The Sunday Gleaner: KINGSTON, JA – If music was a person, strong chances are it would be named Beres. Periodt (with the ‘T’ at the end for emphasis). The first sentence of this illustrious reggae singer’s biography on Wikipedia states: “Beres Hammond, OJ (born Hugh Beresford Hammond; August 28, 1955, in Annotto Bay, Saint Mary, Jamaica) is a Jamaican reggae singer known in particular for his lovers’ rock music.” And while that is quite informative, it doesn’t tell us that his pet name, which his father gave him, is Cudjoe – which some members of his family and his tight inner circle call him – or why he is known as Beres, rather than Hugh.
As the story goes, the Jamaican singer and songwriter, whose name is usually preceded with adjectives like “legendary” and “iconic”, ditched the ‘Hugh’ very early in school because he was mercilessly teased. “Hugh Hugh! Boo Boo!” was the taunting chant from his peers. And ‘Hugh Boo’ just wasn’t there for it, so he took a stand and changed his school name to Beres. “Dem couldn’t find anything negative to rhyme with that,” he recalled with a satisfied smile. “But thinking about it, the name Hugh wouldn’t work fi me as a singer. Beres sound better. It have the right ring that the people love,” the maestro, who turned 65 on Friday, told The Sunday Gleaner. Nonetheless, he cleverly found a way to integrate ‘Hugh’ in his musical life. At his state-of-the-art studio in St Andrew, the initials ‘HH’ are prominently displayed and actually resound with duality. Harmony House is the name of the studio, and the owner is Hugh Hammond.
And as far as names go, the studio couldn’t have had a better one. It is reflective of the aura of the person and those who surround him. One who zealously guards his privacy, Beres told The Sunday Gleaner that he is really a kind of a shy guy. “I’m a ball of fun around my friends, but that’s where it stops,” said the artiste, who rarely gives interviews. Quite animated, he announced, “Me glad seh me a me,” even though he admitted that “musically, it feels like I’m serving a life sentence without parole”.
He explained: “I am going on and on like that bunny rabbit in the ad. People see me and ask me, ‘When yuh going to stop?’ But guess what! I am enjoying the sentence, and I am bringing joy to others.”
Having been touring non-stop for over 20 years, Beres has amassed a loyal fan base across the globe, and also in his homeland, where one Beres (song) is never enough. On stage, he exudes a charisma that is unmatched, and he enjoys a credibility rating that must surely be the envy of many a politician. “When Beres sing, anything him tell yuh, yuh believe,” is a sentiment shared by many of his fans. For others, “He is one of the most spiritual soulfully lyrically inspirational singers of our era.”
During the months of lockdown, Beres, with assistance from Clive Hunt, found a song he had recorded a cappella six years ago, brushed it off, and released it on his birthday. “When I played it for him, he asked me who is that because he didn’t even remember voicing it,” Hunt shared with The Sunday Gleaner. The two, who have worked on numerous projects together over the decades, recognised the potential, and multi-instrumentalist and producer Hunt assembled an A-list of musicians to breathe life into the song, which they eventually named Call to Duty.
“We go in the studio and do all kinds of craziness and then harmonise the craziness, and somehow it worked,” was Beres’ summation of his pièce de résistance. But Chris Chin, CEO of VP Records, has a slightly different take: “Beres put his heart into this song. He is a unique voice in music, the right artiste and the right song for the time,” Chin said. The lyric video was also released last Friday.
Clearly, there’s a quite a bit of love between Beres and his record company. It was Chin who helped to organise a glamorous birthday party last year at “a club in the fashionable Wynwood section of Miami”. Members of the Harmony House Band serenaded the man of the moment with reinterpretations of his own compositions. “It was one beautiful moment,” Beres recalled. “I knew about the party, but the presentation was awesome. It was put together with me in mind, and it said to me, ‘We do appreciate you’.”
This year, however, COVID has pressed pause on any possible bashment for Beres, but he’s cool with that. He has been steadfastly doing what he does best: creating music by going into the studio and just singing without writing a single word on paper while his friends check in with him. “All Chris Chin, him a mi bredda. Chris check up pon mi regular. Sometimes mi wonder if Chris a immigration,” he said, laughing heartily.
And he has also been keeping his soul refreshed. “Church played a great role in my life growing up, and I know my Bible stories. I resisted it at the time because with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Baptist mother, I was always singing in church. But now, I’m seeing the value of it. No matter what a gwaan, I say my prayers every day,” Beres declared.