Twenty-four Bahamian vocalists donated their time and talents to help the Bahamian island communities devastated by Hurricane Dorian. With love in their hearts and soul in their voices, they molded a collective harmony they hope will help those affected to heal and rebuild. They also hope this project will help us all to lift our voices together to raise awareness of the catastrophic impact of climate change.
Although she plays bass, drums and sings, the technical side of recording The Climate Change Relief Song for Abiyah Woodside was what really captured her imagination. “The excitement for me really started when I got to walk through the room where the mixing console and engineer were,” she said. “I’ve never seen a set up to record so many vocalists at once.”
Abiyah has been singing and playing music professionally for about four years, but also cooks as a private chef and stays active in several other non-musical pursuits. She has collaborated with local artists Avant Garden, Matthew Pinder, and The Ladies Band, and holds down a regular Thursday gig at Traveller’s Rest in western Nassau.
But her collaboration with the particular mix of vocalists chosen for this song left a lasting impression on her. “I was surprised when I saw who was in the recording room, because it wasn’t the typical lineup of well-known Bahamian names you might expect,” she said. “All of the vocalists that were chosen have mad, mad talent and they’re very underrated. I was blown away.”
You could say that Bahamian culture is Anja Bowe’s job, both day and night. By day she works for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, organizing many government-sponsored artistic events. By night, she sings (and sometimes dances) as a jazz solo artist at the Ocean Club, Melia and elsewhere. She’s also performed with the Spank Band and Falcons Entertainment.
But in her excitement to submit a demo for The Climate Disaster Relief Song, Anja almost overshot the goal. “I didn’t follow the initial instruction, and rigged it all up with background music,” she said. “I was playing the track on my iPad and recording on my phone, which took me like three hours. But what they actually wanted was a capella, which I then went back and did for them.”
One thing about her participation in the song was perfectly clear to her, though: “I would like the song to bring some kind of comfort [to those people affected by Hurricane Dorian], and I hope it does that. I hope it inspires them to follow their dreams because you never know what can come out of it.”
If it weren’t for encouraging friend, Tracy Stubbs, Bodine Victoria Johnson might not have ever agreed to sing on The Climate Disaster Relief Song. The timing and rhythm were so different from her normal solo hip-hop style that she wasn’t sure she was the right woman for the job. “I don’t really sing too well with large groups of people, like choirs and things like that,” she said. “It’s like 74 beats per minute and I usually sing at like 120-140 beats per minute. I thought my voice just might not be right for the song.”
Despite her reservations, the language and literature teacher at LW Young Junior High School and Island FM DJ finally convinced producer Perro Grande to focus on her strengths rather than her struggles. They came to an agreement: rather than sing with the others, she would rap during the intro of the song. (She wrote the words for the poem on the same day they recorded the song at The Sanctuary studio at Albany!)
But whether her words were rapped or sung made no difference to Bodine, who said the end result was all that mattered to her. “This song is a statement of solidarity and encouragement for the people who have experienced such a severe loss,” she said. “I want people to feel that they can trust their fellow Bahamians to do whatever it is we can--with whatever it is we have--to help them when they’re in need.”
Four times is a charm for Charisa. When the calls went out to sing for the The Climate Change Relief Song, first her email address was incorrect. Then she included background music into her demo, which the organizers didn’t want. Then she wasn’t happy with the demo she made and asked for a time extension. Only on the fourth try—recorded while on break while singing with Essence at Bahamar’s Jazz Bar—did she hit the right note.
“I remember sitting down and watching as the hurricane passed over my brothers and sisters [in Abaco and Grand Bahama]. I felt so hopeless. So, being asked to sing on a song that would help the victims of the hurricane made me feel like I was doing something.”
Although initially a little self-conscious around the level of vocal talent gathered in the studio for the recording, Charisa admitted that the comaraderie in the studio among the vocalists chased away any butterflies she might have had. “I think all the singers have like hearts and like minds. Everybody was really down to earth and left their egos at the door. To lend my voice to such a good cause is just heartwarming.”
Grier Munroe manages a law office in Canada by day and sings R&B, soul and pop with her 3-piece band at festivals on the side. But her connection to The Climate Change Relief Song is significant: hers is the demo voice that all the other vocalists used as a reference. And with family in Freeport, participating in the project in any way became very personal.
