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Shaggy On New Christmas Album, 20 Years Of ‘Hot Shot’

The 15-track ‘Christmas in the Islands’ features collaborations with Joss Stone, Ne-Yo and more

David Britto Dec 03, 2020

Jamaican-American reggae/dancehall artist Shaggy. Photo: William Richards

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After collaborating with British musician Sting on 44/876 two years ago, Jamaican-American reggae/dancehall artist Shaggy thought of plotting a holiday record with the former Police vocalist and bassist. However, the pandemic restricted the two musicians from meeting and Shaggy instead decided to go through with the idea himself. “At that point, it was pretty evident that it would probably be a Shaggy album,” he says.

The newly released 15-track Christmas in the Islands, out in India exclusively via Mumbai label 9122 Records, is filled with a whole host of collaborators ranging from English singer-songwriter Joss Stone to American artist Ne-Yo and other talented musicians.

Watch our interview with Shaggy above or read excerpts below where he talks to us about what drove him to make the record, what Christmas means to him, completing 20 years for his hit album Hot Shot and more.

I want to open by asking you about your last India tour in 2016. What are your memories of it?

2016… that’s a long, long way to remember. But always coming to India brings great memories. I remember my wife coming to meet me there, she had to take a couple of flights to come in because It kind of fell on my birthday around that time. It was great. Got an amazing time out, a lot of good friends and a lot of good food. Every time I’m in India, I’m always eating pretty well. I’m a big fan of the culture. The Indian audience for years and years, from the beginning of my career all the way down, we’ve had a long list of success. It’s always been great.

Coming to your latest record Christmas in the Islands. When did the idea strike for you to put out a holiday album?

You know, last year, I did a holiday Christmas special for Disney in Orlando, and I did it with myself and Sting. We sang some Christmas carols, “Little Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night,” couple of these songs and we started to discuss that it would be cool to do a reggae Christmas album. At the top of the year, I finished my tour and I’ve started to work on some of these melodies for it. And I figured then the pandemic would last two months, and I’ll probably go back and link up with Sting. But it kept going and Sting got stuck in the U.K. and I got stuck in New York, and then finally got home to Jamaica, and got stuck in Jamaica. And at that point, it was pretty evident that it would probably be a Shaggy album. So, I just started working on some music for it and started hollering at some of my iconic and fresh reggae artists out of Jamaica, and we put them together. Each song kind of dictates each artist, and I approached them. And it came out great.

The songs are fun, happy and retain your quintessential sound — what can you tell me about the tracks and how they came together? Particularly “Holiday in Jamaica” and “Sunny Celebration.”

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“Sunny Celebration” was with Joss Stone. The thing I love about her was that once I wrote the song and sent it to her, she sent it back to me with a different style of how I wrote it. She kind of put a real jazz feel to it. And I didn’t hear it in that direction. So, I ended up changing the production to suit the way she did it and changing the chord structure and the bass and we changed all of that. It came out amazing. I’ll say that’s more of a jazz, one drop reggae hybrid fusion, which is what I love.

“Holiday in Jamaica” was pretty simple. It’s like a dancehall beat. I asked Ne-Yo to jump on it. Ne-Yo was really the lead on that. I just gave him a blank canvas, because I’m not going to write for Ne-Yo [laughs]. I’m always fascinated with the things that he brings up, and he came up with the whole “Holiday in Jamaica” vibe. He started talking some Patois (Jamaican Creole). I loved that. After that, I put a verse to it, and I called [reggae artist] Ding Dong and got him involved. And we’re off and running at that time.

After collaborating with Sting two years ago, you’re not short of collaborators spread across this record. Do you have any standout moments or memory with any of your collaborators?

Well, I always make a song dictate the collaborators. I mean I just approached them, they either want to do it or they don’t. I never pushed the issue past that. And if one doesn’t do it, I’ll probably change the vibe of it or change the melodies or change something to fit another. That’s why most of the time if you look at the track record of how I do my thing, a lot of these artists that I work with are unknown. I had [English-Jamaican singer] Rik Rok an unknown artist on “It Wasn’t Me,” [Barbadian singer] Rayvon another unknown artist on “Angel,” [Congolese-Swedish musician]  Mohombi and [Australian singer-songwriter] Faydee were two relatively unknown artists on “Habibi (I Need Your Love),” and recently, with “Banana” was an unknown called Conkarah. So it’s really about the song dictating the collaboration of who it is, I don’t really look at who is hot. It’s really about the song.

When you think of Christmas, what does it mean to you?

Well, you know, my Christmas has never been like Christmas in America or England, it’s really a warm Christmas. It’s really about the parties, It’s about families getting together and having that interactive moment. It’s always fun. In Jamaica, it’s about the culture. There’s stuff that we drink that only comes around during Christmas time. There’s Grand Market, which is a market that you go and where you buy Christmas presents, and kids love all of that. So, it’s all these things, you feel the festivity in the air. I mean it’s food and tradition and all of that and I imagine it’s kind of the same in India, where it’s family and food and stuff like that.

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You touched upon “It Wasn’t Me” and “Angel,” those two songs were part of Hot Shot, which came out 20 years ago. I know you put out the re-release for the 20-year anniversary. So, when you look back on that time, how do you feel about that album now?

I’m happy. Some albums don’t last. I mean “It Wasn’t Me” is a very relevant song today and “Angel” too. These songs are timeless classics that people still play, I’m very fortunate for that. The album was a turning point in my life and affected many people’s lives at that time. So, it was cool. I just kept moving and coming up with new stuff. I’m really excited about the new stuff that I’m doing and the journeys that I’m going on and collaborations I’m doing and that’s kind of where my head is.

How have you coped during the pandemic? I know you made the album, but besides that, what did you do?

I did a lot of laundry [laughs]. Folding laundry and went back to doing a lot of cooking and doing a bit of soul searching and self-searching. The pandemic is hard on everyone. It’s certainly been hard on me. But it also allowed me a lot of time to pay attention to things that I would be too busy to pay attention to normally. Family, inner feelings, simple things,

What do you have planned for this holiday season?

I’m going to be doing some television here in New York right now, I should be in L.A. to do some more work, some collaborations. I’m in the studio as we speak doing some other projects and then I’m going to go home to Jamaica for Christmas and possibly New Year. Just be with my family. That’s really the main thing.

What’s next for you, are you already thinking ahead on what the next Shaggy project is going to be?

I don’t know yet. I’m working on a couple of things here and there. But I don’t know what it’s going to formulate. I’m really just focused on the Christmas album right now and just kind of get it going. I got to get past Christmas now to kind of figure out what I’m going to do. But I’m working on a bunch of different things. I’ll figure out what I’m coming with after that.

Once things get better, could we expect you back out here in India for another tour?

Oh man, I’d love to. I mean “Banana” was a big success in India. It’s always a place I’ve had a great, great time with over the years. Absolutely looking forward to it. Hope that that happens. Hope that this pandemic eases real quickly, and we could get back to being on the road and touring.

Stream ‘Christmas in the Islands’ on Spotify below or on other platforms

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