Shaggy: Songs that changed my life

Eva Mackevic

Reggae legend Shaggy tells us about the music that changed his life, including Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley 

“War” by Bob Marley

I was born and raised in Jamaica so I grew up with Bob Marley’s music. I knew everything from the ska era from “Simmer Down” to “One Love”. I remember listening to "Natural Mystic" as a kid when he played it acoustically and being drawn to that; but the song that really moved me was “War”.

He took Haile Selassie's speech [before the United Nations General Assembly on October 4,1963] and turned it into a composition. What’s amazing is that we’re still living it today. It’s still manifesting itself all over again. I’ve relived these words throughout my whole life, being a Jamaican kid, being a black man. Coming from an art form like dancehall which is not very mainstream, and trying to make it as mainstream as possible, is just part of that legacy. So that to me was very moving and important.


Haile Selassie. Image via wiki commons 

Marley was my idol, he made me want to do music. He sparked my love of reggae and introduced me to a lot of new artists, like Gregory Isaacs. You might claim that Lionel Richie is one of the greatest love song writers. But there’s nobody like Gregory Isaacs.

If you take a Gregory Isaacs song and break it down line by line, you’ll realise that he wrote about life. I remember sitting in a room with him and he was telling somebody the story of how he wrote “Front Door”:

"I gave her back the key to her front door
'Cause it seems she didn't care about me any more
I gave her all the love I had and she spilled it, yeah
So I packed my things into a shopping bag and decided to quit
But Lord know that I, don't wanna be lonely tonight
I, don't wanna be lonely tonight"

And it was a true story, word for word, what he put on the record. And I just started going through his other songs and realised that if you want to set the mood for you and your significant other, put on Gregory Isaacs, get a glass of wine, roll a spliff and just get into that mood and it’ll set you up for the greatest love making of your life.

"Put on Gregory Isaacs, get a glass of wine, roll a spliff and it’ll set you up for the greatest love making of your life"

A lot of these people [like Gregory Isaacs] shaped what is now considered "mainstream reggae" and a lot of them have been forgotten. I think it’s part of my mission to make sure that they’re not forgotten.

“Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers

Bill Withers has some really iconic, classic songs like “Lean On Me”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Lovely Day”—you name it. They’re timeless. But “Grandma’s Hands” doesn’t get enough accolades. I think it’s brilliant. And it always reminds me of my grandma who has now passed. But she was so significant in my life and shaping me into who I am today.

My grandma was a very loving person, a church-going person and she was a disciplinarian but she would give big hugs. And she really shaped me to be who I am.

And just the way that song was put together remains one of my go-tos—till this day. It’s just really great song-writing. As with many Bill Withers songs, it’s just all about his voice, he had one of the most unique vocals ever, it was just so incredibly melodic.

“Reggae Night” By Jimmy Cliff

I think my first encounter with Jimmy Cliff was in the movie The Harder They Come as it was on the soundtrack and it was just such a big part of my life and youth. It was such a classic soundtrack. And I’ve had many encounters over the years with Jimmy. He was such a superstar when he was younger, a great artist—to this day, of course, but those songs just continue to be a part of my daily life.

Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff. Image via wiki commons 

"Reggae Night" a really painful song. "Painful" in the sense that you can feel the pain. It’s the kind of record that, if you’re not at your best in life, it shows you the kind of pain that you have to go through and how to stand by it. It’s incredible how he sang. 

I hope my music speaks to people in a similar way. There’s this song on my Hot Shot album called “Hope” and it’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and keeping it real. Sometimes you go through hard times in life and you just have to pay your dues. They’re songs about everyday lives. See, a lot of my biggest hits were cheeky songs like “Mr Boombastic”.

With my music catalogue, I think a lot of people just don’t get past “It Wasn’t Me” and “Hey Sexy Lady” but what they don’t realise is that there’s also a lot of really great composition and melody there. I’ve always avoided being stereotyped by trying out different styles of music but people always go for the cheeky songs. Maybe it’s just the sign of the current state of the society, but there’s not much I can control about that.

There was a time in my career when people weren’t taking me seriously which bothered me for a while but it was just one of the rivers I had to cross, you know? I remember there was a time that I wasn’t accepted on Jamaica’s dancehall scene which really hurt me because I lived in Jamaica and I started out in dancehall. So to not be accepted in Jamaica really bothered me.

"There was a time that I wasn’t accepted on Jamaica’s dancehall scene which really hurt me"

But I started really focusing on going back to the roots of dancehall. And that’s when I did “Church Heathen” which really brought me back, it turned out to be a massive record throughout the whole Caribbean. And so they instantly started playing all my other songs just overnight, even the pop ones—it was really weird. It’s almost as if I became cool overnight because of that one song.

 

Shaggy tours UK arenas on The Blast Off Tour from February 28 alongside Nelly, Salt N Pepa and more. Tickets and all dates available here 

February: 
28—Dublin 3 Arena

March: 
2—Cardiff, Motorpoint Arena
3—Nottingham Motorpoint Arena
5—Leeds, First Direct Arena
6—Manchester Arena
7—Newcastle, Utilita Arena
8—Glasgow, Hydro Arena
10—Liverpool, M&S Bank Arena
11—London, O2 Arena
12—Birmingham, Resorts World Arena

 

Read more: A brief guide to Calypso music 

Read more: Ziggy Marley—I Remember 

 

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