Who are you today and who are you going to be in your final stretch? It’s not a bad question when we spend so much time creating an identity for ourselves. There’s the job that defines so much of us and then the way we look and what we do but then there are the decisions we make that define us as well. I’m going to do this and this is who I will become.
It’s a nice idea and there is a lot to be said for setting a long-term direction in your life. The truth, especially in today’s day and age, is that we can’t hold on to a single course for life. From having a baby to changing jobs or even moving house, these things just happen to all of us. Life, happens to all of us.
We’re also spoilt because we want everything all the time. When something changes, we are so ready to see it as a loss. And if anybody asks you what your five-year plan is, think back to what you were doing five years ago, life was a very different place back then.
What are we going to call this? Stepping stones. Everything is always a stepping stone. Everything. That ridiculous pizza you ordered? That’s a stepping stone. To what? Who knows? Being a little too big to fit into those horrific jeans that would have stopped you from meeting the woman of your dreams? What about that amazing guy who just made you feel like you’ve never felt before? Stepping stone. You want to sit back and cry about it? That’s also a stepping stone. You just can’t escape stepping stones! Even if you stop reading this it’s also as much a stepping stone as it is if you continue reading!
When we sat down with reggae superstar Buggy Nhakente, we thought we were going to write a biography… And we kind of did. Except everything about his life has been a stepping stone. Today he’s a 38-year old accomplished artist who performs for hours-on-end with a massive smile and a soft gaze. When he’s not in Barbados he spends a about eight months of the year in Qatar with his lovely lady and five members of the members of Fully Loaded.
Buggy is the eldest of five kids that grew up in Parish Land. He’s the only musical one in his family and never learnt how to sing or play instruments but as he got older he found himself dedicating himself to life, one stepping-stone after another.
When I was fifteen I wanted to be a musician. I couldn’t play any instruments and could hardly sing but I could put rhythms together. There were people who thought I could sing but I didn’t know anything about breathing, notes, pitches.
There was a teacher at secondary school, Mr Spencer, and he saw something in me. All I knew was that I wanted to perform for people. I wanted to do what Shabba or Buju could do. Mr Spencer asked me to be the emperor in the school play, The emperor’s nightingale. It was operatic.
Now we’ve all had that teacher that we hated like we have all had that teacher who made us feel invincible. So did Buggy sing two songs to Mr Spencer and become the legend he is today? Very much no.
He would make me sing opera and would I think, I wonder if Shabba ever had to do anything opera-like but it taught me the instrument of the voice.
That’s what made me want to learn music, everything from instruments to singing.
This is coming from a student who wanted to study Civil Engineering, maybe continue with some Electrical Engineering and get what we all call a respectable job. Buggy did well at school and passed his exams, pulling off everything that was expected of him. He got into engineering school and that was the next stepping stone that took him closer to music.
It was his foundation year. He was hardly eighteen and another engineering friend of his had a studio. The truth is that he just really liked a girl who knew the guy but ended up grouping up with them all and going to his house to record some stuff. Turned out to be KB Sharp from Hit Island Studios. This is as much a stepping stone as studying engineering.
Stepping stone? Definitely. Buggy worked with KB Sharp for several years developing key, intensity and expression. Had you heard of Buggy at this stage? Of course not. He was busy building himself – becoming something. When they got to a point where they were both developing in different directions they parted ways. They had helped each other and grown together for several years and now he needed another… Don’t make us say it again.
I used to go to Temple Yard. At the time it was even more interesting than it is now. It’s fun when you go to Temple Yard at first because you don’t know anybody… But when they start to recognise you they don’t respect you as much if you still don’t perform.
One night I bought a few things and I saw this Haile Selassie shirt. I check my pocket and didn’t have the money to buy it. So I went in the back, warmed up, got on stage and sing a Barbadian version of Fire Power. People cheered me so much, it was really special. Even the t-shirt man pushed through the crowd and stretched his arm out. He said, have the shirt.
Everything fell into place after that. Dylan chow recruited Buggy and seven others to develop them even more. It was an era that lasted seven years, during which time he never stopped learning and the importance of stage performance became the headline.
The education I got from this wasn’t something you could pay for. You meet people who inspire you and I met a lot of people who were like that. To me it was Twin Man, Daddy Plume, Soldier, Fat Man… Icons of Barbados. They set the level for Barbados. People don’t understand how motivational these musicians are. You can’t understand what things they said to me that inspire me. I keep recording, I keep going.
But even seven years of Dylan Chow had to come to an end. Buggy had grown leaped enough times to be nearer his dream than ever.
I realised it was my turn to start inspiring people myself. And, by teaching, you learn. By giving back to other people, you learn.
You go to a fruit tree and there are other people there. You’re the only one who has been taught to pick fruit. You don’t take fruit and walk away down the street. You pick fruit for the others too.
What do we do with these kids who want to be instant celebrities? What kind of advice do you give the next generation?
Take your time. Don’t do something only because your parents or friends approve. If you’re not happy, if you’re hitting walls etc. you shouldn’t stick with it. But if you’re enjoying it and can be creative and express yourself so much, the flow just keeps going and falls into place. There’s no limit to what you can do.
What if you went to a younger version of yourself and you could give yourself some advice, what would you tell yourself?
Follow your heart, never give up on believing what you believe in. Be yourself. Continue to do what you’re doing.
From the very beginning, Buggy had the foresight and wisdom to understand that every step of the way was a step closer to his goal. Even today he knows that his life is leading him to another stepping stone.