A Rocksteady ChristmasTuesday, December 07, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
WHAT is the Christmas season without music? Music producer Patrice Bart-Williams wanted to inject Jamaican flavour into the holidays with Patrice Presents Rocksteady Christmas, a project of holiday favourites set to a pulsating beat, expected to hit the streets on December 17.
Bart-Williams, whose parents are from Sierra Leone and Germany, told the Jamaica Observer that he has come to love rocksteady music and thought why not produce a Christmas album set against this popular Jamaican genre.
“It's not something we have ever heard. There is Christmas music in every genre but we've never heard rocksteady holiday music. A lot of Christmas music has a tendency to get cheesy, so I wanted to do it authentically.”
“This musical project is COVID-free and there's no way of getting infected by listening. So when people ask why this time to release an album during a pandemic, that's usually my response. People are still at home, and downloading and streaming music is still a viable option so why not give them something new to listen to this Christmas,” he added.
Bart-Williams and his team wanted the music on the project to be absolutely true to its origins so he drew for a virtual who's who of Jamaican singers and musicians to contribute to the album.
“I just wanted a raw vintage sound without any of the sugar-coating associated with some of the music for the season. So we went for some of the original musicians who played the music back in the day. As producer I just wanted to tell them the song and watch it come alive. These are some of the people who played on some of the genre's biggest hits so I knew musically it was in safe hands,” he said.
Veteran band leader and bass player Lloyd Parks, keyboard player Robbie Lyn, drummer Desi Jones, and guitarist Dwight Pinkney formed the nucleus of the band. The tracks on the album are delivered by a cavalcade of stars: Judy Mowatt (O Come All Ye Faithful), Nadine Sutherland (Silent Night), Half Pint (Little Drummer Boy), Lloyd Parks (Winter Wonderland), The Tamlins (Christmas Island), Teddy Teclebrhan (Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas), Ala.ni (Santa Baby), as well as Bart-Williams himself (Last Christmas).
“I specifically chose everyone for this based on their unique qualities. Ala.ni is from the UK but has Caribbean roots, and I saw her Tiny Desk performance and was just blown away. She has a vintage sound that just fits perfectly. Well, Judy Mowatt is Judy Mowatt; there isn't much more to say about my reason for choosing her, and the same can be said about Nadine Sutherland. It was great to hear her sing in a higher register which is much different than we are used to and see her in a different light. Lloyd Parks was perfect for this song. His lower register just works. I also chose him as, in the future, I would love to take this on the road and I thought it would be great to see and hear a member of the band step forward and play. I am a big fan of Half Pint and was really pleased when he agreed to be part of the project. It turns out this is one of his favourite Chrismas songs, so he was able to deliver the vocals two days after I sent him the rhythm track. As for me, I have recorded stuff which has gone down the ska lane in the past, so [I] just wanted to give rocksteady a shot,” said Bart-Williams.
Producing this album has been a labour of love for Bart-Williams, who shared that it is also part of his contribution to the preservation of this genre of Jamaican music.
“I believe that this album can stand the test of time. The work is timeless and will be appreciated in the Diaspora, and year after year persons will be able to listen to these tracks for the holidays. A lot of the projects coming out are trend-driven, but this is all about paying homage to a great music and art form. There is so much ageism in the music industry that I feel it is important for a project like this to do its part to preserve history for future generations.”
Despite the presence of so many major acts, there is one artiste that Bart-Williams would have liked to have included.
“It would have been Barrington Levy. We have worked together in the past, I had tracks on his Grammy-nominated album, but it just didn't happen this time around. COVID-19 didn't allow for certain things to work out, but all is not lost. In the future we hope to bring back the album, add a song or two for a deluxe set on vinyl, and I will work to have him on that,” he noted.