Santa comes to Jamaica - Artistes join rich tradition of producing timeless Christmas songs

Published: Sunday | December 15, 2013 Comments 0

Christmas songs are heard once a year and that, perhaps, explains why they retain their freshness and originality.  It would seem that the yearlong wait creates, or contributes to, this insatiable appetite for Christmas songs each time the festive season comes around.

They have become such an integral part of Christmas celebrations around the world that it leads one to wonder what Christmas would be without them.

Christmas songs come in various forms - Church hymns, carols, novelty songs and popular music. Popular songs have even been known to make the record charts in several countries, perhaps the most conspicuous being Bing Crosby's White Christmas, which did so for 21 years each Christmas after 1942.

It went on to create history by becoming the world's biggest selling single of all time.

The Christmas Song (Chest-nuts roasting on an Open Fire), first recorded by the Nat Cole Trio in 1946, ranks alongside Crosby's recording, having emerged each year as one of the most popular songs. Interestingly, the co-writer of that song, Mel Torme, claimed he wrote the song during the blistering hot summer of 1944 in an effort "to stay cool".

Here in Jamaica, The Rhythm Aces, with Boris Gardiner as lead vocalist, made it to the top ten of the local charts with The Meaning of Christmas.

The recording, which was done close to Christmas 1960, was written by Boris' brother, Barrington, and sought to describe what Christmas was all about by using each letter of the word to convey the meaning:

C is for Christmas, the season of good cheer

H is for happiness to last throughout the year

R is for respect, which each and all should show

In this holy season, wherever you may go.

I is for indulgence, to know how far to go

S is for Santa Claus, the children all do know

T is for toys, for little girls and boys, around the world where e're they may be you'll find them joyfully.

M is for manger, the place where He was born

A is for angels, who watched from dusk to dawn

S is for stars that led three men from afar.

Performing as a solo act, Boris rerecorded the song for Dynamic sounds in 1972. Barrington, a talented songwriter, had, in fact, set his brother's career in motion that same year by writing for The Rhythm Aces.

At the time, The Rhythm Aces consisted of Delano Stewart of Gaylads fame, Richard Ace, Dennis Moss and Gardiner.

Still on the Jamaican scene, Faith D'Aguilar, using comical and colloquial vocabulary, wrote and sang the popular novelty song, Santa Ketch Up inna Mango Tree, in the late 1960s.

According to her, "Why should Santa come down through a chimney when we have none in Jamaica? A mango tree would be more appropriate."

Having a fairly distinguished career in theatre and with the Little Theatre Movement's Pantomime, D'Aguilar, on more than one occasion, has made commendable impersonations of folk icon Louise Bennett Coverley, during tributes to honour her.

Also making a top-10 Jamaican Christmas song list would be Alton Ellis' Christmas Coming, done in the late 1960s.

A rework of the Studio 1 reggae hit, Sunday Coming, Ellis' song was immensely popular at any Christmas dance.

Ellis, dubbed the Godfather of reggae, seems to have felt the real Christmas spirit as he chanted:

Ooh, yeah! Christmas coming, coming, huh!

Christmas is a happy day, yeah

Christmas is the day Christ came, yeah.

Heard it, the angels say, yeah.

Ellis has the enviable distinction of establishing simultaneous relationships with the two great archrivals in the production business during the 1960s, Duke Reid and Clement Dodd, releasing several No. 1 hits for both.

The group, HomeT4, seemed more at home with younger folks, in the Baga Casely led recording, Let the Christmas Catch You in a Good Mood:

If you have no money, I'll let you have some of mine.

Let the Christmas catch you feeling fine.

Put on your dancing shoes and come with me tonight.

We're gonna rock till broad daylight.

Conceptualised in 1981 by Micky Bennett, the recording has become a popular Jamaican parlance each Christmas.

The 1982 recording, Jesus Was Born Today, features Derrick Harriott performing lead and overdubbed backups, in a perfectly blended arrangement that saw musicians, Winston Wright and Willie Lindo, figuring prominently.

Perennial big seller

The recording, according to Harriott, is a perennial big seller, done at Federal Studios.

Santa, Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto (1981), by Carlene Davis, and produced by her husband, Tommy Cowan, is an impassioned plea to Santa Claus, and a tongue-in-cheek commentary to all the classes that ignore the poor, to pay more attention to them:

Do you ever wonder why we suffer so? she questioned.

Done at Joe Gibbs Studios with Davis doubling up on backing vocals, along with Dean Frazer, the recording has became a staple for Davis every Christmas, and was once described by a Barbados disc jock as "the top Caribbean Christmas song".

The late, great Neville Willoughby, vocalist and radio presenter, thrills thousands at Christmas time with Christmas Ja.

Adopting a calypso-like stance, the man, who claimed in an earlier recording that 'I love Jamaica, the land of the sugar and rum/ I love Jamaica, where the pretty women come from', proudly states in his Christmas song that 'We don't have no snow, we don't have no sleigh/ but fun we do have at Christmas Ja./ So run and come to see and sun, it's Christmas Ja./ Snow and sleet you'll never meet at Christmas Ja'.

Willoughby, who was educated at Suthermere Prep, Jamaica College, and Toronto University, worked for the BBC's Caribbean service in London between 1962-1964.

Christmas Time by Reuben Anderson is a unique Jamaican Christmas recording, reminiscent of the 1950s New Orleans R&B days. Truly a gem in every sense of the word, it invites us to:

Listen to the birds how they're singing

Listen to the wind how it's blowing,

It's Christmas time again.

Listen to the bells how they're ringing,

Look upon the Children how they're playing,

It's Christmas time again.

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