The picturesque beauty of the island paradise of Jamaica has nourished, soothed and nurtured many illustrious talents who have dominated on the world stage. From track stars Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce who were named 2013 World Athletes of the Year, to intellectuals spanning many fields, and recent season five winner of “The Voice” Tessanne Chin, Jamaica can effortlessly stake its claim on the diverse talents of its sons and daughters.
Paul Kastick, an extraordinarily gifted musician who, with fellow musician Rudy Valentino, produced Chin’s resurgent hit “Hideaway,” is poised to dominate 2014 with his diverse skills of producing beautiful music while developing a new crop of singing sensations. Kastick has toured or played on the same shows with some of the elite names in the reggae industry including the 809 Band, Shaggy, Maxi Priest, Diana King, Steel Pulse and Ky-Mani Marley. As CEO of Groove Galore Muziq Productions and a member of Big Mountain Band, Kastick proudly points to his Jamaican roots and his early musical influences as the reasons for his stellar successes professionally and his profound determination to develop new musicians in 2014 and beyond.
“When I was ten, growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaica, we used to have two marching bands: Montego Bay Boys Club and Tyson. It used to be mesmerizing to me to hear the marching bands coming through,” Kastick said reflectively, while musing about his childhood. “You would drop everything you were doing and just stare. I had an obsession with the bands and seeing the guy throw the drum sticks up in the air.”
Kastick explained how he would walk along the path on his way home from school and peek in on the Boys Club practice sessions. “When I saw a brown-skinned guy, Carlos Gonzalez, playing the drums, I said to myself: ‘He’s good. I could do that one day,'” Kastick recalled. He took his childhood dreams to heart and quickly began to play in his high school band, although he recalled that the band only played “orchestra music” at the time, requiring him to learn to “read music.”
Honing his talent while passing time at his late mother’s store, Kastick said he would watch as various bands rehearsed nearby.
“I didn’t have a drum set at the time so I would play on my legs and in the air,” he said, laughing at the fond memories evoked by the imagery. “In 1982 my uncle went to New York for the first time and he came back with a video of MTV Top 40 Countdown. I saw Van Halen, Hall & Oates and the rock music brought out something in me. I started to get obsessed with the music,” Kastick recalled. “The defining moment for me was in 1983 when I joined with Benjy Myaz and we began to learn more about music. Shortly afterwards, Chalice’s album ‘Blasted’ with the hit single ‘Good to be There’ came out and the group’s drummer, Desi Jones, revolutionized the music,” he added.
As Kastick matured, opportunities opened up to him and he landed a job as the drummer for the in-house band at Seawind Resort in Montego Bay. Throughout the tourist mecca, it was the norm to see Kastick, with his music bag slung casually over his shoulder, clicking his drum sticks in the air or randomly on cans and other surfaces, happily practicing notes only known to him, while residents and tourists simply stared and wondered: Who is that guy?. Kastick was caught up in his own musical realm, visualizing music’s vast terrain, while occasionally indulging in non-music related talk. His immense joy at being around music and being able to live out his passion daily was infectious. Music, unquestionably, was his life.
For years, Kastick’s warm-up song was the sweet strains of Priest’s “Wild World,” though as a young man starting out in music, meeting Priest seemed like a far-fetched dream. But Kastick said he looked up one day while rehearsing with 809 Band at 2B Grove Road in Kingston, Jamaica, and saw Priest watching from the door.
“I could not believe it,” Kastick said emphatically, relishing the memory even decades later. A bond easily developed between the two musicians and Kastick has been touring with Priest since 2000.
Priest, who said he considers Kastick “a friend and co-writer,” describes him as “one of Jamaica’s all time greatest drummers both live, and in studio.” In an indication of Kastick’s life coming full circle. Priest, who Kastick admired so much as a young man, said that Kastick is “a true pioneer and I’m honored to have him as family, a member of my band, and a creative entity in my music.”
But it took Kastick many years before he got to the point of touring with mega-stars, running his own music company and producing work for fledgling singers.
“In 1985 cabaret singer Dennis Malcolm came to me and Benjy to do a reggae cover version of Brook Benton’s “I Love You in So Many Ways,” Kastick said of the period shortly after he began to work at Seawind Resort. “Dennis was the first person who took us into the studio. I always thought that Benjy and I would be like the great Sly & Robbie team.” But their lives took different paths and in 1989 Kastick auditioned for 809 Band. “Four months later I got a message from 809 to come to Kingston on July 26, 1989 and by that time the Seawind Band was getting lots of attention,” he recalled.
