"When I'd travel back and forth from school, it was his voice blasting through my headphones," he says.

If it wasn't for a seven-day trip to Jamaica, Maluma may have stopped singing.

The reggaeton star, born Juan Luis Londoño Arias, had traveled there in Jan. 2020. After years of non-stop work, Maluma was tired. He felt like he could give it all up. Thankfully, the 27-year-old star found exactly what he needed in the Caribbean island: a genuine connection with the culture and people of Jamaica (not to mention the ability to honor one of his biggest musical inspirations, Bob Marley). By the time his trip came to end, he felt renewed and inspired, leading to the creation of his latest project, a visual EP called #7DJ (Seven Days in Jamaica).

"When I took that trip, I really needed a break," he tells EW in Spanish. "Things get busy and you can't find inspiration on demand. I went with an open heart and an open mind; the people and the sounds of the island were a breath of fresh air — exactly what I needed."

Credit: Phraa

The trip also allowed him to honor one of his idols, Bob Marley. "I cannot express how big of a fan of Bob Marley I've been my entire life," he says. "I remember being a kid in school and the first iPod had just come out; it was enormous! I had that iPod full of his music, so when I'd travel back and forth from school, it was his voice blasting through my headphones, every note guiding me to a future in music. And it wasn't just his music that I admired but also his activism. He continues to inspire me every day."

For Maluma, getting the chance to work with Bob's son, Ziggy, on his #7DJ EP (the two collaborate on the single "Tonika") almost left him speechless. "I don't think words exist to express my gratitude to him for his participation. I hope in some way our collaboration adds to the Marley legacy, as it certainly adds something notable and special to mine. Working with Ziggy was like having a sliver of the island's roots embedded in my legacy forever."

While on the island, Maluma's good friend and collaborator Charly Black became his personal tour guide, showing him the side of Jamaica only the locals know. (Black, a reggae and dancehall star himself, is also featured on the EP). The opportunity gave Maluma insight into a country he'd been wanting to go to for years. "Before I even began my career, I always dreamed of visiting Jamaica," he says. "I've always felt a connection to the island, so I wanted to go there to personally connect with the culture and to learn more about the roots of urban music. I'm a huge fan of reggae, which heavily influenced reggaeton."

That's one of the reasons Maluma is proud his album was released close to Black History Month, allowing him to share his gratitude with the Black community and their contributions to music, many of which have inspired his career.

"It's been hard seeing what the African-American community has been dealing with here in the United States; as Latinos, we can relate in many ways but we've learned the experience is different" Maluma explains. "It's important that we honor their contributions and that we recognize their accomplishments, and that we stand with them. We wouldn't have Urban Latino music without Africa and the contributions of the Black community in Latin American and here in the U.S. This album is a small way to show my love for Jamaica and for Black culture. My iPod was full of artists from the Black community and I owe them a debt of gratitude."

To celebrate the release of #7DJ, which coincided with his 27th birthday, Maluma hosted a small get together with Marley's eldest son Rohan Marley, former Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett (who is also featured in his music videos for the EP), and Prince Royce, all of whom were given tests for COVID-19 on-site before the event. Maluma then invited fans via Instagram to join him a few days later in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, where COVID-19 restrictions are more lax and small events are allowed. To his surprise, a mob of supporters showed up, and the event was shutdown due to health regulations.

"I really didn't believe that many people would show up. I really didn't," he says with a genuinely surprised look on his face. "I'm really being sincere here. I was hoping to celebrate with a few fans while respecting the regulations, but the long line that I found when I got to the venue was outrageous! Taking out the element of the pandemic, I was really touched to see them all there for me. This pandemic has been so tough, I really miss being with my fans. I miss concerts and really connecting with people one-on-one. I managed to take a few photos but then we had to shut it down. I want to thank everyone who showed up and let them know I felt the love. Once things are safe again, I'll be right back out there with my fans. That's my happy place."

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