Mark Clennon makes a bold statement in ‘Kingston’
Toronto-based R&B recording artiste Mark Clennon is finding himself through music even as he contends with conflicting cultures and realities. In his latest single, Kingston, he pays homage to the city of his birth and also reveals a bit of himself.
“Firstly, I want people to understand that I’m a Jamaican, born and raised there, and my ancestors are Jamaican and have come up in the same struggle of a Third World country. The other side of the song is expressing a relationship – meeting someone, getting to know the person and seeing what happens – and that mystery surrounding Kingston city,” Clennon told The Sunday Gleaner.
“Kingston means so much to me as it’s the first song I’ve written that directly addresses a same-sex partner as opposed to the more general terms I have used in the past,” he disclosed.
Clennon says that his parents discovered that he was struggling with his sexual identity when he was 15 years old but “did not bother to address it”, and he, too, was in denial. It was around the same time that he migrated to the US, then Canada, and again battled to find a balance between his Jamaican roots and assimilating in Toronto.
“At that age, of course, they did not address it, but when I was 21, it came up again, and I allowed them to take their time to understand. I only came out to my sister when the song and music video was released, and she would have said she had a thought but never knew. All around, despite being religious, I have received some of the most sincere support,” the singer shared.
The song is accompanied by a bold video. Clennon explained: “I wanted to do the song and have it [supported] with a video that embodied the essence of the landscape and culture that includes the music fused with equal parts of pop. What I like is that it is a traditional pop song in every sense of the word with a bit of Caribbean flair. I also know that people don’t have an idea of what a gay man is, and the video just shows two men riding around the city, having fun.”
He further explained that the video aimed to focus on the human side of its subjects. “The images our diaspora and the world sees are of violence, struggle, and really dark situations, and I wanted to show and give people a more optimistic view. It’s not only for people who are homophobic to see a more positive representation of gay people, but I also think it’s important for Jamaicans or people in the Caribbean who never see themselves positively represented,” he shared.
The thriving R&B scene in the North American city motivates Clennon, though he often feels stuck between two cultures and realities and is constantly trying to figure out how to bring together both sides. His breakthrough single, Blood, released in 2016, was his first exposure to success and press attention. It was geared towards the international audience.
He said: “Jamaica’s capital, our island on a whole, has a reputation. It’s not always positive talk – even with my Canadian friends – when I reveal where I’m from. It always comes as a surprise for more than one reason.”
Born into a musical family, Clennon was inspired by his father, who was a Trench Town-bred saxophone player, and his brother’s success as a dancehall producer. Before realising he wanted to do music, piano lessons and vocal training were a part of a normal routine as a child. He participated in pantomimes while growing up, and that influenced his theatrical approach to music, which today is reflected in the aesthetics and choreography of his music videos and on stage. For the past seven years, the crooner has been delivering honest and empowering lyrics in his powerful compositions. He is now ready to bare it all and advocate for others like himself.
“From the age of four, my mother had me participating in extra-curricular activities with a focus [on] music, but at that age, it is something you just do, but as I got older, it became a part of who I was, and I enjoyed it. Before then, my family would have recognised my potential,” he said.
“I was always writing songs, but throughout my professional career, I try to do songs that anyone in the world can understand, and at the same time, I like to maintain my Jamaican culture. So far, it’s all been positive, and I am thankful for the support. Jamaica is still very much a part of me, and I continue to come home to visit and for inspiration. Kingston is an optimistic song that reminds us that things can always change for the better. I expect that persons who are able to understand will like it and relate to it without focusing too much on the controversial side to it. I believe people will say it’s a good song then see the controversial aspects of it,” Clennon continued.