Cezar has no regrets - Singer-songwriter says music took a back seat to family
Though joking when he compared music to a mistress, some elements hold true in the comparison. The industry, reggae soul singer Cezar told The Gleaner in a recent interview, is very demanding for an artiste. “It requires a lot of attention, and it does not take well to you having other pursuits and priorities,” he explained.
As the son of Rupert Cunningham, who co-founded Ashanti and Bamboo Records in London, which contributed to fostering and maintaining the relationship with Jamaica’s music for the European audience, along with the large Caribbean population there, Cezar had always imagined forging a career in the music industry, even while studying for his degree in architecture at the Howard University in Washington DC.
He said, “I was doing a project based on Jamaica’s music, even though it was for architecture, and bucked up on dad’s name and his partner Junior Lincoln and he wasn’t a household name, but you don’t have the be the biggest name on the scene to make a positive contribution to your culture. If you make it, then God has blessed you in a big way.”
Cezar ended up being a pioneer in live music. Having taught himself to play the guitar, he developed an unusual style of adding a bit of soul into dancehall and reggae productions that intrigued the local audience. One of his first releases was recorded on Renaissance Disco’s Thunder Klap Riddim, titled Sexy Ways, in 2003. Then, his guitar playing became an instrumental element of the production label’s Stepz Riddim in 2004, which went on to garner international success with Sean Paul’s We Be Burnin’. One of Cezar’s recent achievements includes being honoured by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in both their Pop Music and Rhythm & Soul categories for credits on Tinashe’s 2014 hit single 2 ON, which sampled from the dancehall production.
He would go on to contribute to other productions, whether with his guitar-playing skills or lyrically, writing tracks for the likes of Bunny Rugs of Third World, Tami Chynn, Wayne Marshall, and more. The songwriting breakthrough came after placing second in the world music category of the International Songwriting Competition for Keep On, the remix of which earned him an endorsement by Coca-Cola International, which used it as part of their Beijing Olympics 2008 campaign with a limited-edition drink bottle bearing the singer-songwriter’s name.
However, in 2012, when his career was going into a direction that many on-the-rise talents would be motivated by, he had to make a life-changing decision.
“Fatherhood was a big adjustment for me, and it forced me to make a tough choice when it came to music. Relocating to the US at the time was best, and I would have to be frank by saying music had to take a back seat,” Cezar shared, adding that, his architectural background jumped to the front.
“I transitioned quietly out of Jamaica with the hopes of being one foot in, one foot out, but over time that proved hard to do because establishing a residency and surviving in a new country in itself was a transition. Don’t get me wrong I have always been somebody of faith so if I stayed in Jamaica I would push through, lots of musicians go through rough times and raise families, but I felt compelled to make that call,” he continued.
Cezar boasts that his daughter Josephine, who turns 12 years old this month, and wife Nadia, are his pride and joy and he is more than content knowing he made the decision he did eight years ago.
“I started chasing the dream before I became a dad. Once I became one, I didn’t feel I had the luxury of going into that direction, and my daughter and wife are my daily justification for making the decision I made, because it would be difficult raising my daughter while running down goals in an industry that does not necessarily have anything to do with how much talent or links you do or don’t have,” he said. “Yes, I was doing fine getting booked for shows on TV, but those things don’t always translate financially when you are categorised as up-and-coming, and I was never of the notion that I was guaranteed a prime spot, but always hoped that I’d at least make a mark on someone else’s career.”
His ballads She Said and Take The Fall are still staples in wedding playlists. The singer-songwriter, who was recently in St Maarten for an architectural project, has not stopped contributing to music, whether by penning lyrics or in the production process, and, in May, he released a reggae cover version of U2’s One, written by Bono, which is inspired by So Much Trouble and Coming in from the Cold by Bob Marley, but says “it was just done for fun and to be a light, inspirational song, for the current chaotic times.”
“Things have been good under the circumstances that come with living in this crazy world. I still create and contribute remotely to our music and culture, because I value the impact it has made globally. I am accessible, eager to collaborate and contribute to other artistes from a wide cross-section,” he said.