Jamaican Yuletide classic, Carlene Davis’ Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto)
by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Almost 40 years after her husband’s drive though inner-city Kingston inspired a Jamaican Yuletide classic, Carlene Davis believes Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto) remains relevant, especially in a society where ghetto life has become even more challenging.
Released in 1981, the song was composed and written by Tommy Cowan. According to Davis, she merely interpreted a lyric that made Jamaicans sit up and consider their struggling compatriots.
“The attention it is now getting, clearly there is another generation who is now embracing it and identifying with it, and saying ‘a true!’. We were just posing a question as human beings and artistes, and even if you never understood life in the inner-city the song is so prophetic and draws your attention,” she explained.
While driving through some of Kingston’s grittiest areas, Cowan said he noticed a lack of Christmas cheer in the communities. Though he was born in rural St. Elizabeth parish, he also spent some of his youth in Kingston, and remembers when that time of year was joyous for residents in economically-challenged areas.
Thirty-eight years later, inner-city strife is not confined to Kingston. Clarendon, St James and Westmoreland, once known as quiet rural farming parishes, are also beset by urban poverty and crime.
“For us who brought the song to life, we recognise that Santa Claus is not just the big fat man in the red suit who comes down the chimney. Santa Claus is people who are able to give back to the less fortunate; it’s for us who are in a better position to lend a hand and to bring cheer,” said Davis.
‘Santa Claus’ was recorded during a period when Jamaican artistes began composing Christmas songs or did reggae interpretations of Yuletide classics. It featured several top musicians including keyboardist Franklin “Bubbler” Waul, guitarist Winston “Bo Pee” Bowen, bassist Lloyd Parks and Dean Frasier on backup vocals.
Davis has since recorded several Christmas songs which are found on her albums Christmas Reggae Rock and Christmas Everyday.