Sanjay’s decision to do music hasn’t always been well received - But it will take more than that to stop the popular host from pursuing his passion
Connections are a constant obstacle in the career paths Sanjay is set on. A recording artiste and popular television host, he is often seen only as the latter. “My career as a recording artiste or musician is definitely a work in progress because Jamaicans, on a whole, know me to be more outside the music,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
But long before television, Sanjay was frequenting music entertainment hubs like Renaissance Disco and Grafton Studios in Vineyard Town, as well as seeking out producers from Donovan ‘Don Corleone’ Bennetta and Kirk ‘Kirkledove’ Bennett to Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor.
“A lot of the lack of respect, in current times, is owed to persons’ perceptions of who I am and what I do based on where they see me. My other profession is something very prominent, and people are used to seeing me on their screens every week, more than once when Digicel Rising Stars is being aired,” he said. “When people start to see you so much in one area, it makes it very difficult for them to adapt to seeing you in another context, and so I can’t blame the people who describe me as the TV youth a try a ting wid music.”
CAREER ON SCREEN
Throughout his career, Sanjay has always been on screen. It has been that way every week of his life since 2007. Before that, he worked as a production assistant on set. His name will ring bells though he is still underrated amid the pantheon of hitmaking reggae and dancehall entertainers. “I’m not going to have millions of songs that run the place one time!” he exclaimed.
A lot of his music is heard in the streets, in communities where local genres are played uninterruptedly, from the dance to round robins rather than on radio stations. “Even my colleagues in radio don’t take me seriously, and while they understand that I am a talented artiste, I have always gotten more strength from the streets. The momentum needs to be built in music, and what will change that is when the catalogue gets to that level where it is undeniable,” Sanjay said.
Sanjay’s own journey started with several transitions – born in Jamaica, then moving to New York when he was three. He returned home several years later and attended the Hillel Academy. After completing high school, he attended Florida International University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology. But despite traditional education, music remained his calling, one which he continues to pursue.
When Sanjay talks about music and the business of entertainment, his voice gets brighter. He grows more reserved while discussing his parents’ opinions of his career, those of his father, more than his mother. As he speaks about it, he chooses his words very carefully as if not wanting to cause disrespect. His hesitancy makes sense.
He spent much of his childhood writing – and wrote his first song at eight years old - always trying his hand at putting pen to paper. His father, who he portrays as a buttoned-down conservative with the idea that having a son means someone to take over a family business, did not consider music as a realistic profession.
“We did not talk for approximately 10 years, and we still don’t keep in touch. He was never really supportive of the music; he’s very right-brained and just a very business-oriented man. What he had in mind for me was not the vision I had for myself,” Sanjay opened up. At the same time, his mother, Betty Stephenson Ashley, with whom he shares the creative gene, was a writer of poetry and is known across Jamaica for her work as a horticulturist. He continued, “I have always felt like music is doing what it should do, and I don’t define success the same way I may have 10 or 15 years ago, and so I remain committed to my goals.”
Some of Sanjay’s most popular tracks are Strictly Physical, his debut single which featured Tami Chynn, Man Of My Word on the Guardian Angel Riddim produced by Arif Cooper, Drop Dat and Corners Of My Mind with Tanya Stephens. He has collaborated with many other reggae and dancehall elites such as Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man, Demarco, Tifa, Alaine, Luciano, and Aidonia, getting airplay throughout the Caribbean islands and even made it as far as MTV Italy. Sanjay was also the featured artiste on the Travel Channel’s hit television series, No Reservation with Anthony Bourdain in Jamaica, which he names as one of his most treasured accomplishments next to Belleh 23, a three and a half-year-old business venture that has become Kingston’s sought-out creative guest houses. He also embarked on a 15-city European tour four years ago.
He is currently connecting the dots with new music like Hype Up Yuhself and Last Real One Left, rising in the number of views on YouTube.
He said, “I am continuing my promotion of Last Real One Left at this time; it was a song inspired one night after leaving work to go home and seeing the roads empty – not even one dog - the whole drive had me thinking about a world where I could be the last real person in it. Producer Chambah of Silver Bird Records created the rhythm, and an upcoming female artiste by the name of Pretty J worked on the harmonies with us. I can truly say it is one of the most well-received songs … locally. I have never had another song played more on the radio, and it could be much bigger.”
The acoustic version shows Sanjay’s emotional side, which people will hear in a forthcoming live instrumentation album, although he has not announced an official release date. Delivering this in an industry where younger artistes are thriving on the digitally created rhythms, which are a fusion of new wave dancehall and international genres, may result in the album, where so many instrumentalists and professional musicians have contributed to its making and deserve the attention, getting lost.
“I am waiting to release it because I am not sure that the time is right for me to promote it to reach its full potential and audience. The timing was right for Last Real One Left because of the whole introspective mood people are in, and the team was able to market it well online, which is extremely active. It will make an impact when everything comes together,” he said.