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Q&A: Sean Paul on his accent, Matisyahu and the evolution of reggae

Two Jamaican reggae artists, incidentally both named Sean, are burning up the American airwaves right now.

One is Sean Kingston, the marshmallow-cheeked teenager who sings Take You There. The other is Sean Paul, the 36-year-old Grammy winner whose dancehall reggae hits include Temperature, Get Busy and We Be Burnin', plus collabs with Beyonce, Rihanna and Keyshia Cole.

This interview is with the latter Sean.

The product of Portuguese, Chinese, Jamaican and Jewish roots, Sean Paul Henriques was educated at Jamaica's Hillel Academy and now lives in Kingston. Last year he earned more than his country's banana industry. And he's just getting started. His fourth studio album, Imperial Blaze, drops Aug. 18.

This weekend, Sean Paul is performing alongside Gilberto Santa Rosa, Arturo Sandoval and more at the Tampa Bay Caribbean Carnival at Vinoy Park. While being chauffeured through West Palm Beach last week, he called tbt*.

When British artists sing, their accent gets diluted. But yours gets more pronounced. Is that intentional?

No, it's not. That's the way that I speak to my friends or people on the street in Jamaica. It's very hard-core patois. Like when I speak to you now, I definitely tone it down. You can hear an accent, but I tone it down so that you can understand what I'm saying. My syllables are not all broken. I'm putting on my American — as far as I can — twang.

What's a song of yours that contains patois?

Oh, all of them. There's the song with Beyonce. She says, (singing) "Baby boy, you've been on my mind, fulfill my fantasy." And then I'm like, "Ya ready gimme da ting dat ya ready get ya live." What I'm saying to her is like, "If you're ready to give me love, if you're ready to really get it live." It's not a written language. Every year there's new words and new ways of expressing yourself. So I find it creative.

It's cool because people who understand can appreciate the songs on a whole other level.

Exactly. But what I meant about our language evolving was back in the day, you'd hear people coming from Jamaica (say), "We learned how to speak in Jamaican." And they would say, "Irie, mon. Irie, mon." But we don't say "irie" anymore. It's a word in our vocabulary, but we're not saying that every day right now.

What can we look for on the new album?

A little bit of growth. Just (songs about) different relationships with women that mean a lot to me in my life.

Is there any woman in particular?

Oh, for sure, baby. You know it's you. (laughs)

Of course it's me. Given your Jewish roots, what do you make of Jewish hip-hop acts like Matisyahu and Hip Hop Hoodios?

I'm Jewish, but I grew up as a Catholic. I'm not a practicing Catholic, either. I'm just someone who has taken in different religions and different music. Definitely Matisyahu is an interesting concept. Someone who is going to flow about his faith and religion is definitely a lot reminiscent of people like the great Bob Marley.

Since you brought up Bob Marley, do you feel like reggae has too strong an association with him, and it's hard for people to move past that and appreciate how you're expanding the genre?

We always tend to kind of forget the people that did things before us. Bob Marley set a path that is just such a great tradition of reggae that I've been following in my life. If he wasn't there and didn't do it, maybe someone else would have stepped in a certain place, but you have to respect that person. You just have to give it up. He was a great dude.

Tampa Bay Caribbean Carnival

The 17th annual festival is noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday at Vinoy Park, 675 Bayshore Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Sean Paul performs from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Other headliners include Gilberto Santa Rosa, Arturo Sandoval and Alison Hinds. Tickets are $10 per day online, $15 per day at the gate or $15 for a two-day pass online. Ages 12 and under get in free. Get tickets and the full schedule at

tampacarnival.com, or call

(727) 327-1277 for details.

Q&A: Sean Paul on his accent, Matisyahu and the evolution of reggae 06/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:30am]

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