It’s Dr Beres Hammond!
Reggae icon presented with Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from The UWI
“I feel good,” Beres Hammond said simply when asked about the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters, which was conferred on him by The University of the West Indies (UWI) on Saturday, and, perhpas, it was just coincidence that he was also quoting the title of his 2008 hit song.
“It mek mi feel like I was doing something worthwhile all this time,” he added in an interview before the ceremony, noting jokingly that if “Doctor of Letters a gwaan, song fi drop”.
Whether it was scripted or not, song did “drop” inside the pavilion on Saturday evening, and Dr Hammond had his fans rocking and singing along with Rockaway, which The University Singers also chose as their tribute song to the just-inducted Honorary Doctor of Letters.
In a brief speech, Hammond, the two-time Grammy nominee and recipient of the Order of Jamaica, and more recently, the Caribbean Music Awards Elite Icon Award, shared that he was inspired by singers such as Alton Ellis, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. He actually ditched his prepared speech and instead spoke in conversational tones to the graduates and their guests.
“Dem seh mi haffi big up some folk,” Hammond said as he acknowledged the dignitaries, including the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, and thanked his fans for their support throughout the last 50 years.
“I started out with a lickle song like One Step Ahead ... I make good songs ond unu turn dem into hits for me. Thanks for the years of support. Thanks for letting me into your hearts and into your homes,” he said.
The UWI said in a tribute piece that throughout his five-decade career, the reggae icon “has thrilled generations with his smoky-sweet voice. From the funked-up reggae jams of the 1970s fusion band Zap Pow, where he was a lead singer, to the lush instrumentation of his 1976 album Soul Reggae, to the spare digital beat of his 1985 dancehall breakthrough, What One Dance Can Do”.
The UWI further hailed Hammond’s “spontaneous method of composing, and unwillingness to compromise on the quality of his sound”. His prolific career has so far produced 22 solo albums, including 13 for VP Records.
Asked about the secret to his longevity in the music business, Hammond didn’t miss a beat.
“Mi neva study it yuh know. When yuh love something yuh just do it. When my songs come to me, mi nuh know how it come ... it just come. Me live my life with the common people. Yuh can’t be artiste and hide from people. Yuh have to hear how dem talk and hear how dem feel. Yuh have to connect with people and tap into dem heart and know how dem feel bout certain tings. Mi only sing di truth ... mi nah tell nuh lie,” said Hammond, who other artistes dub ‘The Chairman of the Board’.
Hammond, who recently returned from a five-week US tour, which also had a Belgium date and some Caribbean shows sprinkled in between, took time out to heap praises on Third World co-founder, the late Ibo Cooper.
“Ibo is a genius. When it come to the music him have it locked. A man of discipline who help a lot of youth get through. The music business surely going to miss Ibo greatly. It is felt. He was a great person,” Hammond said in tribute.
In true Beres style, he then became the interviewer.
“So yuh nah ask bout Gully Bop to?” he quizzed, and then answered the question.
“I never really knew Gully Bop, but my family is the music and whatever contribution him mek to the music, we give thanks,” he said of the Body Specialist deejay who died last Tuesday.
Turning to the event of last Monday, the earthquake, Hammond said, “I was never so frightened in all my life. First mi ever feel fraid so.”
“Is a warning fi all the bad things that we a do. It supposed to be a wake-up call to the Government ... fi all of we. It wake me up. But, just gwaan seh yuh prayers everytime and give thanks,” was his prescription.