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I Sang Happy Birthday To Shaggy In A Kurla Mall

I Sang Happy Birthday To Shaggy In A Kurla Mall

A concert in a food court that filled me with guilt, awe and sexual contemplation.

Without Shaggy, I may have never discovered the concept I know today as ‘sex.’

Shaggy, you see, was my introduction to the world of the intimate, the illicit, the sensual.

I was nine years old, and I’d just heard ‘It Wasn’t Me’ for the first time on the radio.

‘Banging’ on the bathroom floor. What was that? It sounded violent, and dangerous, and slightly alarming.

So I asked a friend. And he told me. And nothing, I guess, has been the same since.

Sixteen years later, I found myself at my first Shaggy concert. And I couldn’t help but notice how sexy the man still is, even as he advances gracefully into his middle years. My friend Anuja swooned throughout his entire 80-minute performance, and so did I. Shaggy oozes swag, a concept that many Indians understand, but few of us truly embody (we’re usually either too reserved or too curious to ever be cool).

It was clear that Shaggy has seen better days. He’s topped the charts and toured the world. He’s performed for millions of screaming, heaving, gyrating fans, on beaches and in nightclubs and at festivals — beautiful places for beautiful people.

I found myself at a Shaggy concert in a food court of a mall I found myself at a Shaggy concert in a food court of a mall

When he first arrived on stage, I felt bad for him. Sheepish. I felt he deserved better than this – his previous India shows have included outdoor concerts, where he performed for thousands. Tonight, however, he was in the food court of a Kurla Mall.

The man deserved better, and when he first appeared, his eyes belied his confident swagger. But that was just a blip. He gathered hold of himself, and of us, and he put on a show: working the crowd, hyping us up and getting the party started.

The guy is an absolute professional. And though no one really wanted to be there, in that Kurla food court — not Shaggy, not me, not anyone — he didn’t let it bother him. With a brave face and a stern voice, Shaggy coaxed and commanded us.

Shaggy works the crowd into a frenzy…next to a Wok Express Shaggy works the crowd into a frenzy…next to a Wok Express

It didn’t matter that he was sick – he admitted that he was struggling with a sore throat, and during some of the higher notes, that proud, mischievous face was temporarily wracked by pain.

It didn’t matter that he was performing right next to a Wok Express, or in front of the worst visuals ever exhibited at a concert — a nauseatingly psychedelic collection of what appeared to be animated Windows ’98 wallpapers.

It didn’t matter that he was closer in age to most of our parents than he was to the audience itself.

All that mattered was that he was here, and he was Shaggy, and he was full of swag.

Shaggy gets down as he’s joined on stage by dancers Shaggy gets down as he’s joined on stage by dancers

He was on stage a little after 9PM, bellowing at us to get louder. All wasn’t right, initially. Shaggy was displeased by the event organizer’s decision to put the VIP section right up front, up against the stage. What should have been a tanged mass of his most rabid fans was in fact a rather sedate collection of men wearing dress shirts tucked into their jeans.

By 9:30, he’d started to lose steam slightly, as the crowd’s sweaty drunkenness dissolved into hungover exhaustion. But 20 minutes later, we’d found our second wind — less exuberant than before, but happier.

And though the night ended on a low — a string of current Top 40 hits by other artists that you’d hear at any musically uninspired bar anywhere in the world — it was full of highs.

Shaggy takes a quiet moment to talk to the crowdShaggy takes a quiet moment to talk to the crowd

The highs: when he pulled out the hits — Hey Sexy Lady, It Wasn’t Me, Mr. Boombastic, Angel, That Love, Habibi (I Need Your Love). The highs were high, and most of were high too, and we screamed and cheered and danced and jumped, and girls twerked, and some guys did, too.

But the best moment: when we all sang Shaggy a very happy birthday, and he looked genuinely grateful, and touched. It was the surreal culmination of a surreal evening — a 48-year-old man celebrating his birthday with hundreds of drunk, crop-topped teenagers and drunker, collar-wearing 20-somethings.

Despite my endless discomfort at our surroundings, Shaggy was there for me, helping me forget where I was. With my eyes closed, I tuned out the Kurla food court, and felt a Carribean breeze, a Florida sunset, a New York dancehall party.

The sudden transition from concert to mall lifeThe sudden transition from concert to mall life

So thank you, Shaggy.

I felt many things last night. I felt guilt. Guilt this great artist, a man who’s had an undeniable impact on pop music, and all of our lives, for the last 20 years, was performing in a food court, backed by the worst visuals in history.

I felt awe – that all of my friends and most of the audience were still standing after the amount of alcohol they’d consumed.

I felt joy – that most of us were able to tune out the neon restaurant branding and have a great time with this legendary performer.

And I felt pensive. Here, in the Kurla food court, I felt that my entire sexual identity had been bookended by two very different, but still very powerful Shaggy experiences. The first, in 2000, when he introduced me to sex via a Dubai radio station. And the second, today, in 2016, when he reminded me that anything is possible when you have a bit of swag.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of

By Kunal Bambawale
Photographs by Kunal Bambawale