Glimmers of light illuminated the room as his voice eased the atmosphere. Soothing and soulful, he sang the lyrics: It’s a blessing to see people/ with their heads up to the sky still.

As if they were asked to, members of the audience held their cell phones up toward the sky. Like the title of the song, it was “Beautiful.” Serenading the crowd, he continued singing the lyrics: I put my lighter in the air for you/ I see what you doing, yeah I see what you going through/ I put my lighter in the air, the truth is you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful.

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Swaying from side to side, the audience, moving together in sync with the music, looked and felt like a tribute to humanity as singer, songwriter and music producer Kortney Jamaal Pollard walked the stage singing: Now put your lighter in the air for us/ Put your lighter in the air for love its beautiful/beautiful. Despite the usual competitiveness seen on the “American Idol” stage, Pollard, known artistically as Mali Music,  demonstrated the characteristics of a true idol: inspiring, talented and socially and culturally aware.

Though he was born in Phoenix, Arizona, Mali Music grew up playing the piano in his church in Savannah, Georgia. In fact, he wrote his first full length song at only 8 years old. From there, his love for music flourished. Creating a Myspace page and writing his own songs, Mali Music first entered the music industry as a Gospel artist. “I was able to fall in love with God as a friend, rather than this scary man that would strike me down if I did something bad,” he told Essence Magazine. “I want to represent Him in a way that that offers hope and peace in a world where we need it. That’s why I make music.” Interestingly, his music is not preachy nor is it confined to the Christian Music industry. After performing on BET’s “Music Matters,” Mali Music found himself eating and talking with Akon and other mainstream artists. Not wanting to confine himself or his message to one single group of people, he signed with RCA Records. Though disappointing to some, Mali Music was and is proud of this change. “I don’t think think the sound transitioned into a more secular sound,” he told Ebony. “I believe the sound already was evolved. I wanted to be able to relate and connect with more people. So I pulled back on the speed and focused on making everything said and done digestible and clear. And that broadened my platform.”

mal1Today, the mainstream artist’s music is as broad as his influences (which include Sam Cooke, Drake, Bilal, James Brown and Fred Hammond). A blend of reggae, soul, blues, country and alternative, the music is always socially conscious. Calling himself the love child of legendary reggae king Bob Marley and indie folk pop queen Regina Spektor, Mali Music is as much a storyteller as he is a musician. His songs, no matter how entertaining, are life stories. One of my favorite songs, “Ready Aim,” is about overcoming all resistance to change as we transition through life. The music video shows Mali Music’s transitions as well as that of an assumed homeless man. The chorus, backed by an electric, techno sound repeats a mantra that is as encouraging as it is hype: Ready, aim, fire, you can’t shoot me down. “Heavy Love,” a reggae sounding love song exemplifies and encourages stronger relationships and unbreakable bonds. Regardless of the topic or sound, Mali Music embodies life stories that all people can relate to. It’s for this very reason that he’s intent on writing all of his songs. He’s also written songs and produced some music for Jennifer Hudson. In addition to singing, writing songs, and rapping, Mali Music plays the piano, acoustic guitar and electric bass.

Kortney Jamaal Pollard is the kind of artist that aims to change the world. Sure, the fame is nice and the platform is great, but his vision is even greater. In his interview with Ebony Magazine, the way he described what he plans to do in the next 5 years says so much about who he is. “I will travel, write books, do documentaries–whatever I have to do capture the attention of the lost who desire to be found. We are strong, we are talented, but we are a lost and broken generation, and my [heart] beats to the relief of this epidemic.” Seems heavy for a 27 year old, right? But take note: Pollard isn’t all serious all the time. In between crushing on Rihanna and making super silly videos with his sister, Mali Music is a quirky, free spirited millennial artist that sings in the shower while writing songs via the voice app on his phone and is always up for a freestyle competition.

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In his own way, Mali Music (which is a play on his middle name Jamaal) is like an urban griot telling his stories through song. “It’s not just about surviving, paying your taxes, doing what you do to pay rent, and calling that life,” he told I Groove Radio. “It’s about living, thriving, and prospering. It’s about following those pure, innate impulses to realize your full potential.” That’s what his music makes you feel: potential, inspiration and dreams coming alive. That’s why he was just nominated for a Grammy. Like Maya Angelou said “people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Anyone who’s ever listened to Mali Music can attest that the warmth of his voice and the spirit of his music is surely unforgettable.

-Sharita Gilmore

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