Smiley, before you decided on a career as a solo artist, you were a member of the Dutch reggae band Out Of Many. Was it with that band that you took your first steps in the music business?
Smiley: "I'm from Aruba in the Caribbean and there I started performing around the age of sixteen, but at that stage I was still doing calypso and zouk, genres that are very popular on the islands. When I was in my early twenties I came to Europe and in Amsterdam I met the guys of Out Of Many whom I joined and stayed with for just under two years."
Did you start using your nickname Smiley when you started doing reggae or is that a name you were known by much longer already?
Smiley: "Oh yes, I got that name when I was in the third grade of elementary school. I always smiled a lot and every time the teacher turned around he saw me smiling, so he thought I was up to no good. He started calling me Smiley after a while and the name stuck."
Do the people in Aruba know you as a reggae artist?
Smiley: "Well, they know me as an artist full stop. I used to be a member of a band called E.G.R.; we were quite popular for a while and even recorded an album at one stage."
Why did you eventually call it quits with Out Of Many to pursue a solo career?
Smiley: "When I joined them, Out Of Many already had a lead vocalist, Strawl, whom I already knew from back in Aruba. I had just arrived in The Netherlands and was eager to get back into music, so I was happy playing a secondary role in the band, but as an artist you want to keep on growing and that's why I had to go and do my own thing at one stage. We left things as friends, there weren't any bad vibes or something."
In 2008 you travelled to Jamaica. What lasting impressions did that trip leave you with?
Smiley: "In part that trip felt like a blessing. To be able to travel to that wonderful island and on top of that be able to record a duet and a video with Junior Kelly, a big name in reggae music, is not nothing, but seeing the reality behind the music I love so much, was also somewhat of an eye-opener. Jamaica is a great place, don't get me wrong, but there's also a dark side to the island. I think visiting Jamaica also made me grow as a person and as an artist. These days reggae is a worldwide phenomenon, everyone giving their own twist to the music, but the origins of the genre are still in Jamaica. Being able to record there and work with local artists boosts your confidence as a musician."
You just mentioned 'Dem A Wonder', the tune you did with Junior Kelly. He must have liked the song as well as he put it on his latest album 'Piece Of The Pie'.
Smiley: "If you know Junior Kelly, you'll know that he has a certain reputation for not wanting to work with just anyone. The riddim for 'Dem A Wonder' was produced by Al.Ta.Fa.An. who liked my voice and introduced me to Junior Kelly. Shooting the video took an entire day and the vibes were great. The only thing I regret is that we haven't had the opportunity yet to perform the song live together."
'Is This Real', a duet you did with Shirma Rouse, is definitely a track that sticks out above the rest on the album. Her name might not ring a bell among reggae lovers; could you tell us a bit more about her?
Smiley: "Shirma Rouse is quite big in the Dutch r&b and soul scene. In the past she was a backing vocalist for Anouk and she just released 'Shirma Rouse Sings Aretha', an Aretha Franklin tribute album. As she's also from the islands, me and her go way back and we've been contemplating doing a duet for quite a while. The riddim we used for 'Is This Real' has a bit of r&b and a bit of reggae in it, so it combined the best of our two worlds. She's a great singer and it was an absolute pleasure to be able to work with her."
How important is it for you to put out conscious songs?
Smiley: "I always pay attention to the content I put in my lyrics and I take my time to write them. The tricky bit is to find the right balance between the catchiness and content of a song. I like to motivate people and share my life experiences. Even when I do something on a dancehall riddim, I still try to give the song some content. Music is a global language and even when you don't understand a song because it's in a language you don't speak, you can still get a feel of the vibe. I would like my songs to stand the test of time and still be relevant in years to come."
Being a Dutch reggae artist with an Antillean background, you won't escape comparisons with Ziggi. Is that something that bothers you?
Smiley: "People will always like to compare, so it doesn't really bother me. Ziggi is a great artist, so if they want to compare me to him, it means I'm on the same level! It makes me laugh sometimes though, because it happens so often. I even read a review that read: "Ziggi you betta watch it!" (written by yours truly, red.), so I'm definitely on the right track!"
How did you come up with the whole traffic light theme for your debut album?
Smiley: "To be honest that was Sticko's idea. I had a song called 'Red Light' and another called 'Green Light' and we had to come up with a concept that could unite those different tracks. Traffic lights have more or less the same three colors that also represent reggae music: red, gold and green. The outro on the album explains the whole meaning behind those three colors. Different colors, for the different moods on the album!"