Why the Same Christmas Carols?

I love Christmas. Even when one is not religious, the joy at the long holiday, end of the school year, family time, making merry with friends, gifts and the general sense of a new beginning is contagious.

But imagine Christmas without music! It sounds like a wedding without a bride?

Music makes Christmas worthwhile. However, like all Christmases past, the music this year is what we have always had. Many Christmas songs have been released of late, but there are always those pristine, permanently enjoyable classics that will quickly send you shopping and feeling all Christmassy music you will find playing in every mall, petrol station, supermarket, and radio station.

It is always Jingle Bells, Joy To The World, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, O Christmas Tree, Silent Night, and of course, Philly Lutaaya’s late 1980s Christmas album. A few contemporary musicians such as Mariah Carey (All I Want for Christmas) and Wham! (Last Christmas) have also released catchy songs for the season, but they cannot be called anthems, yet.

Jingle Bells, for instance, was published and copyrighted in 1857! Although it was originally written for thanksgiving, this is probably the single, most popular Christmas song ever. Originally titled One Horse Open Sleigh, the song was written by American James Pierpont, and it was an instant hit.

Joy To The World on the other hand, was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, but many families globally still enjoy singing this jubilant carol. Edward Sendikaddiwa, the managing director of West Records says what has kept this music on the charts is quality.

“These guys did stuff that would stand the test of time. They raised the bar so high,” he says. “What musicians are doing today doesn’t measure up. And it should be a challenge to the new crop of musicians to up their game and drop us some Christmas tunes.”

A Christmas song, according to Sendikaddiwa, should outlive its creator it should not be one that sells because of the musician’s name.

“What happens today is that people produce songs and they force them on us they pay radio stations to play them,” he says.

“But you can’t do that with a Christmas song because the song plays for a short period. It doesn’t make economic sense because musicians usually pay for songs to be played so that they make an album launch. But you can’t do an album launch for a Christmas song.”

Lutaaya demonstrated almost 30 years ago that quality music can indeed break through the culture of just horse-drawn sleighs and white Christmases, to bring Ugandans music they can relate to and play year after year. Why have there been no similar feats?

Singer Mesach Ssemakula tried to do a Christmas album (Tuyimbe n’Essanyu), but burnt his fingers when the songs did not even sniff the Christmas charts. Other artistes have tried, among them Juliana Kanyomozi and several gospel artistes, but one would be hard-pressed to hum to any of their creations, now that Christmas is here.

Veteran musician Diplock Segawa attributes the poor performance of new Christmas songs to the fact that “artistes have not let themselves be natural”.

“Right from school, students are given songs to mime. That kills creativity at an infant stage,” he says. “For us we grew up singing by ourselves, not over tracks. So, we developed our voices and creativity. But young people sing over recorded material, that is why creativity nowadays is not common because young people choose the easy way.”

Originality gave birth to carols such as We Wish You A Merry Christmas, a 16th-century English Christmas song, which remains popular to this day. The origin and composer of this carol is unknown.

The song shares a title with Lutaaya’s We Wish You A Merry Christmas, where the singer, who died of Aids in 1989, is credited with creating something catchy and more Ugandan.

Some Christmas carols have become so popular and well loved, they have been translated into several languages as boundaries change. For example, O Christmas Tree was originally a 16th century German carol (O Tannenbaum), but its popularity has exceeded that of its origins and composer.

But not all is lost for the new crop of artistes.

Mariah Carey’s 1994 Merry Christmas album that also features the hit All I Want For Christmas, is a regular each year on Christmas charts along with traditional carols and Boney M classics.

Source : The Observer

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