Mawazine 2016: After 20 years, Shaggy remains one of the great survivors

The Jamaican singer, whose first album in five years will be out soon, says he likes doing collaborations in different countries.

Shaggy performs at the 2016 Mawazine Festival in Morocco. Courtesy Sife Elamine​
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Never discount Shaggy. There have been plenty of times during the 47-year-old's two-decade career – which has included chart toppers It Wasn't Me and Angel – when he seemed to be down and out, only to bounce back with big hits. During the past 18 months the Jamaican singer has risen again, releasing the singles Only Love and Habibi (I Need Your Love), the latter featuring Lebanese-Australian singer Faydee. "I am like an itch," Shaggy says during a chat at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco. "I am not going away."

Habibi (I Need Your Love) has become a monster hit, with 120 million views on YouTube. How did that happen?

Costi, a Romanian producer and friend, brought the whole idea to me. I wrote my part and we shot the video on tour, and the minute the video came out, it became a success. Then we both worked together again for another single, Only Love, and that did very well – because of that, I got a new multi-album deal.

So we should soon expect your first album in 5 years?

Well, I am in album mode – the vibe and the adrenalin are there. We are all psyched and have created some amazing work. I am working very hard in trying to find a lead single. That is very critical – to have something that is very big, very Shaggy and something that would make the world smile. I made more than 100 songs to find that one single, which I hope to put out soon.

Do you find it amusing when people say “Shaggy is back?”

You know, for many people I am like one of the longest one-hit wonders ever. The thing is, I have fans and people love what myself and the team do. So that allows me to come back whenever I want. My fans are the reason for my longevity. They are the reason why I am relevant, not the press, the record company or an executive.

As well as Faydee on Habibi (I Need Your Love), you worked with another Arab artist, Egyptian pop-star Tamr Hosny, on the 2012 track, Smile. How did that collaboration come about?

I didn’t know who Tamr Hosny was at all. They sent me the song, I heard it and liked the melody. I didn’t understand the language – it was something about smiling – but I understood the melody and the vibe of it.

So it is the song and not the profile of the artist that attracts you to collaborations?

Everything boils down to a song. I like doing collaborations in different countries. You know, a lot big people also came for collaborations and I turned them down because I might feel the music is not good. But then there are artists who are unknown but their music moves me. So I just roll with that. I mean, look at my big hits. It Wasn't Me had Rick Rock, and no one knew who he was. Angel and Summertime had Rayvon, and no one knew who he was either. I actually have more problems with the bigger artists – they don't want to go on the video or do interviews, and their managers come asking for five first-class tickets and a special room for their dog. I don't need all that. I would rather work with a new artist that has the hunger and the drive.

A few years ago, you told me you were working on an international reggae festival called Shag Fest. What’s the status on that?

We thought about doing a Shag Fest but there are a couple of people that have that name already – so maybe down the line we can use it. But I would to love to make a reggae festival and tour the world. In Jamaica I have a festival called Shaggy and Friends, which is a charity event to raise funds for a hospital. So that can be something that we can build on and take around the world.