Shaggy is an irresistible force of nature. The Jamaican star has taken his music around the world, seizing on dancehall’s cartoonish aspects to offer people a slice of Caribbean entertainment that broke the glass ceiling. Right now, he’s looking ahead to One Fine Day festival, linking with Sting in Philadelphia. Taking a break out of his schedule, he chats to Clash over Zoom about an event close to his heart – Notting Hill Carnival.
The one-time marine first ventured to West London back at the start of his career, and he’s been an ever-present virtually every year since. This time round, he’ll be starring on Saxon Sound, one of the key bass redoubts on the carnival route.
“I first went to carnival years ago! Back in the early days, probably when I did ‘Boombastic’ or something like that. Always an incredible time. I just did carnival in Canada, and you see a lot of West Indian people. I’m doing a Labor Parade in America, lot of West Indian people. At Notting Hill Carnival it’s very mixed. It’s not just Caribbean people – it’s English people, Arab people… such a melting pot. And everyone comes out to celebrate Caribbean culture!”
“I just love the vibe,” he says, “with the food and the energy and people coming out to have a good time.”
A one-man representative for Caribbean culture, Shaggy has been preaching the good word for decades now. Those irresistible hits roll off the tongue, but his pop suss shouldn’t detract from his deep roots in dancehall. “I’ve been a Saxon fan for years, man. Back in the days of Levi and Rustie and Tippa Irie. I remember there was a big dance, Saxon against V Rocket… big! Saxon love to clash. It’s a big part of my DNA, coming up as a dancehall artist.”
Indeed, his latest project is an EP honouring that key carnival sound soca. The Trinidad music was the first Notting Hill Carnival soundtrack, and it’s a potent part of the Black Caribbean diaspora. “Soca music and calypso music has been part of Jamaican life for years,” he points out. “My grandmother loved all that, so I heard it growing up. I met Marshall Montana, who is this young soca kid. We did a few songs together, promoted a few concerts.”
“It’s just a part of who we are as a culture,” he points out. “I wrote the single ‘Mood’ in the pandemic. It’s a feel-good record. It’s a hybrid – I can’t really say it’s soca, it’s a hybrid. We had this song, so I thought: why not put a whole project together? Put a lot of nice people on an EP and rock with it.”
“When I work with soca musicians it’s like being on vacation,” he smiles. “That’s what I love about it.”
His new project comes from a place of pure love, with Shaggy visiting Trinidad carnival once more at the start of the year. “(laughs) There’s a lot going on there, bro! You’re talking nights with no sleep… and at my age it’s a lot.”
It’s now 30 years since Shaggy’s ultra-colourful dancehall take on ‘Oh Carolina’ shot him to international fame. As he points out, there was little to no reggae representation on the radio at the time – to get a huge hit in the UK took a lot of work. Doors had to literally be knocked open. “I’m blessed,” he says. I can’t look at you and tell you there’s a particular formula. I’m passionate about what I do. I know my craft. The best gift I’ve ever been given is my ears. I don’t like to cookie cut – I take chances.”
“I’ve been criticised by the purists since day one. But my thing was, if I want to do something for myself, why would I do something my peers have already done? And who the fuck would I be, if I thought I could out-do Peter Tosh or Tippa Irie? I’m not going to be second best in another lane, I’m going to create my own lane.”
“When you look at music right now, and where it’s evolved to… I’m looking like a genius in this bitch! (laughs) I’ve out-lasted them all.”
Recently finishing a full North American tour alongside TLC, En Vogue, and Sean Kingston, the rolling line-up played to 250,000 people. With One Fine Day still to come in Philadelphia on September 9th, it’s clear that Shaggy is in no mood to stop. That’s a testament to his powerful creative engine, but also to the strength of his Jamaican roots.
“There’s two types of music in life. Music you hear, and music you feel. In this day and age, with technology, anyone can sound sonically great. But can they make you feel it…? That comes from culture. It comes from technique. It comes from mastering your craft. That’s what Caribbean culture does. It gives you music you can feel. Bob Marley couldn’t riff like Stevie Wonder, say, but when he sang, you felt it. Caribbean culture offers you something you feel with a smile.”
One Fine Day takes place on September 9th. Catch Shaggy on Saxon Sound at Notting Hill Carnival this weekend.