Prior to veteran Jamaican singer/songwriter Beres Hammond taking the stage at the island’s annual summer festival Reggae Sumfest, a recording of his voice boomed through the speakers summing up the reaction he has elicited from his audiences for more than 30 years. “The love of the people, the kind of love they give you when you are in the street and especially when you’re on the stage, no amount of cash that can buy that.”
Backed by his flawless nine-piece Harmony House band, Hammond, at 63, remains an energetic and charismatic performer, his soulful, gravely vocals delivering timeless hits written about falling in and out of love and the bittersweet exchanges between those sentiments. For example, Hammond wistfully yearns for a long-lost paramour on the gorgeous “Love From A Distance”; the sultry R&B flavored “No Disturb Sign” tells the story of a beleaguered 9-to-5 worker who can’t stand leaving his woman each morning and “Double Trouble” approaches infidelity with a comical, gripping narrative. Jamaican artists as diverse as fearless singer/songwriter Tanya Stephens and dancehall sing-jay Mavado have name-checked Hammond in their songs. In 2012 Rihanna tweeted lyrics from Hammond’s 2001 hit “They Gonna Talk” (which recounts a much gossiped about, against-all-odds romance) when she reunited on wax with her former abusive boyfriend Chris Brown. Drake once tweeted “Beres must sing at my wedding,” but it’s Wyclef Jean who definitively expressed the reverence with which the bespectacled songster is regarded by fans and colleagues. On the outro to his 2001 duet with Hammond “Dance 4 Me,” Wyclef bluntly states, “All you fake singers, bow down to the legend.”
“Me have about three generations of fans and it’s a beautiful thing, but I never really wanted to know why, as long as it is working, let it gwaan (go on) and work,” Hammond told Billboard following his performance at Rototom Sunsplash. “I think it is the gentle manner in which I present my songs, I make it so easy for everyone to have access to an easy melody and easy words. I just do my thing in the simplest of manner so that a child can sing it, an older person can sing it, everybody can sing it!”
On Oct. 12, Hammond will release a new collection of songs for fans to sing along with. Never Ending (VP Records) is Hammond’s first album since his Grammy nominated One Love One Life, released in 2012, which topped the Reggae Album chart. Hammond estimates he has released “about 30 albums” with VP Records, beginning with 1985’s Beres Hammond. Never Ending was recorded over the past few years at Hammond’s Harmony House Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. Hammond produced 13 of the album’s 14 tracks, which range from the nostalgic “Hold You ’til It Hurts” to the social injustices addressed on “Survival” to a truthful pledge of love to his Jamaica birthplace “Land of Sunshine.” Each is delivered with the gut-wrenching, emotional conviction that has established Hammond as arguably Jamaica’s greatest living singer/songwriter. “There is a magic to Beres’ music; he is the best storyteller, there’s always a theme to his songs and if you listen carefully to Never Ending, many of the tracks are interlinked,” offers Chris Chin, President of Queens NY based VP Records. Chin traveled with Hammond for several dates of the All Love Tour’s European leg, including Rototom Sunsplash.
Never Ending’s first single “I’m Alive,” produced by Hammond, is an uncomplicated affirmation of life and a song of praise to the Creator. Hammond speed raps through a roster of blessings, then cools down the pace to reflect on the surrounding beauty present in his daily activities. “‘I’m Alive’ is so simple but to the point; remember if you are alive you can make changes in your life and the song is celebrating that,” commented Hammond. “When I am in the studio, I make songs about the serious situations around me, whether it is a love affair gone sour or one that is blooming or what the government is not taking care of. Whether it is something that happened to me, or to someone I know, I just sing from my heart.”
The video for “I’m Alive,” which debuts below, was filmed at various Kingston locations including Hammond’s Harmony House Studio. Directed by RD Studios, several Jamaican artists appear with Hammond and the Harmony House Band in the video including Alborosie, Jah Cure, Christopher Martin, Jesse Royal, Romain Virgo, upcoming female dancehall star Shenseea as well as producers Kurt Riley and Teflon Zinc Fence.
Born in Annotto Bay, St. Mary, Jamaica on Aug. 28, 1955, Hammond’s career began in the early ’70s as the lead singer of the band Zap Pow. From his earliest releases, his granular delivery embodied the spiritual/secular fervor of Sam Cooke, the romantic cool/social conscience of Marvin Gaye and the passion of Otis Redding. The aforementioned American music icons were all profound influences on Hammond, as were veteran Jamaican singers Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles and the late king of rock steady Alton Ellis.
Hammond’s steady output of solo hits commenced in the mid-80s with “Groovy Little Thing,” released on his Harmony House label. More hits followed including the romantic encounter depicted on “What One Dance Can Do,” the heartfelt cry for equality “Putting Up Resistance,” and the seductive expression that is “Tempted to Touch.” Hammond signed to Elektra Records in 1994 and released the album In Control but personnel shuffling at the label shortly thereafter resulted in a lack of support for the project. Nonetheless, Hammond’s career continued to ascend throughout the 1990s and into the ’00s with a succession of hits including the shrewd “Sweet Lies,” and the spirited homage to yesteryear’s music greats “Rockaway,” which remain staples of his live shows. Through incessant touring Hammond has built a large, loyal fan base across America and all over the world. Although he’s never had a U.S. radio hit or a Billboard Hot 100 single, he’s sold out venues where reggae artists rarely perform including the Theater at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall and nearly filled Brooklyn’s Barclays Center; he’s performed with members of the New York Philharmonic and sat in with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
In 2016 Hammond signed on as the annual headliner of the Love and Harmony Cruise presented by Rockers Island Entertainment, Best of the Best Entertainment and Massive B; Love and Harmony celebrates its third anniversary April 13-18, 2019 aboard the Celebrity Infinity sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. “We had always intended Love and Harmony as a lover’s rock cruise and if Beres didn’t want to be involved, we weren’t going to do it. After begging him, Beres finally said yes; now, he loves it and he’s the captain of the ship,” comments Jabba, of Best of the Best/Massive B and a popular radio personality on New York City’s (Hot 97) WQHT’s On Da Reggae Tip and Irie Jam Radio (93.5 FM). “Everything Beres sings about people have lived and can relate to, and I am happy he has a new album because no one makes music as real as he does,” adds Jabba.
For Hammond, performances and fan enthusiasm hold far greater significance than attaining traditional industry success markers. “I’ve never gotten a Grammy but what the people have given me over so many years, I don’t know if a Grammy could make me feel that way,” says the singer. “I’ve met people who say Beres, I got together with my wife and we started a family listening to your songs. People who’ve been suicidal have told me my music was their therapy, and people who got into trouble changed their way of life because of listening to my lyrics. I just want to keep making good music that strikes a positive chord. I don’t sing for charts, I sing for hearts.”