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Sounds sweet: Mr Vegas recently released his album Sweet Jamaica

ANYONE WHO has followed my many explorations of reggae music in The Voice over the years will know that I’m a fan of the genre. But in recent times, I won’t lie: I’ve grown weary of the negative tales that dancehall has spawned.

From the imprisonment of Buju Banton in 2011, then Vybz Kartel also last year, and the more recent extradition of Busy Signal from Jamaica to the United States to face a drugs charge earlier this month, it seemed as though there was little good news coming from the dancehall fraternity.

But according to Jamaican star Mr Vegas, that depends on how you choose to look at things.

Having recently released his new double-disc album Sweet Jamaica, it’s no wonder the much-loved dancehall artist would rather focus on the positive elements of the genre; specifically, the artists who are producing quality music.

In fact, the Bruk It Down hitmaker thinks that those lamenting on dancehall artists who have run into trouble with the law need to get over it.

“If you check the history of reggae, other artists have been to jail,” says the star, born Clifford Smith. “Gregory Isaacs spent time in jail, but that didn’t stop the movement of reggae. People go to jail, people die – things happen. But that doesn’t stop the movement.

“The problem that we have is that while Vybz Kartel is sitting in jail, you’ve got some radio DJs who are waiting for him to release a song so they have something to play. In the meantime, they’re not going out of their way to break a Vegas record, or a Konshens record, or a record from a new dancehall artist.

There are plenty of Jamaican artists making music, but some people are like groupies, waiting for Vybz Kartel to come out and save the industry.”

He continues: “There was a time when there were several Jamaican artists coming out in one year, because it wasn’t about which artist the DJ liked, it was about which artists had good music and which artist had songs that could break through onto the international market.

“Now, people are too artist-focused and they need to get over that. Vybz Kartel is in jail, Buju Banton is in jail and Busy Signal has his problems. So DJs need to work with artists who are still delivering quality music instead of waiting for Vybz Kartel to come out of jail and save the world like a superhero.”

New school: Incarcerated dancehall star Vybz Kartel

Indeed, dancehall fans needn’t look further than Vegas to be reminded of hit songs. From his ‘90s smash Heads High, to the inspirational hit I Am Blessed, to the club banger Boy Shorts, and the more recent dancefloor filler Bruk It Down, the sing-jay (singer and deejay) has delivered a host of hits in his 16-year career.

Now, his focus is on his recent release Sweet Jamaica, which boasts two discs: one filled with contemporary dancehall tracks, and the other taking its inspiration from the traditional sounds of old school reggae. Does Vegas have a preference between the two styles?

“I can’t choose between the two because to me, it’s all one music. When Jamaican artists have been nominated at the Grammy Awards or the Soul Train Awards, they’ve been nominated in the best reggae category – not best dancehall. So it shows that all the sub-genres of Jamaican music are still considered to fall under the reggae umbrella.

“That said, I think it has suited some people to refer to us all as dancehall artists, because it has allowed them to project the stereotypes that all dancehall artists are stupid, preach about violence, incite the killing of gay people, and make music about sex or drugs. They can’t get away with saying those things about reggae artists because when most people think of reggae, they think of Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff and all the great artists that they love. But branding artists as dancehall artists has allowed people to get away with perpetuating those types of stereotypes.”

With this in mind, Vegas is keen to put the focus back on authentic reggae music, whilst also maintaing his dancehall credentials.

“People know me as a dancehall artist, but it’s important for me to remind people that reggae is the umbrella that dancehall falls under. Before artists like myself and Sean Paul, there were artists like Toots Hibbert, Jimmy Cliff and Alton Ellis who really laid the foundation for today’s dancehall artists.

“I’d love to see more of a balance in the industry, where I could hear more Dennis Brown or Alton Ellis being played on Jamaican radio. And I also want to be part of the movement that sees today’s Jamaican artists putting out quality reggae music, and not just copying beats we hear coming out of America.”

Considering his favourite songs from his own catalogue, he says: “I Am Blessed and Heads High are two of my favourite songs. But I’m also very proud of the new album, which shows I can still create quality music after all these years. People have really supported the album and I’m really thankful for that support.”

4Sweet Jamaica is out now, available on iTunes

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