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The Scene meets dancehall star Sean Paul in Kingston, Jamaica and hears about Bob Marley's enduring musical influence on the Caribbean island.
The Scene: Does your music have a message?
Sean Paul: I did a song called "Time Rolls On," and it's very political. I don't think it's my job to do it every day, but I do think that when I do have a voice, I should be able to tell people what I feel. I've traveled the world. I've been to Africa for the first time last year, I've been to Asia, Australia -- places I never would have gone before, and what I learned is that many of us on Earth are the same, we go through the same struggles. So I thought I would write a song that points out what the problems are and tries to find a solution. My songs are mainly party music, but I do feel the need to say things about society.
TS: What are your influences?
SP: When I was growing up in Kingston, most of my influences came from dancehall and hip-hop -- dance hall being people like Shabba Ranks and Lieutenant Stitchy -- mainly that type of music, because dance hall and hip hop music really speaks the language of the kids and I really connect to that music. Dance hall has elements of every music genre that happened in Jamaica. Dance hall brought me to love reggae music and really respect people like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
TS: Is Bob Marley still a major figure?
SP: Bob Marley was an entity to me. When you're growing up you think of these people as stars, especially Bob. I did go to school with his younger son Damon Marley, he was in my brother's class so I felt closer to the vibe in that respect. He did solo crowds in the years that the media wasn't really taking him in. He really loved the music, so he was an icon. To be on the piece of land that he used to make music on and play football right here... it's a big thing.
TS: What does Jamaica mean to you?
SP: I was born here, I grew up here and I represented this country at water polo for many years and a lot of people don't know that. A lot of people think that when you're successful, you shouldn't be in the same place any more; you're going to be like a big fish in a small bowl. I don't really see it that way. I see it as I have something to offer society. There's time when it's a bit slower than life in international circles, but it's where I grew up, and I can't turn my back on myself. I'm proud of Jamaica and where I grew up.
TS: Why is Jamaica special?
SP: First of all it is just a beautiful place in terms of the scenery and the fauna. I've been to a lot of places and I come back and tell people: 'you need to take care of Jamaica because, its so beautiful.' First of all there's the beauty, then there's the beauty of the people, because we've had 400 years of blood sweat and tears of different influences, from Africa to Asia to Europe. Different music, different cultures and different stories.
What I love about my country is the trees. I go to other countries and I see concrete and asphalt. I get a vibe from this just to sit sometimes in a car look out and think about people, things in general. Right now I'm in writing mode, I listen to a lot of CDs and I don't want to be sitting in a studio. Things like the tamarind tree where you can find a fruit that you can pick and eat yourself by the roadside. That's inspiration to me to know that I live in a place like that. Those things to me are a part of being Jamaican.
TS: Is it a tough place to grow up?
SP: I was probably different from a mass of people you would find in Jamaica. I grew up in Uptown, which is an area that has a lot of controversy because a lot of Jamaica is poor and these are wealthier houses. I was aware of that growing up and I never thought I was above people, I went to a school where there were many different kinds people, it was a public school. I really understood that life is different for people in different ways. I had friends who came from very rich families and friends from very poor families, who didn't know who or where their parents were.
TS: What problems are there here?
SP: I think greatness breeds out of here, but desperation too. We have a problem with a brain drain. A lot of smart people who have the brainpower to lead this country out of the corruption it is in go to school and go away. I wish to bring enough awareness about Jamaica and the country that the people who moved away feel proud to want to come back and help to build.
TS: How does Jamaica's music scene fit in?
SP: I think that sometimes music has been something that has made the international community learn about Jamaica and look at Jamaica. I don't think our government has really upheld music history. They don't teach kids anything, they just learn it from being streetwise. Jamaica's the hardest place to ever play. Music here in this country means so much to us because the kids pay attention to every detail, every note, every lyric. The reason being that there's nothing else, there's no zoos no Ferris wheels, there's nothing for kids to do.