Tue | Jan 22, 2019

'I change dead yard' - Kukudoo

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Brian McCalla/Freelance Photographer Gospel artistes Omari (left) and Kukudoo delivered an energetic performance on an edition of Digicel Rising Stars..
Contributed David 'Kukudoo' McDermott puts emotion into his performance.
Contributed David 'Kukudoo' McDermott on stage.

Call him what you will - Vibes Machine, Dead Yard, or Set-up Man - there's no denying David 'Kukudoo' McDermott's signature revivalist style and sound, Hai, Hai, Hai, and his growing influence on Jamaica's cultural death ritual - the nine night or set-up.

"Dead yard change. Dead yard no boring again. I change it," he declared boldly in an interview with The Gleaner recently.

"You nuh miss dancehall."

With break-out hits like King David (See People Business and Leave It Alone), Thank You Jesus, and the Pole Gospel medley, he could be right. Another hit, Poco Man Rhythm, done with singer Omari, was produced by Donovan Germain's Penthouse Records.

Kukudoo's popularity and fan base have been soaring. In the last year alone, he has been billed for several shows, travelling at least 11 times to concerts overseas. A gig in England covered three outings - Bristol, Birmingham, and Nottingham - while a show in New York was followed up by another United States trip days later.

Come Boxing Day, December 26, he will be performing on dancehall's biggest stage - Sting. That, he says, was a link he made while on a show in the US. "I was in Florida and a secular artiste heard me perform and said, 'No, man! You have to be at Sting.' He asked me if I was interested. I told him yes, and he made the link. Last Tuesday, I met with Laing (Sting promoter Isaiah Laing), and when I went, in they said, 'Sting full. No more artistes', but I had my CDs with me, and when I played my CDs, they said, 'No, no! Sting open to you!' So I'll be there Boxing Day to perform."

The 49-year-old former machine operator at the Sugar Company of Jamaica - Bernard Lodge Sugar Estates in St Catherine said while he has performed as a secular singer on sound systems like Stereo Don and Impressions in his earlier years, since his conversion some seven years ago, he has been performing almost exclusively at wakes. It is a market he has cornered.

But his chanting, hymn tracking, and biting lyrics, backed by rhythmic drumming, is not to be confused with local Pocomania-style streetside meetings. The singer, who was quick to point out that he is not a Pocomania, said: "People think they are the same, but they are not. Pocomania have some rituals that they do - the drinking of rum, and tobacco smoking. I don't do that. We are a straight gospel band. Our signature sound is old revival."

McDermott said he was born and grew up in the March Pen area of Spanish Town, St Catherine, and initially had no interest in church or gospel singing.

"I grew up in a church yard. In fact, I lived in a church yard, and I used to walk by the window and jook persons with pins while they were under the anointing to see if it was real. One day a God jook me."

A water-baptised, Holy Ghost-filled member of the Zion Apostle Sinai Church, McDermott said the music delivered in his Revivalist style is his ministry, but even that, he said, was not deliberate. "I used to have a band called the Uplifters that played at the church. One time, there was a member that died and we were asked to play and from that, people would come and ask us to play for them, and we found that people like that sort of thing, so we continued," he said.

As for his trademark, Hai Hai Hai, Kukudoo said it was inspired -literally.

"I was at a thanksgiving service for Bishop Braham, and I am well known as a vibes machine. Whenever I go anywhere, people would call me to sing because that's what I do. I can sing. I can go for five, six hours straight. That time, I was singing, and when the anointing came down on me, I was just saying 'Hi! Hi! Hi! Oh Jesus!', but I didn't know that the operator was recording, and so that's how it came to be on the CD. Everywhere we went since then, people want to hear that, so it became my signature sound," he said.

He laughed at the recollection of how his song, King David, came about. "That song ... I was at a church and a lady there was giving a lot of trouble ... making jokes, troubling people, watching people, and telling what they were doing and I said to her, 'You need to stop'. So when I went up to sing, I pointed at her and said, 'See people business and leave it alone ... Hallelujah!', I never knew that would become one of my biggest hits."

There are plans to release a new album in June 2015. It contains 18 tracks and was produced by Ralston Simpson and Garfield Smith.

McDermott believes his ministry is different and special. "I am not a preacher, but I try to encourage people as I sing, telling them not to give up - that they can move from nothing to something because I am a living witness."

As for his name, that's a different matter altogether. "Me dangerous in the kitchen. I am a good cook. As a little boy growing up in Spanish Town, we use to 'run boat' (cook) in the days. We would go to bush and pick ackee and cook, and I was always the chef - they always want me to cook - so they call me 'cook'. One day somebody just fling on the 'doo'.