August Bank Holiday weekend, for many it’s a chance to recoup and rest, but for some of the UK’s Black Community it’s like Christmas has come early. Once a year, Notting Hill Carnival is held - a vibrant feast for the eyes, it’s a celebration like no other.
We caught up with Sweetie Irie, a UK pioneer in the Dancehall scene while touring to discuss - starting out with sounds, musical inspirations and his latest collab ‘Shaker’ with Toddla T.
Known for his contribution to the Dancehall music scene Sweetie is a veteran in his craft and took the time to answer some of our questions over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Being someone who started their career in sounds, Sweetie is no stranger to being on the go and adapting to new surroundings,
“My first sound was a bedroom sound called Invaders. My Uncle’s were a part of a big sound called Paddington Terror now known as Terror Tone.”
Terror Tone still dominates the UK sound circuit today. Sounds have allowed for a generation of MCs and DJs to learn from and under one another. Sweetie’s Uncle's involvement in sounds allowed for him to learn in turn and connect with other artists.
“I also used to sing on other sounds with Rudy King and we used to go round the country clashing with other Mc’s. I went on to be a part of One Love sound who used to specialise in blues dances or house parties so I had to learn how to sing on a variety of music which has really shaped how I approach making music.”
From there, Sweetie went on to develop his own sound and amongst a range of influences including, Reggae, Motown and Pop. The voices of the classic such as Sam Cooke, through to the more recent techno-pop of Dua Lipa. In taking inspiration from across a wide range of voices and talent, Sweetie has been able to really come into his own and work with a wide range of talents throughout his career.
“I really enjoyed working with Tubby T, Gappy Ranks, Redman UK. When they were coming up my stage was always open to them and I was always there to give them words of encouragement. I am so proud of the great artists they have become.”
Sweetie has continued to work with younger talent, lending his ear and his voice to anthems, such as Nadia Rose’s ‘Crank It’ and even became the first artist of his genre to perform on BBC Proms. In his later years he continued to be a support to bigger names, lending his skills to British virtual band Gorillaz for their acclaimed single ‘Clint Eastwood’. He mentions how this has also been one of his favourite collaborations to date, “it’s a timeless piece of music and really captures the energy of that generation.”
But what about this generation?
Teaming up with Toddla T and Jeremiah Asiamah for one last summer blowout, his most recent single comes in the form of ‘Shaker’.
A summer anthem, ‘Shaker’, is a heavy-weight of a track. Featuring Stefflon Don and S1mba, the track and its music video embody what summer feels like, and after approximately a year and half of no real summer (two years without Carnival) it’s much needed.
“The idea behind the video was about us pulling up at a carwash and turning it into a massive party and I definitely think we captured that energy.”
Working on ‘Shaker’ with everyone was a “blessing” Sweetie tells us, “Toddla T and Jerimiah Asiamah made a magical piece of music so it was really easy to drop vocals on it”.
On his voice, Sweetie tells us that he’s worked hard to, “push [it] out of its comfort zone and try different styles. In ‘Shaker’ I used a softer part of my vocals and I think it works really well for the song.”
But ultimately, his comfort remains in his roots. Sounds and the road have had a massive impact on his own musical journey and in turn the developments of the Black British music scene, “Reggae has definitely shaped British black culture, in fact it has shaped British culture. I am from the unheard generation. The first Black British kids - we kept reggae alive in this country. You can hear reggae in most genres of music in this country from jungle, DNB, UKG, right up to the present day with grime and drill.”
But looking towards the future, Sweetie is keen to get back on the roads of the UK, back to Carnival, “The UK festivals I’m looking forward to are Lovebox, Boardmasters, Boomtown and Strawberries & Creem. They are always on my menu.”
Though his favourite festival will always be Rebel Salute in Jamaica.