Sean Paul is enjoying everyday life and making extraordinary music.
The Jamaican dancehall megastar, real name Sean Henriques, like most of the rest of the world is grounded in his home country of Jamaica waiting out the global Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s been an adjustment for the 48-year-old singer who is used to a perennial fully booked calendar of international gigs. He insists, however, he finds the free days with family and the late nights in his home studio creating new music quite fulfilling.
“I love my country inno, so it wasn’t that hard and I didn’t feel confined,” the “Gimme de Light” singer chuckled during a Zoom call with the Kitcharee, last Monday.
The “Like Glue” singer said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world than stuck at home in Kingston, with his family during these uncertain times.
“Family time has been awesome. A lot of the times I find myself in a clouded dark room in England playing a guitar singing ‘Sun Is Shining’. A lot of the times I long to be home and just go to a riverside. So, this has given me an opportunity to connect back, to really feel a strong vibe and be inspired,” he said between huffed breaths as he found a place to sit in his backyard.
“I do miss the touring ‘cause that’s instant gratification,” he continued with a wry smile once seated under a tree.
“When you say ‘dutty aye’ and the crowd go ‘rahh’ yuh feel it. I’ve done about three virtual performances, but I doh really like virtual performances because di crowd no deh deh.”
A ‘Live n Livin’ ‘Scorcha’
Sean Paul has used his down time to create two full albums of new music. He released Live n Livin’ a hardcore dancehall album last month. A second album Scorcha is set for release later this year.
Dancehall/reggae legends Buju Banton (Mark Myrie), Mavado (David Brooks) and Jr Gong (Damian Marley) all have cameos on Live n Livin’ . The project also features Ghanaian act Stonebwoy (Livingstone Etse Satekla) and next gen Jamaican dancehall stars Govana (Romeo Nelson) and Masicka (Javaun Fearon).
Scorcha, meanwhile, features “a more poppy international sound”, Sean Paul said. The project will feature collabs from Australian pop star Sia (Sia Fuller), Americans pop-rocker Gwen Stefani and R&B star Ty Dolla $ign (Tyrone Griffin Jr), British-based act Stylo G (Jason McDermott) and Jamaican dancehall princesses Shenssea (Chinsea Lee) and Jada Kingdom (Jada Murphy).
“You can see mi maturing in both albums. One is more hardcore dancehall R-rated, but still there is a more maturity level you probably never heard before. You get the party tunes, the feel-good tunes, but also yuh have some more thoughtful songs.
“The next album Scorcha is a more international approach to the dancehall sound. The real theme of both projects is unity in the dancehall community. A theme of collaboration over clash. I wha show di unity and be di change I wah see in di universe.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Shaggy, Jr Gong and Buju over the years and what always comes up in these convos is we doh collab enough. As a genre we don’t even tour together enough. Jr Gong wanted to be di change and develop a ting call Jamrock Cruise. And for me now this is my step how to bring the established sound of dancehall and the new sound together inna one unity ting,” he said.
Nuff love for di ‘Trinibad zess’
Sean Paul says he has “nuff love” for the local Trinibad dancehall movement. He said the spread of dancehall influence, much like jazz and hip hop before it, shows the growth of the genre into a truly global art. That can only augur well for the longevity of the musical expression birthed on the street of Kingston, he said.
“Mi Love it inno because hear wha happen. When the Bronx (New York City, USA) start hip hop music it spread through (the NYC boroughs of) Brooklyn and Queens quickly. Then it move down to di West Coast, down south, London, France, Germany and that was an indication that you couldn’t stop (hip hop) music.
“Same with jazz and blues. It start in a certain place then it evolve. People like Miles Davis sound very different to Kenny G, but ah jazz same way. Music is bringing people together. A band is a drummy, a bassie, a gitzy and two keyboard coming together to make music. I think a lot of people forget about that. Music is for collaboration. It have to spread and if it don’t spread then the music dead,” Sean Paul said.
As for the often violent and hypersexual lyrical content of “zesser” dancehall, Sean Paul says young voices must be given the freedom to tell real stories. He juxtaposed the criticism levied against dancehall legend Shabba Ranks (Rexton Gordon) in the early 80s in Jamaica for his sexually charged lyrics, to contemporary negative reviews dancehall acts on both islands receive.
“They used to call Shabba Ranks di slackness DJ back in de day. In di early 80s him would come deejay bout ‘punnay’ and a whole bag ah tings and di elders would be like ‘Yo you cyah do that’. But that lead to the point where he became an international artiste and great things happen.
“Everything has its space. That’s my belief. This music is supposed be to tell people what’s happening to those yutes. What’s happening in the street now with Prince Swanny,” he argued.
Sean Paul, however, says with the freedom to tell the story of the streets comes the responsibility to tell the whole truth and not glorify a lifestyle without giving the listener the reality of the full picture.
“When you over embellish and you don’t tell di real story that gun man more time have to go hide inna bush and cyah live wit dem baby mother and picknee and always paranoid that police coming for dem or dem cyah trust dem own friend. Those stories are never told in any of these songs. That’s my problem with it,” he rationalised.
The “Tempreture” singer challenged the critical voices of dancehall music to really listen to what is being said and recognise that the youth of both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are crying out for help.
“The music reflect something that the government and bigger heads in society and even the church can get involved. When dem hear somebody sing bout gun pon street a church man supposed to get involved and say that’s interesting, mek me get involved, not cuss dem.
“The people who can make a difference in that kid’s life that’s singing about that can go to the community dem and ask: ‘why you singing about this. Or okay, because this and this happening ok, mek we try fix that’.
“Mek di yutes and dem see dat you stepping toward dem because when u nah step towards dem and u jus pon unno unno this and unno unno dat. The music is going to be heard. Is up de di rest of society to get involved violence is not just one or two people problem its everybody problem,” he reasoned.
The responsibility is also on the artiste to present the full picture to young impressionable fans, he added, praising artistes on both islands for tackling the hot button topic of violence against women head on.
“Right now we have a problem with violence against women and I see nuff artistes and politicians getting involved and speaking and that’s important. I wish they would have done it from ever since. We need social workers who can actually get through to these younger kids and mek dey mindset get more enlighten,” he said.
Sean Paul admitted to being nervous about getting his Covid-19 vaccine shot over concerns about its side effects. The well-travelled singer said he is reconsidering going for the shot not because it may become mandatory for global travel but to protect his 97-year-old grandmother and 70-year-old mother.
“Mi fraid of it yuh know. I have asthma and that’s a condition that can be a complication. I just didn’t like how fast dem rush it. Vaccines are usually tested over a period of five to ten years. This was developed under seven months.
“But the pandemic is out there and it’s frightening bro. Big up to the doctors, nurses and soldiers who take it (the vaccine) first; they are brave people. Mi watch wha ah gwan I am feeling more and more comfortable, but I do see the stories and conspiracy theories so I’m tryin to be careful and not fearful.
“What is in the back of mind is my 97-year-old grandmother and my 70-year-old mother, so for those reasons I am considering it and I watching it very careful. It’s not about touring and dem ting for me. Touring will come back, de world na stop, world without end bro. Is just sometimes yuh have to play survival mode and is dat we ah do right now,” he concluded with a serious nod.