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Shaggy celebrates "Christmas in the Islands," 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Shaggy's "Christmas in the Islands" is a different kind of holiday.

The Grammy Award-winning reggae artist's new album, out Friday, Nov. 20, puts a Jamaican spin on the Yuletide traditions -- starting with the opening "No Icy Christmas" and sledding through 14 more, mostly original tracks. He has plenty of help in doing it, too, from American soul great Ne-Yo to the soulful British singer Joss Stone and reggae mates such as Bounty Killer, Junior Reid, Beenie Man and more.

The flavor is decided of the "Islands," but the joyous vibe is the same. And as we get closer to full-on winter, Shaggy makes his Jamaica, free of snow and ice, sound like a compelling alternative...

Shaggy, 52 (real name Orville Burrell), says by phone from Kingston that he initially planned to make the Christmas album with Sting, with whom he won a Grammy for their 2018 collaboration "44/876," after the two performed together for a Disney holiday special. "We had this idea, wouldn't it be cool to do a Sting and Shaggy reggae Christmas kind of thing. So I started working on the songs around February, March, right after I got back off our tour. Then the pandemic hit; I figured, 'OK, this is probably gonna last a month' just kept writing songs. Then it kept going and then Sting was stuck in the U.K. and I was stuck in America and we couldn't get together. So I continued writing it and kind of made it a Shaggy album and approach the experience as a cultural roller coaster ride."

Part of the album's goal, Shaggy acknowledges, is to present another perspective on the holiday and present the flavor of Christmas that he grew up with, including lots of day and night parties and a Grand Market for gift shopping. "Christmas here is absolutely different from everywhere else. Obviously we have great weather normally, so it's really about back to back parties and family and great friends and gatherings and positive vibes. I wanted to really embody that on this album. We don't have snow, so you're not gonna hear sleigh bells. You're hearing sound systems and you're gonna get great cooking just a lot of love in the sunshine."

And yes, Shaggy adds, there is a Santa Claus in Jamaica. "Absolutely! Our Santa Claus might not have as much clothes on; He might be in one of those Hawaiian-type shirts, and flip-flops. He wants to have a Mai Tai, man, and some spliff. But he better have that bag of presents -- that's what's important!"

One guest appearance Shaggy was somewhat apprehensive about was the combination of Junior Reid and Bounty Killer for "Raggamuffin Christmas." "Junior is Rastafarian; I didn't know if he would be opening to performing a Christmas song. And he's like, 'No, it's all about the holiday season. It's all about feel-good and love. I'm with it' and he came and did it and did an amazing job. And Bounty Killer is known for more hardcore, dancehall type of stuff, but he came and gave a really lighthearted performance and talked about how he experienced Christmas in the ghettos of Kingston. It's really great stuff, man."

"Christmas in the Islands" comes not only after the success with Sting but also as he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his six-times platinum album "Hot Shot" and its chart-topping hits "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel." "It doesn't feel like that long, but I know it has been," he says. "But I'm not one who really looks in the past a lot. I don't worry about what I've accomplished or sit and try to celebrate that. I'm not looking through the rearview mirror; Im about the future. I adapt to new technology. I collaborate with young, fresh partners and musicians. I embrace everything that's coming that's new and hip and put my little experience to it and see where it takes me."

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