“It was very close to my heart,” she said. “My family wasn’t affected [directly by the storm], but I know a lot of people who were, including a high school classmate of mine who actually passed away. So I was happy to do something to bring awareness that people still need help.”
Grier drew upon her life-long love of singing—including time in her church choir and a stint in the Bahamas National Youth Choir—to help bring a very specific message to listeners. “I’d like to let listeners know that people are still struggling and that they need help more permanently, particularly with housing. Hopefully this will generate more donations and awareness among people who can help.”
Music fans around Nassau know him as “Judah the Lion.” But despite the fierce feline moniker, Judah showed he has a compassionate heart with his explanation of why he decided to take part in this project. “I immediately submitted my vocals so I could do whatever I could to help. I’d like those who were directly affected by Dorian to get some kind of comfort, hope, and something more than what they have now. Even if it’s something small, it’s a step toward becoming whole again.”
As a member of local band, The Truth, Judah has been singing for 10 years and appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with other local vocalists. “I’m excited to work with some of the best artists from around the island,” he said. “I was nervous and fidgety at first, to be honest, but after warming up together, I felt a kinship with everybody.”
Despite her young age, 22-year-old University of Miami senior, Katya, already has six original songs—which she wrote, recorded and co-produced—as well as several other musical collaborations to her credit. Originally from Nassau, she never hesitated when asked to submit a vocal demo for the project.
“Ever since Hurricane Dorian happened, I’ve wanted to get involved. When this opportunity was presented to me, I thought, ‘perfec! I get to take my passion and talent for music and use it for good. I’m very excited and thankful to be a part of such an amazing project.”
Katya believes the collaboration also has the potential to do a few other things than just provide relief for Dorian survivors right now: It can showcase outstanding Bahamian vocal talent and highlight the modern realities facing islands like the Bahamas. “I want people to remember, repair and recover. But I’d also like to bring awareness to environmental changes such as the strengthening of hurricanes. It’s not going away. We’re going to need a lot of help to prepare for things like this.”
“My goal was to put enough emotion and passion into the lines I had in the song that the people who would be listening could feel what everyone in the Bahamas felt when we got hit by that hurricane,” Kelsey said about The Climate Disaster Relief Song.
Despite her youth—just 20 years old—Kelsey has managed to translate that musical passion into a regular gig at the Captain’s Table for the last three years, as well as the release of her own single in collaboration with lyricist Anwar McDonald, who also wrote the lyrics for One World. She’s excited about additional songs she plans to release in the upcoming year, but right now prefers to focus more on what her vocal talents can give to the victims of the hurricane.
“I would like this project to bring a little light, a little happiness, a little hope to those people affected directly by the storm,” she said. “I would like it to put smiles back on their faces.”
ERICKA "LADY E" SYMONETTE
Ericka Symonette has a long history of bringing Bahamian music to the world through her vocal talents and self-described “New Age Junkanoo” style. She has been a member of the Bahamas National Youth Choir, performed for guests at Bahamian embassies in Washington DC and Boston, and even had her Junkanoo song For You chosen to be played on the hit TV series “Scrubs” in 2009.
But The Climate Disaster Relief Song is probably the most personal vocal project she’s ever done: She had to get her father, brother, and grandmother all out of Abaco after the storm damaged their homes there, and was taking care of them all in her small Nassau apartment when she was asked to participate.
“To be honest, at first I didn’t really have the time. My place was a madhouse, seven people and one bathroom. I can imagine what everybody went through during that time, because I went through it myself. But the final decision was this: if my talent could help the situation in Abaco or Grand Bahama—places I love deeply—in any way, shape or form, then I wanted to be a part of it.”
Returning to the Bahamas in February after five years living in Florida has been surprising in many ways for Nassau-born vocalist Makare especially when she was asked to participate in The Climate Disaster Relief Song.
“I didn’t really know anything about the project beforehand, I just thought I was auditioning for a part in a song. But when I got into the studio, I got goosebumps. To see this huge array of well-known artists come together and not expect anything but to help was magical. It was a beautiful thing.”
