Interview: Shuga Image

by Federico Di Puma

Another great talent coming straight from Jamaica, winner of the Digicel Rising Stars show in 2009 and part of Penthouse Records, Shuga made this year her debut on the Main Stage of Rototom Sunsplash in Benicassim.  We had the opportunity to catch up with her just after her show.

JAmusic: How is this European tour going on so far?

S: Well I must say so far the tour is going great. I’m so grateful because last year when I came to Europe I was here only for a few shows but this year is much much bigger, so I’m very grateful.

JAmusic: How did you start your career in music? If I remember well your father has a sound system.

S: Yes my dad owns a sound system and my mum is a church lady, so I started singing in church. However, I’m from the north coast, the north side of Montego Bay, so I used to sing in hotels, with hotel bands. When I was singing there I was introduced to Tanya Stephens, some musicians told me she was going on tour and she wanted some background singers, so I just studied all her songs, went to a rehearsal and when I started singing she said “Wow! You’ve got the job!” (laughs). And before I knew it I was in Europe touring with Tanya Stephens. And while I was on the road with her I saw how much people love reggae music here, I mean we love the music back home but here is so different, it’s like Europe has a greater love for reggae music. And I really appreciate it, to be outside of my country and to see people loving our music like that, knowing the songs word by word, it’s a beautiful feeling. So from there, from this first experience in Europe I realized I wanted to be more and more in music. 

JAmusic: With a soundman as a father and a mother in church, what did you use to listen when you were a child back home?  

S: At home it was gospel, that was the only music that was played there. And since my mother is a Christian my dad respects that, he has a great respect of that, so he would only play his sound system at his shop. He has a little club set up, small made with bamboo and zinc but it’s a community club, and everybody would come out on weekend nights. I never got the chance to go there but you know sometimes my mum was busy and I had to hang out with dad and then it was always around the sound system. It was no escape for me! (laughs)

JAmusic: Talking about Tanya Stephens can we say she was your role model in music?

S: Yes most definitely. She was not only my role model but she was the very first person I had communication with about music. She had plenty of advices for me on how the industry is, what to look for to, and also she was the one who introduced me to Donovan Germain of Penthouse Records. She was there from the beginning and she gave me a start, and I will always salute her for this.

JAmusic: In one of your songs, Ride Di Riddim, you talk about the difficulties women have in the music business, can you tell us something on that?

S: It is very difficult for females in the music business. I honestly don’t know why, I’m still wondering. But you know what I do? I take my mind off from that, think about the work and face the task I have to face, because it’s a lot of work and it doesn’t get any easier. And I don’t really want to sit down and keep talking about ‘oh they are not treating females right’, but the fact is that they are not. I see a lot of very very talented female singers, who I think should be on top, far up on the top, and it’s just not happening. I see greatness in some many sisters and I see they are not getting the love they deserve, and I wonder about me and about my future. But as they say “Where there’s a will there’s a way”, so we just need to persevere, continue and find new ways and keep on pushing to the top, and nothing at all can stop us.

JAmusic: We can say there’s a new strong wave of female artists coming from Jamaica, you, Etana who has been there for a while now, Jah9, Ikaya, Keida, plenty of them. Do you think this could be the generation that could really break the barrier for female artists?

S: I think the barrier has already been broken! It’s true, you’re right,  it’s happening. Every time I look on social media I see that Ikaya is performing somewhere, Jah9 is performing somewhere and so on it feels like a movement. It feels like it’s happening and it’s a great feeling. And they are doing so well, that’s the best thing, they are doing so well. I mean I don’t even feel I should be the one saying that, I’m honoured to be part of this generation. 

JAmusic: You can sing many different styles, from lovers rock to raggamuffin, is there a style you prefer more than others?

S: No, I just do music. My definition of music is: music is a beat for every mood and a melody for each emotion. So when I go in the studio and I listen to a beat it all comes together depending on how I’m feeling and on the mood of the beat. So it’s the mood and the emotion that go into the sound that makes it work for me. And that’s why you might hear different styles of Shuga, but it’s all about the music.

JAmusic: How is it to work with such a big label like Penthouse Records?

S: It’s great, there are other artists like Dalton Harris, Exco Levi, RC, D Major and we have a nice family vibe. It’s good for me because there’s always someone I can call for advice if I need it, when you have a family you know you don’t have to worry. I feel free to talk and to ask, it’s open, and if I’m doing something wrong it’s good to have someone around who can tell me why I’m doing wrong and what I can do better. We are not perfect, we make mistakes all the time, but when you have family, and family love around you, that’s the greatest thing. And I work with extremely talented people, and believe me I’ve heard a lot being around those guys. I’m the only girl and I have to lion up to be around them.

JAmusic: Lion up, I love it! What music are you listening these days?

S: Honestly,  I’m listening to the music in my head.  When I’m creating I don’t want to create something that somebody else have already done. Quiet times bring my best creations, like if I am on the river or in bed resting, just peaceful moments bring out the best in me. I obviously do listen to the music that comes out but in this phase I prefer not to, because I’m creating my music now and I want it to be something that’s just mine, something I’ve never heard before.

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