by Angus Taylor
The story of “singjay” Clifford Smith AKA Mr Vegas is well known to dancehall fans. How he got his name because his cousin thought he played football like a Vegas go go dancer. How he recorded his first hit Nike Air for producer Jeremy Harding with a broken jaw. How his song Heads High on Danny Brownie’s Filthy riddim hit the British charts in 1998 netting him a MOBO Award. How he retired from the business in 2008 only to return a few months later on the runaway success of his gospel dancehall fusion I Am Blessed. But now Mr Vegas is turning his music back to reggae’s foundation. In November 2011 he began a campaign to “Save Foundation Reggae” in Jamaica and on February 7th he plans to drop Sweet Jamaica, a long-player of one-drop sides including Desmond Dekker, Jimmy London, Alton Ellis and Maytals covers co-produced with Mikey Bennett to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence. But, as ever, Mr Vegas’ dancehall hits of the last few years could not be ignored, and the album now comes with an extra disc boasting the likes of I Am Blessed, Bruck It Dung and Certain Law. Reggaeville pulled Mr Vegas out of rehearsals to chat about his new (and old!) direction, how it can help bring the dancehall business on, and why he isn’t really a “singjay” at all.
You created the petition to save Foundation Reggae. Why did you decide it needed saving?
I grew up on original rub-a-dub reggae music so of course that is a type of music I enjoy. I think of late many DJs and selectors have alienated a lot of roots reggae off their playlists and started playing more hip hop sounding beats that a lot artists who say they are doing reggae now use as their type of reggae. I’m just trying to get a balance to keep some of these artists that have paved the way for artists like myself to still be mentioned and be around, so kids that are getting into the music now will know that these artists exist.