How Magic!’s Canadian Reggae Won Over Jamaica

Canadian ReggaeFor six weeks last summer, the Number One song in America belonged to a group of Canadian reggae fans whose frontman sings plaintively to a girlfriend’s particularly impolite father who won’t approve his earnest marriage proposal to her. “Rude,” Magic!’s debut single, sold 3 million copies in the United States alone, despite many critics objecting to its classification as the beloved genre of Reggae. Time magazine for one dubbed the tune the worst of the 2014. “America, we need to talk about our taste in reggae music,” wrote Slate.

Magic!’s two hits – “Rude,” which went to Number One in America, and the follow up “Let Your Hair Down,” – were received by an enthusiastic audience in Jamaica tht song along word for word to the somgs.. Both tracks have been in heavy rotation on just about every FM radio station in the country and local DJs enthusiastically introduce the group as “Canadian reggae band, Magic!” with their songs getting a “pull up” – rewound to the beginning and played again – three to four times in a row.

“Jamaica has always been accepting of different genres of music,”says DJ Wayne one of the main DJs at IRIE FM, perhaps the most important all-reggae station in the country. “Back in the Fifties and Sixties we were listening to R&B from the U.S. and it connected with reggae.” Wayne has embraced “Rude” in particular saying “Magic! are good musicians and the music speaks for itself.” “It’s the magic of the topic combined with the smooth reggae flow. It’s a timely song that captured everyone’s imaginations.”

Although the Americas would typically associate contemporary Jamaican music with the likes of more hardcore dancehall artists like Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel and Bounty Killer, the Jamaican listening audience has an under-reported love for melodic pop and smooth flows. You will often find Downtown dances playing Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers as well as local supergroup L.U.S.T. – Lukie D, Trilla U, Singing Melody and Tony Curtis – who scored a hit with a cover of Air Supply’s “Just As I Am.” In Trelawny, Magic! are joined by Peter Cetera, the Chicago bassist whose solo career included a handful of Eighties and Nineties U.S. Adult Contemporary hits.

Even before Magic! Made it to Jamaica, their influence could be felt as dancehall artist Kiprich, one of the island’s toughest lyrical battle champions, reached out to guitarist Mark Pelli to ask if they could work on a song together. “That was an organic, seamless thing,” says Pelli. “I just did some production and then he asked me to sing on a verse.” Their session led to “My Own Holiday,” a lumbering reggae tune buoyed by occasional bursts of pop energy, and four new fans: “Kiprich is an amazing artist,” Pelli enthuses.

American reggae producer Zeke Stern, who has worked Beenie Man, Chronixx and Collie Buddz, regularly travels to the island to produce new tracks, but even he didn’t expect the Canadian group to cross over. “I was really surprised at how many Jamaican artists love it,” he says of “Rude.” “I hear a lot mention how catchy the hook was and that the song was well put together.”

“Many reggae artists are great songwriters,” says Magic! vocalist Nasri Atweh, as he explains both the music’s appeal to him. “Regardless of the genre, they write great songs.” Espite growing up idolizing crossover stars like Bob Marley and the Police, his accessible, soft-reggae vocals were partially inspired by an orator with even wider appeal. “I aim for a good placement,” he explains. “When you hear Obama talk, his words allow you to digest them. This ‘Obama Effect’ is what I try to do when I write – it’s what we tried to do with ‘Rude.’ People respect good musicianship and good songs.”