A designer, part-time accountant, and voice talent for ad agencies, Makare earned her vocal chops singing blues, swing, jazz and soul in three Florida bands. And despite her experience, her vocal training might not be what you would expect. “I learned the majority of what I know by watching a lot of Disney, believe it or not. I actually trained myself by listening to Disney or to musicals, which my mother used to watch.”
Her ability to vocalize different musical styles quickly caught the attention of project head, Perro Grande, who was looking for something quite specific to add to the song. “He thought he heard something operatic for the beginning of the song,” Makare said, “so he asked me to sing it that way. I think everybody was astonished [when I did].”
And for a song that intends to bring comfort and hope to storm-ravaged communities, the setting for its recording at The Sanctuary at Albany also seemed appropriate to her. “It felt like home, like this is where I was supposed to be,” she said. “I don’t even need a bed. I’ll just lay on the floor and eat Cheetoes and I’ll be fine.”
“The air is different there,” Mandisa Kerr said about The Sanctuary studio at Albany, where The Climate Disaster Relief Song was recorded. “It’s such a great spot for creatives. Most studios tend to give you a vibe of wanting to just work and get things done. This is the first one I’ve been in that made me feel like just sitting down and writing a song.”
Although performing alongside Willis Knowles in “Willis and the Illest” for the past 11 years has kept Mandisa busy, it’s been only one of the many things she does: makeup artist and John Bull manager of MAC, boys clothing seller, podcast host. She even started her own band, called “The Lady’s Band,” last year.
But her message to Dorian survivors and the world is single-minded.
“I want those effected by the storm to know that we’re still out there praying and fighting for them. This is a way for us creatives to tell their story. People are going to hear this all around the world, see this little island on the map, and say to themselves, ‘That little island is having a big conversation with the world right now!’ ”
Vocally challenged by the onset of a cold, Maradona was nervous about first submitting a vocal demo for the project. But the joy she felt after actually being chosen to participate was worth the anxiety for her.
“I had to be a part of this. I felt moved, like I had a purpose,” she said. “As a Bahamian, it really touched me to have the opportunity to sing a song to uplift my people and help to get the world involved. We are one world in the end, you know.”
Maradona sings several times a week with the band Avant Garden around Nassau, touching all the musical styles typically requested by the mostly tourist audiences. “I sing a lot: old school, nostalgic, reggae, soca, rock, whatever the audience wants. But not like this. This is for a cause, for a reason.”
Patrice Murrell is no stranger to major changes in life. After her mother passed away five years ago, the former compliance officer at an offshore bank decided to give up banking to pursue her dream career in music. She quickly developed a reputation her Soca and Caribbean music (although she admits her true passion is for R&B and Pop) and she’s never looked back.
“What is money? What are things?” she said. “We need them, of course, but the important thing in life is to go after your dreams. I feel that you should not leave this earth until you fulfill your purpose.”
She regularly performs with local powerhouse band Visage, as well as on solo projects, but a key part of her continuing purpose is to help others where and when she can. The Dorian project gave her the opportunity to do that, after she personally lost a family member in Abaco to the storm. “I was extremely grateful that an effort was being made to give back and help,” she said. “Homes, businesses, livelihoods were lost. I’m hopeful the song will continue to shine a light on what is still needed [to help people rebuild]. Whatever we can do to help is important. No effort is too small.”
“It’s such an honour to share one’s voice and talent with the community, and I hope that it makes a difference and touches someone’s life,” Stazzie said about the opportunity to participate in the project.
As a professional vocalist with a decade of live performance experience in The Bahamas and the US, her style when performing usually consists of “Pop, Rock, R&B, Jazz, Soul, Funk, Blues . . . a little bit of everything.” But this musical collaboration, she admits, is different.
“Music brings people together. I think it’s just universal--like a love language—and it affects everyone in different ways. We’re doing this because we all care, and I just hope that that translates through the music.”
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EMILY "SWEET EMILY" WILLIAMS
No vocalist among the The Climate Disaster Relief Song contributors can claim the status of Bahamian music icon quite like “Sweet Emily” Williams. Since her musical beginnings in 1985 she has collaborated with the likes of Bahamian greats Ronnie Butler, Eddie Minnis, and Funky D, released about 75 songs and several gospel albums, and is in the process today of working with producer Fred Ferguson on new material.
