Rock Away Memories

Rock Away Memories

A man of many love songs, Beres Hammond has delivered impressively throughout his musical career, which has spanned over four decades. His lyrical storytelling, paired with his standout vocals, and the unique magic that reggae beats and riddims bring, have allowed us to preserve memories with and through his songs. Hammond has acted as a memory maker by giving us songs we can feel. As his hits boom from whatever size speaker, they are sure to move us and fill us with moments to remember for a lifetime. Through his music, he’s helped generations of Jamaicans, alongside the diaspora, connect with themselves and others emotionally and socially, and unlock conceptions of both time and memory.

Born Hugh Beresford Hammond in Annotto Bay, Jamaica in 1955, Hammond has spent more than half of his life—43 years to be exact—providing reggae lovers with timeless hits. In a 2012 interview with Patricia Meschino for VP Records, Hammond discusses what it’s like to record his fifteenth studio album, titled One Love, One Life. He speaks with a wise assuredness that his passion for music has not diminished. In the brief clip, Hammond brings his hands to his head and cradles it gently, with a reflective look on his face. “Every time I hear a song in my head, and get around the mic… There’s nothing out there that can satisfy me [more]... for me to almost [pauses] witness the birth of something new, and something that is going to last a lifetime… that keeps me going,” he says. His ability to withstand time through music, and help to encapsulate memories for fans, has been something of sustenance for his life and career.

When I think about Beres Hammond’s first major hit “What One Dance Can Do”, I’m reminded of one of the few times my family can take part in celebrating the fact that we have found our way to each other again throughout the diaspora. When I hear the four initial beats counting in the song, vibrating through the speakers, I can hear some of the “big people” in my grandaunt’s basement hailing the DJ, calling for him to pull up or fawud the tune. I can also hear my own father’s sharp whistles over the music, signaling to the DJ that he made the right selection. I visualize family and friends from all over, packed throughout the house. Whether they’re with most of the adults in the humid basement, or piled on the couch to keep close to the open windows, everyone has something in hand. From goat head soup in a styrofoam cup, to rum punch in a plastic one, or a whole plate of food on one’s lap, there is no function without some good cooked food and music that captures the energy of its listeners.

As I hear that famous beat pulsing through my grandaunt’s row house, I begin to consider the memories made before me. In what ways was Beres a part of history, and specifically, the history of those before me? I picture my father showing off his easy skanking moves in that basement, the moves he learned from his parents’ generation. I am then reminded of The Tennor’s “Pressure & Slide” sample that was used to create this song. A song that was released five years after Jamaica’s independence. This was an era where political changes were met with musical innovation. The light sparked by the possibilities of an independent Jamaica was beginning to dim as the nation had to now come to terms with issues of postcolonialism and whether or not freedom was as close as they had hoped. Pressure and Slide” among other rocksteady hits, offered itself as an escape, or was simply a rhythm to move your feet. The memories created then are ones I can only imagine or piece together through stories and photographs. I then get a sense of a full circle moment when I think about how the initial popularity of “What One Dance Can Do” rose around the time of a 1987 personal homecoming, one of the first major trips back home made by family and neighbouring friends to reunite and celebrate life. It was also Jamaica’s 25th Independence, a time to celebrate our history as a people, what we’ve been through, where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The music of Hammond has proven itself timeless, a fact which can be attributed to his unique sound, his ability to make a hit in different sub-genres of reggae music and how he always seemed to have the right words when singing on relatable topics of love, heartache, culture, spirituality, and even politics. However, there is often an ongoing trend with his greatest hits, and that is how he chooses to tell stories of memory making or moments on which he and his audience can reflect on. Precious moments, difficult times, temporary or everlasting, there is a beauty in the nostalgia Hammond awakens in us through his music.

A tradition of Saturdays spent doing a number of routine chores often felt tedious without music playing from my father’s sound system speakers. It was the music of 80’s-90’s reggae artists like Hammond that filled our ears while we sprayed, dusted, scrubbed and folded. Saturdays were and still are about finding a balance between work and rest, all while being appreciative of our ability to do both. It was this energy of appreciation in songs like “Ain’t It Good To Know?”, where Hammond soulfully sings about how good it is to be able to come together, especially in times of conflict. This song calls for a celebration of our resilience and humanity in the face of hard times, and that joy can be found in the power of our presence, our sheer existence in this world. On the occasional Saturday, my father would spend some time in the kitchen cooking soup. I would often watch as he spent a good chunk of time intensely kneading the flour and water mixture into dough, moving the pan from the countertop to the floor. Working the ingredients together into what would soon be boiled dumplings, with a tightness unmatched. In the summer, he would make sure to invite a couple of people over and we would set up some chairs outside, drink our soup, talk, and laugh. Every time we did this, I can think of my parents echoing a similar sentiment to the message of this song. For them, we have good food to eat and plenty to share, and that in itself is an abundant blessing.

Hammond’s catalogue goes beyond love songs, as his music has an undeniable talent for producing stories of love at every stage and in every form. Some of the most common reasons to celebrate are rooted in our expression and declaration of love, which is why so many of his classic tunes have become staple sounds for weddings, reunions, and anniversaries. “I Feel Good” has allowed me to visualize what love can and might look like, through enchanted gazes and compassionate embraces. To be physically close to or surrounded by love and loved ones is what this song embodies. Seeing my parents in the middle of the dancefloor at their 20th wedding anniversary party is a memory I hold close to my heart. At an age where the only love I truly knew was familial love, I still searched for what romantic love looked like. I remember how much affection exuded from them as they danced. With their foreheads gently touching, their arms wrapped around each other just as Hammond states through his lyrics, “Wine some more and show me that love unconditionally/ Make believe that we’re alone, just you and me. The significance of nights like that are euphorically heightened when the moments you’re creating with someone match the lyrics so precisely. Whether dancing alone or synchronously with another, these songs have the ability to fill anyone with good vibes while covering listeners with a sense of intimacy that is both comforting and familiar.

As I get older and begin to make more memories of my own, I realize how much I seek to recreate moments like these. The ways in which we choose to celebrate and how we do it, often intertwine our histories, our aspirations, and our current situations. All of these moments are enveloped into the music of Beres Hammond. The beauty of memory making and nostalgia has always been his strong suit. Music can power our ability to create, recreate, and reminisce; giving us memories that will defy the test of time.

Listen to our Beres Hammond Boombox playlist on Apple Music.

Illustration by Jovion Curtis

Beres Hammond recently released a new album titled Never Ending. Stream it here.

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