What do a 66-year-old British New Wave veteran and a 49-year-old Jamaican pop-reggae artist have in common?
More than you might think, says Sting, who hooked up with Shaggy for the collaborative album, 44/876 – named for the U.K. and Jamaican area codes, respectively – out Friday (April 20).
The two musicians, who are touring separately this summer but would love to tour together at some point, were introduced by Sting’s manager who was Shaggy’s former A&R executive.
“Everybody’s surprised by our collaboration” admits the one-time frontman-bassist of ‘70s rock-reggae band The Police.
“I think on paper it’s pretty unlikely. We have very different vocal styles. Yet when we actually do sing together, it’s surprising how they blend and how they compliment each other. And I think that reflects our friendship. We just had a good time. When we’re not singing, we’re laughing.”
Added Shaggy: “The times we live in, everybody’s in this mood of trying to separate, and it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you find a common ground.”
We caught up with Sting and Shaggy down the line from a Presbyterian Church in North London where rehearsals were then underway for Sting’s musical The Last Ship reworked with a new book for an England-touring production after closing early following a three-month Broadway run.
Sting, when did you first go to Jamaica and what was it like returning with Shaggy to play a charity show and make the video for the first single, Don’t Make Me Wait?
Sting: I loved Jamaica in the early ‘80s. I lived there for a while. I wrote some big songs there. I wrote Every Breath You Take there. But I hadn’t been in 20 to 25 years. So Shaggy took me back to do a concert for this (Bustamante) Hospital (for Children) that he funds and has for 16 to 17 years and we raised a million dollars for some ICUs. In a way it was a way of me giving back a debut I owed to the island for inspiration. I was very grateful for that.
Shaggy, how’s Jamaica doing given the state of emergency concerning violence which has been extended to May?
Shaggy: They brought in the army and they had to declare a state of emergency. And I think it was something like that. It was business as usual while this was going on.
Sting: I found Jamaica very peaceful compared to when I was there in the ‘80s. It was a very volatile times then.
Meanwhile, another new song, Dreaming in the U.S.A., seems to sound a warning about preserving the American Dream?
Sting: I wrote that song deliberately as a love letter to the America that attracted Shaggy (who also lives in New York) and I to become immigrants – the music, the movies, the literature, the art, the culture. That is still there. And I take very seriously the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “Bring me your hopeless, bring me your poor.” So that’s the America I was writing a letter to. It’s still there. It’s under threat but nonetheless I think the political institutions will swing things back to common sense away from the nonsense they’ve been directed to the last year.
Shaggy: I think it’s pretty sad. Of course, I fought for America (as a marine). I was in the first Gulf War so it is a little personal for me. I am that immigrant. I hate to see what is happening right now. You can only have hope. You can only still believe in humanity, that people will come to their senses. And what we’re doing with this song, we’re provoking conversation.
But without preaching?
Sting: We’re not ranting on a soapbox. We’re just saying, ‘Morning is coming. The truth will come out. Things will be better.’
Sting, you’ve previously toured with both Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. Why do music collaborations come easily to you?
Sting: It’s great to share the load. Not to be entirely responsible for filling seats. It’s just fun. I had a wonderful tour with Peter and Paul. And if Shaggy and I tour together, I’m sure we’ll have more fun than we deserve to but, it’s just great.
Shaggy: I think he just likes to play the bass and somebody else sings. He goes into that face like, ‘Yo, dude, it’s your part.’
Sting: That’s true.
There’s been a raft of people announcing farewell tours this year including Paul Simon and Elton John to name two. What do you make of that?
Sting: You know, I don’t believe either of them. I know those guys fairly well and they will not stop. It’ll be like Frank Sinatra’s final fifth goodbye tour. They’ll put their feet up for about a week.
How about your own retirement plans?
Sting: I just haven’t made any plans about retirement. I think it’s something that you really have to plan for. I watched (91-year-old) Tony Bennett at the Grammys and he’s still singing most nights and he’s great, so why not?
Sting, did you hear from your former Police bandmates, given your return to reggae here?
Sting: I haven’t had the message yet. I’m expecting one any day. (Laughs)
And there’s no more talk of another Police reunion?
Sting: No, not from this side.
(c) The Toronto Sun by Jane Stevenson