Mon | Jan 18, 2021

Naomi Cowan covers Carey holiday song - Says ‘Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)’ relevant to ‘difficult time’

Published:Saturday | December 5, 2020 | 8:34 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Naomi Cowan.
Naomi Cowan.
Naomi Cowan
Naomi Cowan
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While Mariah Carey’s quarter-century-old, holiday staple All I Want For Christmas Is You consistently tops Billboard’s Holiday 100 Chart and sits in a familiar position atop the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Top 25 Holiday Songs for the current season, it is not the song that Jamaican songbird Naomi Cowan believed to be the most relevant or deserving to which to lend her sultry vocals.

The R&B singer’s holiday songs are timeless, especially All I Want For Christmas, which consistently tops charts such as the Billboard Holiday 100 Chart,and in 2019, became the first holiday song to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart since 1958, which Cowan was not surprised to hear. She said, “Christmas songs are generally successful for longer periods, for a few things, first of which is that it is great music, (so) All I Want For Christmas, and even my mother, Carlene Davis’ Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto), are just great songs.”

Cowan said Miss You Most (At Christmas Time), which is just as old, also from Carey’s 1994 Merry Christmas album, was selected based off the story it tells and the emotions it captures. Some persons would be surprised to hear Cowan’s version, though not reggae or dancehall, is a slightly more upbeat rendition, wherein she glides delicately over the harmonies and tops it off with her sweetheart personality and still manages to make it feel truly Jamaican.

“The idea of doing a Christmas song came from Walshy Fire, with whom I have been working for a major part of the year, and then I suggested a cover, but in choosing one, I wanted something that wasn’t too religious and also to avoid a song with lyrics that were not applicable to our lives here in Jamaica … meaning things like snow or chimneys, which we don’t have,” she shared with The Gleaner.

“In my search, I stumbled upon this song, and as a huge fan of Mariah’s music from the ‘90s, I thought this was most [fitting]”, Cowan continued, adding that though she had not heard the track in a long time, the lyrics, almost instantaneously “hit a nerve”. She said that the lyrics were relevant to the time and proportionate to the emotions being expressed by people on a whole – be it sadness, anxiety, fear, or frustration – during the pandemic.

“We are all going through a difficult time. It was important for me to recognise that as a way to say that it is acceptable to feel the way we do about the pandemic and 2020 as it is a traumatising experience for adults and children alike – everyone really. In going back to the song’s lyrics, we are not alone in what we are feeling. Christmas is rough as a time when people want to give but may not be able to when all this is happening concurrently. It can make a lot of people feel sad. I, occasionally, have to battle depression, personally, at this time of the year.”

Cowan pointed out that an individual genuinely overcomes an emotional battle when he or she gives his or her body and mind time to face or feel the emotions.

“I didn’t want to just sing that I wanted everyone to be happy this Christmas because truth is, a lot of people are not going to be happy. Music can also remind you that you are not alone in your sadness and in what you are missing and that you have a right to feel the way you feel because what we are experiencing, as much as they are trying to tell us this is this new normal, there is nothing normal about it,” she said.

“A lot of us are feeling low as a result of the pandemic. So many have lost things, whether it be our livelihoods, property, missed trips, or opportunities, or an actual person. For me and fellow musicians, we haven’t been able to tour. A lot of things have changed for us, and we lost the opportunity to safely do what we love, which is to perform.”

Noting that virtual shows have served as alternative platforms for self-expression and for entertainers to share their talent with the world, Cowan explained otherwise.

“Virtual shows are great, but it is not the same. Ultimately, I needed to connect with the lyrics, and I felt this song would be a cool way to connect with people. Right now, I am missing a lot of family and friends who I know I won’t get to see this year in person. There are also persons that have died, and this was my way, in wanting to connect, at a deeper level,” the Climbing singer said.

“The truth is, Christmas is one of the few things that literally happens year after year after year, and people kind of recreate very similar experiences, which the music plays a role in because as much as how society and technology have evolved, people still put up a Christmas tree, continue to cook big dinners, but no matter where you are in the world, the music maintains that energy. It is one of the few elements we return to when we want to feel the Christmas spirit. I suppose it is the same reason some songs remain popular for weddings and funerals.”

CHRISTMAS CAROLS

Though carolling is not part of a broader Cowan family tradition, the singer recalls going from door to door with friends in her neighbourhood as a young girl singing some of these popular Christmas songs and traditional carols as part of a hustle to earn holiday treats be it in cash or candy she explained.

“I wouldn’t say carols are significant to my personal upbringing or that it was necessarily something we did as a family, but as a child, I was always trying to perform to earn some money, so that became my personal Christmas tradition for myself.”

Christmas is usually one of the busiest times of the year as an entertainer and for the music business in which Cowan’s family is anchored. She said, “There are usually Christmas concerts, celebratory events, corporate this and that. For dad, especially, he used to play a huge role in Sting, which was around this time of the year, so he was always busy, though, I can’t speak much for this year for any of us. The one tradition we uphold is to be together, have Christmas breakfast, and spend time talking about how the year has been and what we are grateful for, exchanging gifts. Nothing extravagant - just a token to remind each other that we are here and love each other.”

The SOS Children Village has invited Cowan to perform at the upcoming charity show to be held at the R Hotel ,which she said would be her first public appearance that is not a virtual show. She is also preparing for the release of the audio and visuals for Miss You Most (At Christmas Time), which Cowan describes as a magical diversion, following one day of filming in St Ann.

“I understand persons’ reasons for saying Christmas not happening this year. But yes! People should make an effort to celebrate, and in celebrating, reflect, be grateful, and share your hearts with one another. More than anything, say the things you want to say to one another. Give. There are people in need, and community service is more important than even having a big dinner. Don’t misinterpret that. If you want to have a big dinner, go ahead, but I think it is important that we as a people find our joy. I believe in fighting for your joy,” she said.

stephanie.lyew@gleanerjm.com