Quote: “If Bob Marley walked in the room right now I would probably sit down and smoke the biggest spliff with him, then do a jam session”
For someone who has gloried in the celebrity limelight for twenty years, and is reputed to have an ego big enough to match his superstar status, Orville Richard Burrell turned out to be surprisingly humble.
Interviewing Shaggy for this week’s TGIF was both a privilege and a pleasure, and I don’t mind admitting that the sound of his voice sent a shiver down my spine as we talked.
The chart-topping troubadour who has been booked to headline a spectacular show in Gaborone on 21 May has sold over 20 million albums and is certain to add the ‘wow’ factor to the local entertainment scene with his music and stage presence.
The former US Marine will be performing right here in our city at a show dubbed ‘Urban Legends.’ Under the guidance of experienced local promoter and entrepreneur Olivier Prentout, and backed by the progressive thinkers at Orange, it is an event that you will not want to miss.
The say that life begins at 40. You are now a few months past that landmark, so how is life in the middle ages?
Things don’t really change as far as age is concerned. I basically do my things regardless of age. I’m like fine wine and I get better with age.
You have been described in a biography as a friendly (if horny persona). What is your current level of horniness?
My current level of horniness! Ha-ha! I don’t think I’ve ever been approached that way. This is a first. You know what, it’s nice to be stimulated and music can be stimulating, and women also can be stimulating. There is different level of things that stimulate someone and if that leads to a level of horniness well, I hope I will stimulate as many women in Botswana as possible!
Well, let me tell you about the women of Botswana.
Halle Berry is nothing compared to them…
Wow! I can’t wait.
That is the feeling here too! So describe for us Mr. Lova Lova’s woman of choice. Is she bombastic?
My woman of choice would be a woman with a body like Halle Berry, a heart like Mother Theresa and a brain like Einstein.
I think that will be my perfect woman.
In order of merit how much have you enjoyed the fame, fortune, sex and drugs and rock n’ roll of superstardom?
Well, everybody deals with superstardom in a different way.
You just have to appreciate the things you get in real life bearing in mind that not everything lasts forever. In this game of Reggae music it’s always a challenge since we’re not mainstream pop music.
So whatever I got to do as a Reggae artist to be on top, I got to do it ten times harder than any genre of music.
I’ve learnt over the years to appreciate whatever it is I’ve achieved in music. You know what I mean. Yeah you have fun in life, but for me music is the bigger pie.
What posters did you have on you bedroom wall when you were a kid?
When I was really young I was in Jamaica. If you’ve been to Jamaica you’ll realize Jamaicans are really not proud of that tabloid type of thing. My heroes were local Dancehall heroes. King Yellowman was the person who actually inspired me to do Reggae/Dancehall after I went out to a club one day and I saw him and I told myself that’s what I want to be, and that’s who I want to be.
If Bob Marley were to walk into the room right now, what would you like to say to him?
Ha-ha! That’s a crazy question. I would probably sit down and smoke the biggest spliff with him, then do a jam session. There really isn’t much to say to a man like Bob because it has already been said throughout his music.
Even in his death he’s still the man to be. Yeah – we’d just play some music and smoke some weed.
What do you like about being you?
I like the fact that I have since grown into a very wonderful creative place.
You know where I’m at a place where I can be creative and I can call my own shots. It might not have been as lucrative as it was before since I did a lot of compromises.
I really like where I’m at. I like the type of music I’m making and the impact I’m causing worldwide.
I’m happy to be in this thing for this long and be a force to be reckoned with.
I think there’s always dislikes but I don’t think there are any regrets. There are certain things and activities which I don’t enjoy doing. I certainly don’t enjoy flying around in a different country everyday. None of this is easy. People always look at me and ask me how do you live out of a suitcase. It’s not an easy job by any means, but at the end of the day I look at it and think there could be a lot worse things I could be doing. You know right now I give thanks.
This will be your first visit to Botswana. What do you know about our country?
Not very much. I normally don’t listen to propaganda. You know if you listen to everything that’s on the news or you listen to everything people tell you, you are bound to be misled. Somebody comes to you and tells you Botswana is similar to Jamaica, my own country and I say to them you will never understand my own country unless you are there yourself. My experience might be different from your own experience.
You’re scheduled to do a gig in Harare (Zimbabwe) on this tour. If it were pressed upon you, would you shake the hand of Robert Gabriel Mugabe?
Put it this way, if he is the high elected official of a country and I’m a guest of his country, most definitely. I think it will be disrespect not just for the country but also for the office of the country. Regardless of what I think of the man personally, the office should be respected.
