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MSU professor nominated for Grammy

December 6, 2010

Professor of ethnomusicology and reggae artist Isaac “King Isaac” Kalumbu explains the roots of reggae music to his students Monday morning in a classroom on the garden level of the International Center.

Photo by Sam Mikalonis | The State News

When MSU professor Isaac Kalumbu recorded his first reggae song in Jamaica in 1998, he was a budding musician and writer chasing a dream.

When the Zimbabwe native, who is a professor of ethnomusicology, was nominated for best reggae album for the 2011 Grammy Awards earlier this month, he said his music career might change forever.

“I would be very thankful (to win the Grammy),” Kalumbu said. “There’s no way to tell what’s going to happen. They nominated six very strong albums — all very accomplished musicians. I am optimistic but I’m not unaware that the competition is very stiff.”

The album, “Isaacs meets Isaac,” was released in March and features 12 songs in the lovers rock genre — noted for its romantic sound and lyrics. It is competing against albums from reggae heavyweights Bob Sinclair, Sly & Robbie (nominated twice) and Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Kalumbu, known on stage as King Isaac, came to MSU in 1997 to teach in the College of Music. In 2008, he moved to teach in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities.

Currently, he’s involved in the Visiting International Professionals Program, or VIPP, and leads the Music, History, and Culture of Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas in Jamaica’s study abroad program.

Michael Miller, director of VIPP, said Kalumbu brings a certain enthusiasm to the classroom and to the VIPP program, and it’s an honor for Kalumbu to be associated with MSU.

“(I was) talking with students the other day and they singled him out as one of the instructors they appreciated a lot,” Miller said. “He adds a dimension to our program that we’ve been missing. … Hopefully, he wins.”

Cheryl Benner, communications manger for the Office of Study Abroad, said the nomination is a great opportunity for Kalumbu, and she’s excited for him.

“It’s something we can be proud of, whether it be from a faculty member or a student who took part in a life-changing experience — it’s exciting,” Benner said.

It was in Jamaica that he met reggae legend Gregory Issacs in 2004. They became friends and at Isaacs’ request, they collaborated to record “Isaacs Meets Isaac,” Kalumbu said.

Isaacs, known as Cool Ruler, died in October of lung cancer. Kalumbu said it was an honor to work with someone he has admired since he was 14 years old, and he was thankful to have been able to record with him.

“Gregory Isaacs is known as the king of lovers rock,” he said. “(He was famous for his) nice, catchy and persuasive songs that were intelligently written.”

Kalumbu said winning a Grammy for his work would be a testament to his writing and would be a step toward having his music distributed by a major record company.

He said he plans on attending the ceremony, which takes place on Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, and hopes the Grammy nomination will allow him to continue making music and get more exposure.

“You can’t not be there,” he said. “If I won, it would bring notoriety to my writing and it would be a major endorsement to my singing. (It would be) such an awesome honor if I won it.”

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