Reggae legend Ken Boothe has added his distinctive voice to a collection of Burns songs being re-imagined by a collection of Jamaican artists in Scotland and the Caribbean.
Earlier this month, Boothe shot the video for his version of Green Grow the Rashes O, one of Burns’ earliest songs, near Kingston with the final production touches added to the track.
Boothe, best known for his 1974 version of Everything I Own, is the latest musician to contribute to the Jamaica Sings Robert Burns project set up by music producer Kieran C Murray, who is originally from the isle of Mull.
Mr Murray, who specialises in reggae production and has Jamaican citizenship after spending long spells in the country, said: “Ken really loves the song, he really does. I have selected Burns songs which I think I would really fit with the artist’s particular style and this really works with Ken.”
Dancers from the Scottish Country Dance Society of Jamaica feature in Boothe’s video with the song due to be released this spring.
Mr Murray said Burns’ words had clicked with the artists who worked on the project, who include singer Brina, now based in Scotland, and Addis Pablo, the son of revered melodica master Augustus.
He added: “Burns’ words resonate with people who have struggled and that is true of Jamaicans. Burns wrote about freedom, he wrote about slavery and he wrote about love.
“People say to me, ‘oh, he was like a Jamaican!’”
Burns had been due to emigrate to Jamaica in 1786 to take a job as an assistant overseer on a sugar plantation run by the brother of his friend, Dr Patrick Douglas of Cumnock. At the time, Burns was under pressure given his then estranged girlfriend, Jean Armour, was bearing his twins. His farm is Ayrshire was also performing poorly.
Burns wrote he was to become a “poor negro driver” although his travel plans changed several times with some believing he hesitated over his departure.
Just weeks before he was due to sail, his manuscript Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published. The poet then moved to Edinburgh where his reputation as a writer soared.
Murray said: “I don’t think Burns would have lasted long in Jamaica. He hated the idea of slavery.
“There is a lot of shared history between Scotland and Jamaica and there has been a lot of reluctance to discuss the role that Scots played in the slave trade and the plantation system. My focus is to bring people from both countries together through music and art. That is my driving force.”