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