Op-Ed: Shaggy on Brand Jamaica and the 2012 Olympics

Words by Shaggy, as told to Jesse Serwer

On July 16, Shaggy launched his Summer in Kingston EP with a free concert in Kingston. The event included performances by Bounty Killer, Khago, Stephen McGregor, Chino, Assassin and Shaggy himself, and the world premiere of his Jay Will-directed video for “Sugarcane”–on four jumbo screens on New Kingston’s Knutsford Boulevard. Here, he explains the thought behind the concert and the video, and how it fits into plans to boost “Brand Jamaica” in advance of next summer’s London Olympics.

We’re going into 2012 right now, which is going to be one of our biggest years as Jamaicans. Because of our Olympic team. We are going into it as the favorite–not as the underdog anymore. I’m the spokesperson for culture during the Games. I wanted to put Brand Jamaica’s best foot forward, and that’s why we did the video for “Sugarcane” the way we did. We are showing some of the better sides of Jamaica: That Jamaica’s not all about the hood and the guns and all of that. There’s a lot of videos that do that, from “Welcome to Jamrock” down. It’s cool–I’m a fan of all of those. For something like “Welcome to Jamrock,” you needed to show that because of what the song is saying. There was a lot of copycats after that. You had Mavado [with his video for “Last Night”] then Drake went down there and did his whole video [for “Find Your Love”] with him getting shot. Rihanna did her video [for “Man Down”] of her getting raped. I just thought after a while it became this one-dimensional look about what Jamaica is about.

All of it is artistic. I’m not knocking any of those videos. I think they’re absolutely wonderful–I actually watched them and enjoyed them. But so much negativity was hitting. I just wanted to show a different part and create a balance. So I invited MTV and Rolling Stone and a couple of these major publications to come down and party with me, as a way of showing Kingston as a great party spot. As a spot that tourists can visit. You can come and party with the people in Kingston, in the streets of Kingston, and have a good time. This is where I live. There’s no reason for me to say, “Kingston,” and you get all scared and start fearing for my life, when I live there every day.

We have a concert series called Shaggy & Friends–a charity event in aid of Bustamente Hospital for Children–that my nonprofit, the Shaggy Make a Difference Foundation, does every year. And we do very well with that. We just brought in equipment for close to 400 people at the hospital, from funds that we made from that concert. It’s probably the most expensive concert down there. Ticket prices are ridiculously high. And we do that just because our aim is to make money for charity. So you get a lot of class people that really come out and support it. Doing an event where we blocked the streets of Kingston has never been done before–the government in Jamaica has never granted something like that to an artist. But they were kind enough to do that for us this year. We had a lot of skeptics–a lot of people who didn’t feel we were going to fill the streets. Because now it’s a free concert and they don’t know if the hood is going to support me as much as the upper class supported me. This was a way to do it and say, “I am the draw that is really going to pack the streets.” It was a way to convince our sponsors and the corporate sector–to really drive it home that we have a cross-base appeal.

I didn’t want to go to every video publication and tell them, “Hey, play this new Shaggy video.” So I said, let’s take it to the streets. Everybody’s gonna have a reason why they shouldn’t play it. But if I put it up on five screens in front of 10,000 people in Kingston and they pull it up and bust forward to it and go that’s wicked, give me a reason why you ain’t gonna play it. 10,000 people in the streets just told you that it’s hot. You’re a hater then. You had 10,000 people that ripped it that night. There were a number of reasons why it needed to be done. It needed to show the strength of the act, the strength of the music, the strength of Brand Jamaica. There were a lot of things accomplished by it.

We have a thing called Jamaica Village that’s going on in 2012 which will be in Finsbury Park in London during the Games. It’s going to be 10 nights of concerts. Basically you’re going to come into the park and feel like it’s Jamaica. There’s jerk chicken, there’s the colors, the vibe, the music. We’re promoting Jamaican culture. It’s an opportunity for us to shine on the world stage. I don’t think the campaign starts then, it starts now. From my end it starts from Summer in Kingston.