40 years later… the ghetto still cries for Santa

(Jamaica Observer) After 40 years, the enduring, endearing track Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto), sung by Carlene Davis, has won a new generation of listeners with its timeless message reminding of the true meaning of Christmas. 

“My friend Winston Blake says, ‘Things of quality have no fear of time,’ but you know the song is in a lane of its own. Other songs about Christmas and the season don’t always speak to the reason for the season, where there should be more care and concern for humanity and how we should really show the love of Christ, the one we ‘celebrate’,” Davis mused in an interview with OBSERVER ONLINE.

She said the song is a stark reminder of the inequities that have left the majority of Jamaicans mired in poverty, insipid hopelessness and quiet desperation. 

“Some people will go out and give gifts, do charity work and so on for the publicity – but over the years the more things change the more they remain the same or even become worse. There’s more crime, murders, hopelessness, and people see this as being the ‘real’ world. In the song, ‘Santa Claus’ is the world system – which discriminates as to who gets the benefits and the rewards. The biggest problem is that the economy is not inclusive and has no equity and globally we are not a caring Santa Claus. We are not blasting Santa as much as we need Santa to be more inclusive,” she said. 

In 1981, when Tommy Cowan wrote and composed the song, Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto) after a trip to Trench Town one Christmas morning, he had felt compelled to share his observations of the stark reality of what Christmas was like in the inner-city.

“Tommy wrote the lyrics and the following year asked me Carlene, his sweetheart to voice it, and it fit like hands in a glove. This year as we celebrate 40 years, the song has been re-released and features updated vocals by (me) and our daughter Naomi Cowan with Dean Fraser on saxophone,” she said.

Now, a new generation of reggae lovers will be treated to the message of the song as it has been re-released by VP Records on their VPal label. The song, which has a Dean Fraser-led instrumental, is now available on all digital platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, with a visualiser on YouTube.

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