who have supported me from way back, are still my fans today. I have done lots of traveling as a singer and the fans worldwide have always been supportive. My strongest fan bases are probably in Brazil, Canada, Tahiti and the west coast.


[flashvideo file= /] Q: You traveled many places and met many people, what is your fondest memory when travelling?

A: There are so many, but probably my first show in Tahiti was the all-time best. I went there to open for Oshen, who at that time had the #1 song in the country, so we were guests of the state. We were treated like royalty everywhere we went.  The day before the big concert, a heavy rain flooded the venue and we had to postpone the show and stay in Tahiti another whole week. We went to a lot of the surrounding islands on our spare time. I love the people of Tahiti very much. The following year, I had the # 1 song in the country. The song was called “Going back to Tahiti” featuring Oshen and Fiji.

Q: Describe Maui and what Maui means to you.


For me Maui means escape from the rest of this crazy world. But one must be careful, because escaping from reality is not wise. It’s easy to slip off into some fantasy of paradise and just waste your days on the beach and drink Mai Tais under a coconut tree, but there is a lot bubbling under the surface here that we cannot avoid. It’s best to be present in the reality and yes, this is a paradise, but with some crucial flaws. Like the GMO issue, and the fact that we can’t dance in most places, or access ancient fishing spots without trespassing, things like that. Pound for pound, however, Maui is the best place I have ever been to hands down.

Q: As a young man who influenced you most? Who influences you now?

A: My dad passed away when I was eight and living on the east coast. Growing up fatherless was hard but when I heard the music of Bob Marley around the time Bob died in 1981, I felt like I had found the father figure I had been lacking. The substance of his words and the lessons therein were like a moral compass or a road map to me. I thank god I discovered his music because I may have turned out to be a very different person than I am today. Music was different back then and I believe I am a better person for being exposed to classic reggae. I still look to the oldies for inspiration.

Q: Your last album had some classic covers, do you think prefer the oldies and what do you think about music and reggae today?

A: There is certain nostalgia to the classic tunes I covered on my last album “Upcountry Boy“.  They were all songs I grew up listening to and they remind me of my youth. Not just reggae but music in general has changed so much in the last couple decades. There are way more artists, way more styles. Virtually anyone with a computer can make an album these days, so quality is not always high. You have to weed through tons of mediocre music to hopefully find the good stuff, which often gets lost in the shuffle. But there are lots of artists still holding true to the tradition of crafting good songs with positive lyrics and strong melody and instrumentation. But they are harder to find these days.

Marty Dread, courtesy photo.

Marty Dread, courtesy photo.

Q: Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

A: I would love to do a song with a living legend of Hawaiian music from Maui like Uncle Richard Hoʻopiʻi or George Kahumoku because I admire so much their longevity and purity of purpose. Holding firm to the tradition of the native style. As I see it, those few are the keepers of the keys to the past . And if we the younger generation don’t learn from them, all will be lost culturally.

Q: Do you think Maui is a good place to create musicians and artists?

A: Maui is the ultimate muse, a very creative place. A writer or musician would find lots of creative energy on Maui. That’s why Maui has so many talented individuals and musicians. It’s all about your surroundings. And Maui certainly has the goods.

Q: What is your advice for aspiring Hawaiian musicians?

Even though I am known as the “Reggae Ambassador,” I think any young aspiring musician from Hawaiʻi should learn Hawaiian music first. Lots of kids that learn instruments in Hawaiʻi learn reggae and pop songs but don’t know the foundation Hawaiian standards. I see a danger there, danger of losing forever something so beautiful and meaningful. When the elders pass away, most of it will pass away with them if the kids don’t learn from them.

Q: What can we expect from Marty Dread in the future?

A: Well, the future is hard to see. I have been feeling a shift in myself regarding recording. I think it will be a while before I get back in the studio. Clearly I need to spend more time promoting the large body of work I have already recorded. I would like to establish a publishing administration deal for myself to get my songs out there into movies and video games and so on. I spend 99% of my energy on the creation of music and no time on promotion of it so that is my current focus. So thank you for having me on Maui Now so that I can let people know more about me and my music.

***Marty Dread can be found online at his website, Twitter feed, on Facebook and Instagram.

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