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Interview: Mr. Vegas

Interview: Mr. Vegas

Interview: Mr. Vegas

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"I grew up on original roots reggae, and the original reggae has been missing for years now"


Mr Vegas

Mr. Vegas promotes foundation reggae

Dancehall superstar Mr. Vegas is on a mission. He aims to save foundation reggae music and see artists like Alton Ellis and the late Dennis Brown on radio DJ’s playlists again. United Reggae has talked to him about his recipe for change, which includes a petition and a new double album.

Over the last couple of years there has been a discussion on the state of reggae music. Several producers, artists, musicians and label owners in Jamaica and abroad have stated that reggae has lost its roots; mainly due to U.S. hip-hop and R&B influences.

Dancehall artist Mr. Vegas is known for his hard-hitting bouncy dancehall, and hits such as Heads High and the Sean Paul combination Hot Gal Today.

That’s why his recent initiative Save Foundation Reggae Petition came as a surprise. On top of that he’s about to release a double album, where one of the discs is jam-packed with classic reggae – both fresh originals and versions of material from the 60’s and 70’s.

“I grew up on original roots reggae, and the original reggae has been missing for years now,” says Mr. Vegas, whose real name is Clifford Smith.

I reach him after his rehearsal for the Shaggy & Friends benefit concert in Jamaica. He is in a good mood, talks fast and eloquently.

Best part of Jamaican culture

Mr VegasMr. Vegas is concerned about the state of reggae music, and notes that the youth in Jamaica is into aggressive dancehall, but is not familiar with the old school reggae from the 60’s and 70’s.

“It’s the best part of our culture. Peter Tosh and Bob Marley paved the way. You have to respect them and save their legacy,” says Mr. Vegas, and adds:

“They don’t get played on the radio anymore.”

To help raise awareness for foundation reggae he has taken the initiative to save reggae music through a petition.

“The petition could have been more well-received, right now about 6,000 have signed it,” he says, a bit disappointed and continues:

“It’s a long way to go, it’s not going to change overnight, and I might not be the person who is going to do it.”

Don’t want to be seen as a savior

In the petition Mr. Vegas urges radio DJ’s to pay homage to foundation reggae, and he believes the reggae industry needs voices other than Mavado or Vybz Kartel.

“The radio DJ’s just need five to ten minutes out of the show to make a difference,” he states.

At the same time, Mr. Vegas makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be seen as a savior, and that it’s natural that music goes through changes.

“This music is under promoted, and I want to see a balance where DJ’s play foundation reggae and dancehall music. Today there’s definitely not a balance. It’s hype, and the DJ’s go for what Internet is telling them to play.”

A new double album

Apart from the petition Mr. Vegas has also taken a partly new musical direction. It started in late 2010 when the Shaggy and Josey Wales combination Sweet Jamaica was put out. It has been well-received in Europe and on the U.S. west coast, but interest in Jamaica has been cooler.

Mr Vegas - Sweet JamaicaThe single Sweet Jamaica will be followed-up on March 23rd by an album with the same name, an album that celebrates Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. It has been co-produced by Mikey Bennett and involves musicians such as Clevie (of Steely & Clevie fame), Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

However, Mr. Vegas is keen not to lose any fans or leave anybody out, so he made the album a double disc – one with sweet reggae and one with some of his biggest current dancehall hits.

“Sweet Jamaica is the music that is Jamaica. Original festival songs. People in Jamaica are crazy over festivals,” he says.

Encouraged by Toots

The Sweet Jamaica album holds a bunch of originals as well as cover songs, and one of those is the classic Sweet & Dandy by Toots & The Maytals.

“Toots is one of my favorite performers ever. He encourages me, and comes to my dressing room when we perform at the same festivals. He is my torch to carry on,” he explains, and continues:

“If I can do anything to highlight these artists it’s big for me. In my opinion they’re the best kept secret.”

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