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Maxi Priest: 'Reggae needs to be more like hip-hop’

REGGAE VETERAN: Maxi Priest

MAXI PRIEST has had a long and illustrious career as a reggae singer. Since the 1988 release of his self-titled debut album, the London-born musician has established himself as one of the best-known reggae singers of his time, conquering both the reggae and international charts.

However, this champion of Jamaican music says that reggae artists need to start acting like American hip-hop stars in order to take control of the music business.

“America and the hip-hop scene has been massively successful because they have lawyers, accountants and business people as their peers – they haven’t had to go to another race of people for information,” said the 52-year-old.

“They work with their own brethrens who have gone to university to do marketing or law and all the bits and pieces that build a good business, so they can sit down and casually put together a plan as to what they are going to do with their music. When you put all those pieces together you have a solid business and reggae needs much more of that.”

Practicing what he preaches, Priest says that he doesn’t care at all if his children do not follow in his musical footsteps, because different careers lead to a stronger nation.

“My children carrying on my musical legacy is not important. It’s important that the kids find their own way of life and be successful at whatever they want to do. If my kids choose to do music, then they have to put the effort in, but I can look at them and say ‘look, be a little bit more wise and spend some time getting a foundation or going to university.’

“It’s not the be all and end all if my kids don’t do music. Every one of my kids can sing and make music but they’ve chosen to be a head of a magazine company, or go to university to study electronics, or be a lawyer or a doctor and I’m proud of them. All of these different roles will make our nation stronger.”

It has taken time for the Close To You hitmaker to release new music, six years in fact. But he is back with a new track called Easy To Love. Also gearing up to release his ninth album, the singer puts his hiatus down to his reluctance to release new songs.

“I was somewhat disheartened with the music business,” he says. “Trying to understand the changes, it was rapid and the business kept changing, so I spent the last few years touring.”

He added: “I have made music, I have tons of music put down, but my bitterness towards the drastic change in the business meant that I went through some lows. There were times I had something that I felt so good about but when I wanted to put it out, it just got confusing. And coming from the old school as I do, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. So rather than put one of my babies out there to be thrown by the wayside, I just held off for a bit. And I had a bit of a luxury in that I was able to just tour and relax and observe the business before I put more music out.”

Undoubtedly a veteran in the game, there is not much that the reggae star hasn’t seen. But what does he think of the younger up-and-coming Jamaican musicians who are increasingly resulting to tactics outside of music to gain fame, such as dancehall deejay Alkaline, who controversially tattooed his eyeballs black?

“I don’t agree with that,” says Priest. “But entertainment comes in all different shapes, and how much you personally want to sell yourself out is up to you. It would be strange to see somebody like Burning Spear do gimmicks because it wouldn’t work. You have to be who you are and what you are within the culture you are from, and that’s not a diss to anybody.

“When you put the music out there, it’s up to the buying public to accept what you put out or not. Dancehall was a fabulous new form of music when it began, but then it stretched itself out and released so it had to come back a bit.”

Of his own career, Priest is now back doing what he does best. And the singer obviously still has his hit-making ability, as his latest single topped the reggae charts.

“Topping the reggae charts brings back some memories of [my tracks] In The Springtime and Strollin’ On and tracks like that, before I started to get into the national charts. And being recognised in the reggae charts is, and always will be, such an important part of my life.”

Easy To Love is out now through VP Records. For more information visit www.maxipriest.com

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