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The Man Behind the Music: Mikey Bennett Speaks
The music producer is often heard but rarely seen. Prolific producer Mikey Bennett had the rare moment in the onstage spotlight as a part of the February installment of Soul Sessions. While he shared more about his career than his soul, the man behind many of Jamaica’s most lasting reggae songs gave a quiet yet insightful interview.
Bennett was sandwiched between sessions with Stephanie and Duane Stephenson, who opened and closed the show respectively, with interviews interspersed with performances. The interviews were conducted by Fabian Thomas and Shawna-Kae Burns.
“I’m hardest on vocalists,” Bennett revealed, “because there is a connection that I want them to make and a picture I want them to paint.”
Bennett explained that even though that remained true, he has mellowed somewhat. In his earlier days he was adamant about getting a particular idea out as he envisioned it, especially when working with strong musicians, he is now willing to hear their interpretation first. Even so, he still gets his vision across to achieve the product he is aiming for, and experience has given him to work with artists at all levels
“If I can correct Dennis Brown, I can correct anybody,” he said, after revealing that the first time he had this task to do he was intimidated about correcting Reggae’s Crown Prince.
Bennett also spoke about several of his most important recordings, starting with his earliest hit ‘Let the Christmas Catch You in a Good Mood’ and on through to ‘Can You’.
“‘Can You’ is probably - well people think its the best thing I’ve ever done. I would disagree, but I’ll give you that,” he said. He explained that the song came to be after seeing a sign on television declaring ‘No Blacks Allowed’. He wrote the song intending it to be song by Marcia Griffiths, but that was not to be. Instead the song was sung by Brian and Tony Gold, whom Bennett said provided a “spot on” interpretation.
“It was written at a time when so many people in Jamaica were caught up in the apartheid struggle,” Bennett explained. He noted that he was surprised by the reach of the song when Rory of Stone Love requested it for playing on the sound system. He remarked, that the request highlights that one cannot predict or limit the kind of music that have a place in the dancehall.
Bennett spoke about several of his other hits including ‘Telephone Love’, ‘House Call’, ‘Mr. Loverman’ and 'Rise Up' revealing that he recently heard a rendition of the latter on TVJ's All Together Sing that gave him goosebumps.
Bennett also gave his take on the state of music today, revealing that, musically, he was satisfied with the crop of current artists. Interestingly, he argues that the fall in record sales has positives, as it frees up artists to be able to take greater risks and produce songs that they love. He noted however, that the key was maximizing live performances. He therefore argued that artists need to pay greater attention to their performance skills to allow them to be able to pull in audiences with no previous experience of their music.
“When you see Nomaddz perform you realize that there is the side of it, the drama, that they have mastered and more people could use,” Bennett said.
Soul Sessions: the Heart of Art was held at Redbones the Blues Cafe at Redbones the Blues Cafe, Kingston on February 11, 2015.
For more, see our article on Duane Stephenson.