Photo by Jamie-James Medina
Mavado is the best thing to have happened to dancehall in years. He has the premier new catchphrases (“Anywaaaaayeeeeeee” and “Gangster for liiiife”), if you look into his eyes you’d swear it was the devil looking back at you, and his debut album is a dark, intense masterpiece. He came over to London for the first time at the end of November to play the Stratford Rex and I made sure I was there to see him. When I got to the Rex around 10 PM, the police—equipped with MP5 submachine guns—had already shut off two lanes of traffic outside the club and lined up at least eight police cars and vans along the road. I felt like I was in downtown Baghdad the day after a spate of suicide bombs, not going to see a music show. On the way in, as well as the metal detector, there was even a lady whose sole job it was to cup your balls to see if you were hiding anything in your crotch area. Inside, guys dressed in white suits with diamante skulls on the back poured their bottles of Hennessy into plastic cups and openly smoked weed as though the smoking ban was merely a myth, a figment of the imagination. After a few hours of warm-up acts, Mavado came on to a crowd of over 2,000 people and performed songs from his album with a full live band, singing fervently about being a gangster, squeezing breasts “like the trigger of my gun”, his deceased father, more being a gangster stuff, snitches, shooting people, and just generally being a gangster. The crowd knew every word. After the show I got literally a couple of minutes to speak to him backstage before he was whisked away by his 20-strong entourage of girls and minders to an after party.
Vice: I heard you first started singing in public in church when you were a kid. Did you have a good voice back then?
Mavado: Definitely. I have a good voice now, so I must have a good voice back then.
Were you using your “Gangster for life” catchphrase at church in those days?
After blowing up rhythms like Red Bull & Guinness, you must get a lot of people these days asking you to vocal their rhythms…
People always try to approach me with money to do songs for them, but if I nuh like the riddim, if it nuh sound like my kind of riddim, if it nuh sound like my kind of thing and all of that, then me nuh go voice no matter how much you have, because I’m not a person that cheat the music.
That’s very noble. Tell me about your upbringing.
Well, you dun know, we from the gully—Kingston, Jamaica, Cassava Piece, Kingston 8, Kingston great, you know what I mean? Growing up now from the gully and ting, life hard, you know? But we still have to pull through and we have to still make it through life and came out to be a better man today. Cassava Piece is a ghetto. It’s just like you hear about Jungle and all of these places, and Tivoli Gardens and all of that. It’s just one whole ghetto, that’s why we say “Gully side”. You know, ’cos it’s just one gully side.
Gangsta For Life: The Symphony of David Brooks is out now on VP Records.