You once said in an interview, ‘the kids at the clubs don’t want to hear about social issues,’ but would you consider writing a song about HIV/AIDS, and what would you include in the lyrics?
I’ve actually written a song about HIV/AIDS before with a friend of mine called Ninjaman, a renowned and famed Reggae/Dancehall star from the 90s.
To say that the kids don’t want to hear it, they will hear it but not just in the club. If it’s on the album they will probably play it and listen to those songs. When you’re in a club environment you really research at yourself. Most of the songs that are played in the club are not songs that are intimate with social issues or content.
Speaking of social issues, what are your social concerns as Shaggy?
Well there are a lot of things which I’m involved in. One of my biggest charities is the Boston Hospital for Children in Jamaica for which I’m a big fundraiser. I also have other different charities across Jamaica that I’m involved with. Pretty much we go around trying to raise money. I just had a concert in January where we raised US$350 000 for the hospital. In most countries I’ve been to, places like Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya we built a couple of orphanages, and whenever we do concerts we kind of give back a portion of the money to these orphanages whether it’s US$10 000 or US$50 000. We basically do a lot more.
There is so much excitement about your visit here. What can fans expect?
Well it’s going to be a very energetic show. The songs really speak for themselves. We have a couple of incredible musicians and it’s a very high energy performance. We normally have about eight or nine people on stage. It’s a full band and we’re really big on crowd participation. We really encourage the audience to get involved in the performance.
What Shaggy track do you never get tired of singing?
‘Strength of a Woman’ is always a beautiful song to sing.
It’s certainly a very well-appreciated song. The lyrics are beautiful and moving.
Given the inevitable one or two songs that you always throw in your albums praising God such as ‘Give Thanks and Praise’, “Forgive them Father’, ‘Thank you Lord’ and ‘Why me Lord’ etc…what are your spiritual influences?
You know it’s good that you say spiritual because I consider myself more of a spiritual person than a religious person. I’m not really big on religion or its different denominations. I think a lot of it is hypocrisy. I do things to be spiritual and I think it’s a perfect thing. Someone has to be responsible for what man cannot create, and when you look at all the beautiful things around that is life itself, you realize that whoever is responsible for that is worthy to be called great. But at the end of the day to really sit there and listen to the poor pastor preaching to people in a God-like figure is to me sometimes preposterous.
Assuming you were honorably discharged from the US Marines (Field Artillery Cannon Crewman with 5th Battalion, 10th Marines), following your tour of duty in Desert Storm, would you be willing to re-enlist for service in Afghanistan under the new Commander-in-Chief?
You know I’ve done my piece as far as the military is concerned. I was in the military for four years and I’ve done my duty. It doesn’t matter what commander in chief is involved. When you serve you serve.
I’ve done that and the question should be would I encourage people to serve?
Definitely! Being there for four years got me off the streets as I was going down the wrong road. My experience in the military will definitely be different from another man’s experience.
How has the award ‘Order of Distinction’ been helpful career wise?
This award was bestowed upon me by the Jamaican government and it’s an honour in my country, but it hasn’t done anything for me as far as career is concerned. It’s just a couple more letters behind your name and that’s it. It’s however a pleasant situation. The fact that you’re recognized by your country and some of the highest officials as an honourable member. You’re simply recognized because you went overseas and did something great and came back to your country. It’s great.
Mr. Bombastic. What are you doing to help your fellow African artist brothers?
Well put it this way, we have a saying in Jamaica which goes like, ‘you can take a horse to the river, but you can’t force it to drink.’ At the end of the day I come from a poor neighbourhood in a very small island in Jamaica. I basically fought and went against all odds to achieve what I wanted. I think anybody can do that, if you have enough heart and want it bad enough. They’d have to want it as bad as I wanted it. So if I live in Africa and I do music I’ll find a way to make my music heard. When I was in Jamaica doing music I opened for a lot of the big artists and I showed them what I was made of. When I was in Brooklyn, Reggae music wasn’t even a major music or mainstream music. It wasn’t even played in mainstream radio, but I made enough noise and I was not ignored. That’s what you have to do if you want to do music. You can’t sit there and wait for someone to help you. They are not going to help you. People have their own problems. You should not wait for someone to give you a hand out. I went out and got mine and I expect people to do the same.
How important is it for you to change your image, and what aspects do you change to keep afloat?
You know I don’t change images for the market. This is just in my own self, but maybe I keep changing to keep myself from getting bored. If it’s a trend or a re-invention it’s definitely something not pre-meditated, it’s just something that I’m trying not to be bored.