14-year-old Kairo McLean may seem like your typical middle schooler; he enjoys playing soccer, video games, and spending time with friends. But Kairo is far from average. In 2022 Kairo’s debut EP Easy Now received the 2022 JUNO award for Reggae Recording of the Year making him the youngest person in JUNOS history to receive the recognition.
Growing up in a musical family, reggae music was a major part of Kairo’s upbringing and home life. At just three years old, Kairo picked up the drums, showcasing his undeniable aptitude for music. By age six, he had already expanded his musical talents, playing acoustic guitar and performing professionally at local reggae music festivals.
His parents, who both have roots in Jamaica, instilled in him a deep familiarity and connection with the history of reggae, which he has absorbed and translated into his own unique sound. ‘”Good Life” by Cocoa Tea is one of my core memories in music,” Kairo told CBC Music. “That as well as “Stir It Up,” and a lot of other songs by Bob Marley. I also remember hearing Super Cat, and the old ’80s DJs. All of them make up my musical memories and I draw influences from them to this day.”
Kairo’s musical inspirations are decidedly old-school, drawing heavily from reggae legends like Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, and Gregory Isaacs. “It’s hard to pinpoint one person who I can say has influenced me the most,” Kairo told CARAS. “Reggae is more of a melting pot. I find that sometimes I might sound a little bit more like Bob Marley there versus here. And sometimes I sound more like Dennis Brown…”
A reggae connoisseur, Kairo’s knowledge and appreciation for the genre extends far beyond the surface level. His expertise includes the history of the music, past records, musicians, producers and sound systems, details that only a true reggae aficionado would know. “I like the culture, you know? The energy around it. It’s larger than life almost. It’s grandiose.” Kairo shared.
Only one year following his historic win, Kairo is nominated once again, this time for his single “In The Streets” and collaboration with JUNO-winning artist Kirk Diamond on the track “Reggae Party.” When asked what these nominations mean to him Kairo explained, “It means that Canada appreciates reggae and its peaceful message of positivity and I thank everybody.”
Freedom, justice, and love are major themes present in all of Kairo’s music. On his JUNO nominated single he sings, “The children are dying in the streets / The soldiers are bawling in defeat / The people are zombies on their feet / They say, the people just keep crying. ” When asked where he draws the inspiration for his music Kairo explained, “we are a news-watching family so what I see on the news is what I sing about. I find these are the problems that we need to focus on.”
For a teenager, Kairo McLean is wise beyond his years. At just 14 years old he has already accomplished what many artists do in a lifetime. With his unique sound, powerful messages, and unwavering dedication to his craft, Kairo is sure to continue making waves in the music industry and reggae community for years to come.
Feature image: Kairo McLean at the JUNO Opening Night Awards. Photo credit: Matt Barnes