Shaggy is all class

Gets a les­son in reg­gae from Shaggy, ahead of the mu­si­cian’s Ragga­muf­fin per­for­mance next week­end.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Shaun Bam­ber

‘‘You don’t know your reg­gae.’’ Ouch. I never claimed to be a reg­gae ex­pert, but some­how get­ting re­buked by Shaggy – head­lin­ing what will now be the fi­nal Ragga­muf­fin con­cert at Auck­land’s Trusts Arena this Fe­bru­ary 18 – still hurts.

The truth is, I’ve al­ways en­joyed my reg­gae. Like sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand other Ki­wis, I own a bat­tered and much-abused 20-year-old copy of Bob Mar­ley’s Leg­end al­bum – cer­ti­fied at an in­cred­i­ble 20 times plat­inum in New Zealand. It’s hideously scratched, but still plays with­out skip­ping if you don’t turn the bass up too high.

I was at the first Ragga­muf­fin in 2008, when it was homed in Ro­torua. UB40, Maxi Priest, The Wail­ers, and Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment topped the bill, sup­ported by lo­cal reg­gae acts Katchafire, The Black Seeds, The Mid­nights, and House Of Shem.

I re­mem­ber the first time I saw Katchafire. It was 2003, at a lit­tle bar in Manukau. When they came to the end of their set, the crowd was so hun­gry for more a hat was whipped around to get them to play for an­other hour. I dropped a fiver in my­self, to join the other crum­pled notes, as well as a cou­ple of tightly rolled joints.

Hell, the first bit of writ­ing I ever tried to get printed in a news­pa­per was a re­view of a Zim­bab­wean friend’s reg­gae band. It never made it to print but the band did use my words on their Mys­pace page. (Shout-out to Nu Cul­ture and the Peel broth­ers.)

And af­ter a brief stint be­hind the bar at the lo­cal pub in Kaitaia some years back, I’ve seen the im­me­di­ate ef­fects of reg­gae mu­sic first­hand. Sit­u­a­tion get­ting a bit ag­gro? Chuck some Mar­ley on the jukebox. Need to get the party started? Try UB40.

But back to Shaggy. While his mu­sic does, with­out doubt, fall broadly into the reg­gae cat­e­gory, Shaggy has al­ways in­cor­po­rated el­e­ments from other gen­res into his songs. Dance­hall, of course, but there are also pop, hip-hop and R’n’B stylings to be heard within his tunes.

Talk­ing to him on the phone from New York – a task made oc­ca­sion­ally more dif­fi­cult by the typ­i­cally ter­ri­ble US phone line and Shaggy’s ac­cent – this was the point I was (per­haps clum­sily) try­ing to get across when I asked him how he’d de­scribe what he does mu­si­cally.

‘‘I’m a reg­gae singer,’’ he replied sim­ply. (And maybe with just a hint of an­noy­ance.)

‘‘What would you cat­e­gorise Jimmy Cliff as?’’ he con­tin­ued. ‘‘Would you call him a reg­gae singer?’’ ‘‘Def­i­nitely,’’ I said. ‘‘And would you say Many Rivers To Cross is a reg­gae song?’’

‘‘Yes,’’ I an­swered – although some­what hes­i­tantly this time, sens­ing Shaggy was set­ting some kind of trap but un­able to stop my­self. ‘‘Then you don’t know your reg­gae.’’ Like I said, ouch. It was like that mo­ment in White Men Can’t Jump when Wes­ley Snipes tells Woody Har­rel­son that just be­cause he lis­tens to Jimi Hen­drix, ‘‘doesn’t mean you’re hear­ing him’’. Woody brushes it off, but you can see a part of him recog­nises that Wes­ley might just be right. Deep down in­side, I know Shaggy is right too.

‘‘You lis­ten to the sounds of Many Rivers To Cross, those are R’n’B sounds,’’ he says, con­tin­u­ing the les­son. ‘‘There’s not a reg­gae beat be­hind it. It’s a bal­lad.’’

‘‘Many rivers to cross….’’ he croons, while I can’t re­sist hum­ming along. Only later do I re­alise that, in a way, I was jam­ming with one of the best­selling con­tem­po­rary reg­gae artists on the planet.

‘‘There’s an or­gan go­ing through the whole bit. There’s no reg­gae in it. Right?

‘‘Now you look at a song like Reg­gae Nights, which is done by Jimmy Cliff. Reg­gae nights… .’’ Again Shaggy and I jam.

‘‘You lis­ten to the beat of it, it’s not even a reg­gae beat. Right? It was ac­tu­ally not pro­duced by a reg­gae pro­ducer, it was pro­duced by Kool & The Gang. You see what I’m say­ing?’’

Thor­oughly chas­tised, I can only mum­ble my con­cur­rence. But Shaggy isn’t fin­ished just yet.

‘‘So, what I do is reg­gae. I just do it in a dif­fer­ent way. But reg­gae is a broad brand – you know what I mean? It’s the first and last mu­sic.

‘‘You’ve got to re­mem­ber now, ev­ery­thing evolves from reg­gae – hiphop was also the birthchild of reg­gae mu­sic. Right? Kool Herc brought it from Ja­maica and played it in the Bronx, and that was the birth of hiphop. It’s the first mu­sic and it is the last mu­sic. Ev­ery­thing.

‘‘Re­mem­ber now, back in the days, the rock­ers ... all came to Ja­maica and adapted the sound of Ja­maican mu­sic into their rock sound. Which is why you have I Shot The Sher­iff by Eric Clap­ton. Which is why Peter Tosh was signed by the Rolling Stones.’’

Here en­deth the les­son, though not the in­ter­view. De­spite a slightly rough start, Shaggy and I still have a lot to talk about.

We cover his Ja­maican roots: ‘‘I’ve been liv­ing there all my life, man. I have a home in New York but I’ve al­ways main­tained my home in Ja­maica. My chil­dren are there, my wife is there, ev­ery­thing’s there. It’s the best place in the world.’’

How his time as a US ma­rine (he saw ac­tion during the Gulf War) in­flu­enced his mu­sic ca­reer: ‘‘Ev­ery­thing from the Marines trans­lates to work­ing in the mu­sic busi­ness. The mu­sic busi­ness ... takes more dis­ci­pline than any­thing else.

‘‘There’s a dis­ci­pline that it takes for you to be in a place where there is co­caine and weed and drugs and all of that and don’t do it. There’s a dis­ci­pline it takes to wake up at five o’clock in the morn­ing and know that you’re go­ing to have to do a ra­dio show, go straight on ’til midnight, do the af­ter party and then jump on the plane and be back in an­other city to do an­other ra­dio show early in the morn­ing again.’’

And fi­nally, how he feels when he gets on stage: ‘‘I’m the luck­i­est man in the world. This is the great­est job ever. I count my bless­ings ev­ery sin­gle day.’’

Reg­gae singer Shaggy will be head­lin­ing the fi­nal Ragga­muf­fin reg­gae fes­ti­val in Auck­land on Fe­bru­ary 18.

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