January 18, 2009


Sly and Robbie interview: Sly and Rabbie (Chitra Ramaswamy, 1/18/09, Scotland on Sunday)

For Dunbar, the simple act of playing alongside Scottish musicians and singers including Karine Polwart, Edwyn Collins and Sushil K Dade is the point. This, he believes, is the way to heal and strengthen the bond between Scots and Jamaicans in the 21st century.

It's a principle that this duo, who have worked with everyone from Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Grace Jones and Bob Dylan to, more recently, Britney Spears and Madonna, have been putting into practice for more than 30 years, mixing Jamaican rhythms with rock, funk and disco, and in the process reinventing reggae – and pop music for that matter – over and over again. They are both very touching on their fruitful partnership, which some say has made them the most prolific artists ever, with upwards of 200,000 recordings. Neither of them is counting because, says Shakespeare, "it's about quality, not quantity. We're just playing music as easy as we come, and we try to get the best every time."

They may no longer play upwards of 50 tracks a day – yes, 50 – but they're not far off. On the day I chat to these men, both in their late fifties, their plan is to head to the studio at lunchtime and stay there until 2am.

They met in Kingston in 1973, when they were playing in clubs next door to each other. Both checked the other out, and they decided to play together. Since then, the longest they've spent apart is three weeks. "The first time we played together I think it was magic," says Dunbar. "We locked into that groove immediately. I listen to him and he listens to me. We try to keep it simple."

Shakespeare, the more gruff and withdrawn of the two, comes to life when he's talking about Dunbar. "When I'm away I miss him a lot," he says. "Even now, when he plays I say: 'Damn, boy.' You can never tell what he's going to come up with. We smile and joke and have fun. We keep happy."

What is the secret of their long-lasting relationship? "We have respect for each other, no ego, and we never forget where we come from," says Dunbar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2009 8:16 PM
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