World-famous chef/designer records psalm of hope in KingstonSunday, July 18, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
VISITING the late Bob Marley's Tuff Gong Recording Studio in Kingston may not be as exciting as it was when the “Gong” reigned. But, it is intriguing enough just considering who you might bump into.
It is not only a music haven for veteran Jamaican musician/producers, like Clive Hunt, who has been absorbing the otherwise evasive environment which has pervaded the vintage studio with its rustic elegance and cultural vibrancy since 1981. But, you could also be lucky enough to run into a celebrity like famous gourmet chef and fashion designer Sophia Dias.
Dias was in Jamaica recently, with former James Brown backing band front man Tony Wilson, to record her initial venture into the popular music culture, Psalm 23. Undoubtedly the most famous Psalms ever written, it was the creation of King David, as a shepherd boy, as he observed the diligence and the faith of his flock of sheep as they grazed in the security of his presence.
The power of the words of Psalm 23 has been the foundation of the relentless pursuit of justice by Dias after a break up of her marriage to an American tycoon whom she said left her virtually penniless after years of collaboration which has enabled the development of a multi-billion-dollar empire.
It may be seen as just an ancient Jewish anthem written by David, which has encouraged Jewish resilience in re-establishing their right to a homeland, but for Dias, who actually was born in Goa, a state of India, comprising a mainland district on the country's south-western coast and an offshore island bounded by the states of Maharashtra on the north and Karnataka on the east and south and by the Arabian Sea.
She was schooled in England and India, and decided to become a gourmet chef, because she had to learn to do the cooking at home. Then she became a fashion designer, following her mother's example. She also created the eyewear collection GOAWARP™.
However, she sees herself more engaged as a protagonist for justice, after years of suffering as the subject of abusive and violent relationships, which have left her virtually broke, but determined to be compensated for the billions of dollars earned while supporting the development of her family businesses worldwide.
“I myself have been abandoned by someone with a multi-billion-dollar company. For the last 16 years, I worked for that company. We earned millions of dollars in different countries, yet this man chose to abandon me and leave me with absolutely nothing,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“This is why I chose Psalm 23. It is primarily to let the people of the world, the people who might be listening to my single, that I know that despite our challenging situations in the world, today, with stories of depression and people losing their jobs and people left in sheer desperate modes, I want to inform my audience that we can talk about God...that God is real and he is powerful and he is my God,” she pointed out.
“That is the message of Psalm 23; 'yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.' That is my message to the world,” she recited.
Dias said that her mission is basically dedicated to the cause of abused women, like herself, who are not hesitating to share their life stories.
“The message is that I myself have been abandoned by a multi-billionaire after we earned billions of dollars together. For the past 16 years, we earned millions in very many different countries, yet he chose to abandon me and leave me with absolutely nothing,” she noted.
Dias, however, did not come to Jamaica, by chance. She said that she had returned to Jamaica on the advice of bass player Paul (Dr Paul) Hamilton, formerly of the popular Riddim Kings Band, to seek out the highly-ranked musician/producer Clive Hunt to work with her in turning the psalm into a battle cry of abused people, especially women.
But, she is no stranger to this Caribbean island, having spent much of her adolescent life travelling here on vacation with her family and travelling regularly between Montego Bay and Kingston with her parents.
“I was perpetually climbing trees and playing cricket as a six years old. I liked cricket. I learnt to cook Jamaican meals, like jerk, at the Spanish Court (in New Kingston),” she recalled.
“When I decided this first single, I thought to myself: Why not go back home to Kingston and record at Tuff Gong? Then COVID hit, and it was like nobody was aware of the depression and the despair that the world was in,” she noted.
Then she consulted with Hamilton in Florida, and now she feels she couldn't have found a more ideal partner than Hunt who, right away, admitted that he too had a personal liking for Psalm 23:
“When she told me it was her favourite psalm, I told her that my mother told me the same thing long, long ago: To always repeat it. It has become a second nature to me. I do it every day. I told her, it is like magic,” Hunt explained.
“I repeat it before I enter my vehicle; after I enter the vehicle and close the door; when I get back home; and even before going to bed,” he confessed.
Dias said that the number of suicides being committed by men in the United States was at an all-time high, and she was sitting on the balcony of a hotel (in Turkey) and, while sitting there, she read Psalm 23.
“I just knew in my heart that I would be recording it right here in Kingston, at Tuff Gong and nowhere else,” she admitted.
Hunt put together a band of veteran Jamaican musicians and engineers to produce the rhythm, including studio engineer Roland McDermott and some real professionals like guitarist Lamont Savoury on banjo and ukele; Kirk Bennett on drums; Michael Fletcher on bass; and Hector Lewis on percussions.
Big-time producer/engineer Shane Brown will mix the product at his Red Hills-based studio.
Dias said that she found solace from the violence and domination which she said she had suffered over the past decade in the words of Psalm 23, and has been using it to drive home to other sufferers the power of those words.
“I don't hesitate to admit that I have been beaten. Back in the days women were afraid to talk about what they have been going through. But, now we know that both men and women are being abused and the response of the world was that, 'if she was beaten once and she had a gun put to her head and she was left to die, why didn't she leave? But, leaving an abusive situation is bloody hard, because it puts you in a pickle. Leaving is almost impossible,” she admitted.
“It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth. It takes a lot [of] courage to tell people. I know I might look perfect, but I was hospitalised with a broken body, and I am concerned about the judicial system in the United States. So, this story is even for the self-made American businesswoman. But I have to overcome the fear and have the courage to really stand up and say, I too have survived it,” she confessed.
She feels that Jamaica has provided the perfect setting in which she would record all her pain and suffering in the lyrics of Psalm 23 and to pass it on to others who have suffered as she has.
“What I love about Jamaica is the people. I relate to the people really well. I love the passion they have,” she confessed as she pulled herself together to walk back into the Tuff Gong studio to complete the song she thinks will help to change the world.
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