One of reggae’s most dynamic duos, Chaka Demus and Pliers are still going strong.
The celebrated Jamaican pair, famed for hits including Murder She Wrote and Twist & Shout, will perform in the UK this weekend alongside Gyptian, Queen Ifrica, Ken Boothe and Leroy Sibbles, as part of the hugely anticipated Legends of Reggae Tour – and they can’t wait.
“Boy, I can’t wait to reach,” says Chaka Demus, who was handling the duo’s interviews that day. “I think the last time we were in the UK was about eight years ago so we’re really looking forward to it. The fans are gonna have a great time.”
With Chaka Demus’ laid back deejay delivery and smooth vocals from Pliers, the much-loved duo go together like bun and cheese. After forming in the ‘90s, the pair enjoyed success with a number of feel-good reggae hits.
But it was the 1993 song Tease Me that earned the duo mainstream attention and huge commercial success, particularly here in the Britain, where the single reached number three in the UK charts.
Performing as a duo for over two decades, Chaka, born John Taylor, recalls how their journey began.
“We met over 20 years ago and I happened to tell Mr Pliers that I really love how he sings. We then went on a mini tour of the United States and did a little freestyle together on stage, which turned out to be the best part of the shows. So from there we started working together.”
It proved to be a fruitful partnership, with the pair successfully aiding the commercial success reggae music enjoyed in the UK throughout the 90s.
Along with acts including Shaggy (Oh Carolina), Shabba Ranks (Mr Loverman), Aswad (Shine) and Bitty McLean (It Keeps Raining), Chaka Demus & Pliers were at the forefront of that golden era of pop-reggae hits.
But despite the crossover success of Tease Me, it’s another one of their singles that fills Chaka with pride.
“There have been a lot of wonderful experiences in our career, but one thing that sticks out is the first song we did together, Gal Wine. I remember I told Mr Pliers, ‘This is gonna be a hit song’. He said, ‘You believe that, Chaka?’ I said, ‘Yes, I believe it will be a hit song’ and it was. Scoring a hit with the first song we recorded together was one of the greatest moments for me.”
Asked why he refers to his long-time bandmate as ‘Mr Pliers’, Chaka laughed: “You have to show respect, you know? It’s not a title, it’s more style and respect!”
Having worked together for over 20 years, Chaka says he and Pliers, whose real name is Everton Bonner, are like brothers.
“Oh yes, we’re very close,” he confirms. “I mean, we’re humans, so sometimes we might have a little quarrel or we disagree on things. But at the end of the day, we’re very close.”
Full of praise for Pliers – whose brothers are fellow reggae singers Richie Spice and Spanner Banner – Chaka says: “I believe Jah put him here on Earth to sing. He’s one of the best singers to come out of Jamaica, as far as I’m concerned.”
Together, the duo has enjoyed success, but they’ve also weathered professional storms, particularly where finances have been concerned.
“We’ve had some very bad experiences,” Chaka reflects. “We really got a raw deal and it was really hurtful.
“I wouldn’t want any young artist to go through what Chaka Demus & Pliers went through. Financially, we didn’t get what we deserved. Murder She Wrote and a lot of our other big songs, we didn’t get paid for. But that’s how it is when you sign a bad deal, you know?
“At that time, our manager took us to a criminal lawyer, who was supposed to read our contract – a music contract – and guide us. We should have been taken to a music lawyer, but our management didn’t care.
“We were just taken to this lawyer who read the contract then said to us, ‘You understand that?’ We were like, ‘Not really!’
“At that point, we really needed someone to guide us, but it was more a case of, ‘Yeah man, it’s a good contract, just sign it!’ We didn’t know any better so we signed it and that’s how things went.”
Still, they came through the tough times and they’re still going strong. Having recently completed a US tour, the duo continues to prove that they have not only staying power, but a host of hits that audiences still love.
Their place in reggae history was reinforced two years ago when they were invited to perform at the 2013 BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards. Joining forces with acts including Beenie Man, Dawn Penn and Elephant Man, the duo performed Murder She Wrote as part of a special reggae segment.
“I was at home when Mr Pliers called me and told me BET wanted us to perform on their show. It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down, especially as it showed us that people still love us!
“It was a really good experience. We got to meet a lot of great people. Jamie Foxx was a really nice guy, I was delighted to meet him. He’s not a hype person; he was very down to earth.”
The same can be said of Chaka. The father-of-three, who has been married for over 30 years, remains humble and laid back, despite his professional successes.
Ever grateful for the support the duo has received throughout the years, Chaka doesn’t hesitate when asked what has kept them going for the past two decades.
“The love for the music and the love for the fans,” he says. “We always try to serve the fans well because we know that without them, we’re nothing.”