Four decades after it was first released, the track, through VPal Music, is ensuring that a whole new generation will be impacted.
In 1981, when Tommy Cowan wrote and composed the song, he knew he was on to something, but he didn’t quite predict that Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto) would earn its place on the coveted list of reggae-dancehall classics.
“I won’t use the term ‘smash hit’, but I believed that it was going to be significant. Look at it today; it is still relevant. The more things change, the more they remain the same,” he said philosophically.
“It was 40 years ago, and people are still in need every year; there are more poor people now, and there is more crime every year. Forty years on, we are compelled to ask the same question ‘Santa Claus, do you ever come to the ghetto?’ Do we care as a society?” he asked.
Cowan’s wife, Carlene Davis, was the original lead vocalist, and on the new version, she is joined by her daughter, Naomi, who was not even born when the track was released 40 years ago. However, it was Naomi who had the bright idea to “do something special” with the song.
KEEPING IT AUTHENTIC
“She was the one who told us from last year that 2021 would be 40 years [since it was released], and the truth is that we didn’t even realise that so many years had passed. Every year the song is played, and it’s like fine wine. But it was such a blessing to be working with her, and we decided to keep it legendary and iconic by passing on the baton to her. She understands the message, and she spearheaded this production,” Carlene Davis told The Gleaner.
The aim was to keep the song as authentic as possible by using the original tracks. Cowan stressed that the new release is a refreshing of the original track, through an intricate process, rather than a “do-over”.
“Those original tapes are made of plastic, and they become delicate over time and can shred. In order to use the original tracks, we had to put it through a system called baking. We enhanced the sound using the original tracks featuring Carlene on lead vocals, Lloyd Parkes on bass, Devon Richardson on drums, Winston ‘BoPee’ Bowen on guitar, with some overdubbing by the original players,” Cowan explained.
The new ingredients are Naomi on lead vocals, Dean Fraser on saxophone and Lamont ‘Monty’ Savory on acoustic and pick guitar.
He added, “Dave Green updated the sound on the drums while Franklyn ‘Bubbler’ Waul, who played the original piano/synthesiser/organ, returned with his spritely chops to brighten the keyboards. VP Records got very excited when we chose them to release the song.”
Davis feels blessed that the team who worked on the track so many years ago could assemble for the project.
“They are all alive, except DJ Trinity. He is not on the 45, which most people know, but rather on the extended play 7-inch record. So we sampled his voice for the new release. There is now a deejay part, which is just me and Naomi coming together to create that, and there is also a bridge that was not in the original. Dean Fraser also does an instrumental version,” she shared.
Cowan is full of motherly pride that her daughter is still willing to learn from her, “but she is no longer sitting at our feet; she is standing alongside us”. It was Naomi who worked out the concept for the accompanying music video, which will be released before the end of this week.
The track has been available on all digital platforms since Friday, November 19.