When asked to participate, a still-finely-tuned ear allowed Emily to recognize the wider potential of a good groove coupled with a good cause. “The words of the song definitely reminded me of the mindset of what people were going through with Dorian,” she said. “It has that ‘We Are the World’ type of appeal and I like it. I’ve also recorded in nearly all the studios in the Bahamas, and I’ve never really had that kind of experience, with the type of equipment and so many talented people. I didn’t want to leave.”
Emily admits that one thing more than any other stood out for her on the day they recorded the song at The Sanctuary studios at Albany. “What really impressed me was the fact that they [the song’s organizers] included different types of Bahamian vocalists from different backgrounds and different ages.”
“It seemed like an obvious yes for me,” Nassau-born Tanis said, about being asked whether she would participate in The Climate Change Relief Song. “There are so many projects going on for hurricane relief—you can donate physically, you can donate financially, in this instance, it was nice to be able to donate our creativity to make a difference.”
A film and television composer in New York and Los Angeles by occupation, Tanis suspects that her particular vocal tonality might have been one reason the organizers chose her. “I definitely have a different voice [from the other vocalists], a lower voice and not so powerful. So Perro directed me toward two of the quieter parts of the song because he wanted more breath and air, to give some contrast.”
She also shares a feeling, widespread among the other vocalists, regarding the ultimate objective of the overall project. “The whole point of music is to give people hope and support in times of need.
I think that’s why all of us [the vocalists] are in this career, because music has touched us in our personal lives. And we wanted to share that back [to the hurricane victims] through our voices and our composition.”
Tim Daniels knows about the local music scene and using music for a good cause. As the lead singer for the group, Pineapple Down, and organizer of the popular “Soundwaves” creative performance series over the past two years, he understands the healing power of song.
“Music has helped me get through a lot of things, and can it do a lot to help people get through tragedy and connect to their emotions, which may be difficult to do [for some storm survivors],” he said.
Tim’s most recent Soundwaves event—originally cancelled due, ironically, to Hurricane Dorian—was finally held at the Bahamas National Trust in October and raised $23,000 for the victims of the storm. More than 1,000 people showed up to enjoy the performances and contribute to the effort.
But he admits that just being asked to be part of such a special project with so many talented artists is particularly satisfying. “Some of the other vocalists are just so spectacular,” he said. “Hopefully this song can lead people toward a path so they can start to heal.”
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VAL GRIFFIN ADDERLEY
When vocalists agree to collaborate on something as serious as The Climate Change Relief Song, they usually try to balance their part in the overall group, trying to fit in while still lending something personal and distinctive to the project. Val Griffin Adderley’s contribution to the project could have been easily influenced by the reality that her husband’s family had lost everything when the storm slammed into Abaco.
“I loved the whole idea of coming together to make the song happen,” she said, “but when I initially heard the song, I didn’t have an idea in my mind of what I wanted to bring to it. After hearing it a second time, though, I knew I wanted to add emotion and a ‘hear my cry’ type of feeling.”
The experience of recording the song at The Sanctuary studio at Albany was also eye-opening for her. “I didn’t know a lot of the other vocalists and was really eager to hear what everybody sounded like. Oh my God, quite of few of them had amazing voices.”
As leader of the band Willis and the Illest, he’s probably the most well-known Bahamian Reggae singer in the country. But hearing the voice of his own young son at the end of The Climate Change Relief Song had a profound effect on him. “I literally shed two tears,” he said. “And I don’t cry easy.”
Besides the grand setting of The Sanctuary recording studio, Willis admits that the collaboration of so many talented vocalists was a welcome change from what he’s used to. “It was very humbling. There were just so many different calibres of voices. I’m used to hearing my own voice on the microphone or in the studio, so it was very exciting to sit back, listen to other people’s sound for once, and be a fan myself.”
And he hopes the impact the project has on hurricane victims is equally profound. “I would like it to really touch people. It’s such a beautiful song that I want it just to unite people and communicate to them that we care about them. Music is a tool for healing, after all.”
CHORUS SUPPORT SINGERS
Izlain Jean, Abaconian hurricane survivor, vocalist
Vivian Saddleton, voice student and aspiring singer
Naomi Zamy, aspiring singer