Kastick’s involvement with the 809 Band led to an exhilarating journey during which he traveled regularly to Japan for the Japan Splash musical extravaganza, where he garnered attention for his talents but most importantly, cemented a loving, supportive and strong relationship with 809 saxophonist Dean Fraser.
“Dean was like a father to me,” said Kastick, who has never met his father. As a father himself, Kastick realizes the important roles fathers play in children’s lives. “When I had off days and would travel to see my girlfriend at the time, Kathy Williams, Dean was the one driving me to see her,” he said. The 809 Band is a highly respected band in reggae music and stars such as Luciano, Sizzla and a host of others have had hits produced by former members of the band.
As the need for large bands waned in the mid-nineties, Kastick shifted his focus to diversify his opportunities by accepting an offer to tour with Diana King in 1995. He then joined Shaggy on tour in 1996, after first meeting him in 1993 when he played with the 809 Band at the Japan Splash and the band backed Shaggy, Gregory Isaacs and Buju Banton.
“In 1995 Shaggy came back with “Bombastic” but we were on tour in Trinidad with Beres Hammond and Shabba so we were unavailable to tour with him, but the night when Shaggy won the Grammy for “Bombastic” his manager called me and said they wanted to change their band and they wanted me, Michael Fletcher and Christopher Birch to join them,” he said.
After rehearsing for a week in Jamaica in 1996, Kastick and the rest of the band went on world tour with Shaggy, visiting South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Poland, Beirut, Lebanon; Belgium and Germany, among others. He recalled that the South African stop was the most memorable.
“The tour was two years after Nelson Mandela came to Jamaica and I played for him,” Kastick said. “When I landed in Johannesburg I felt like I was coming home to my roots. Maybe it was subliminal based on the history of apartheid.”
Kastick toured with Shaggy extensively until 1998 on the “Spirit of Unity Tour,” featuring Shaggy, Buju Banton, Steel Pulse, Beres Hammond and Lucky Dube. The tour was a summer tour in the U.S, and it ended in Hawaii. At the end of the tour, Kastick accepted an offer from Big Mountain Band.
“The manager of the band, who I knew from before, called to say the band needed a new drummer to build something solid,” he said of the transition. Joaquin “Quino” McWhinney, lead singer of Big Mountain Band, remembers observing Kastick in 1997 while on a European tour in Amsterdam during the period when Kastick was playing drums for Shaggy.
“We were sound checking at the Milky Way music club when I noticed Paul standing in the middle of the dance hall with his arms crossed, studying us intently,” McWhinney said, while adding that over the past 16 years “Paul became my close friend and partner.” Straddling a blend of reggae that incorporates a variety of styles, McWhinney explained that “Big Mountain is committed to create a sound that does not exclude any racial or cultural community and Paul brought to Big Mountain an extensive array of experiences in reggae music but he also taught us not to be afraid of our American roots.”
Kastick’s decision to accept the offer to join Big Mountain Band changed the trajectory of his career and led him to producing, which allows him to expand his repertoire by working with new singers to help shape their careers. As Chin basks in the success of winning “The Voice” and continues to enjoy success from the Kastick/Valentino produced hit “Hideaway,’ Kastick is firmly focused on developing two singers who have enjoyed modest acclaim on their own: Belinda Brady and Faraji.
“Belinda used to sing background for Shaggy in 1995 and she is Jamaican with Canadian heritage,” Kastick explained. “She sings big and powerful like Tessanne and she called me after she heard ‘Hideaway’ to discuss working together,” he said.
Although Kastick is producing an album for Brady, she is also working with Sly & Robbie and Tony Kelly as well. Faraji, on the other hand, whose style is of the soul reggae alternative genre, with songs such as “Come Again” and Sensimellia Love,” has a different connection with Kastick.
“Faraji is like a brother to me while Belinda is a friend that I linked up with,” Kastic said. However, one thing is clear: He is fiercely committed to both singers. “I am fully vested in them,” he said firmly, emphasizing his laser-like focus on solidifying the singers’ respective careers.
Kastick also works with Dorrett Wisdom (Dwisdom), who, he said, “In 1991 she had the hit single ‘First Real Love,’ which was produced by Willie Stewart of the group Third World. Dwisdom has been singing backup over the past 15 years for Beres Hammond and touring with him. She is working on her second album with Harmony House and Kastick is producing a remake of her 1991 hit “First Real Love.”
King, who fondly refers to Kastick as “Styk,” said she “cannot imagine being without him.” She speaks highly of the 20 years that she has been working with the gifted musician and is rueful that he doesn’t have “a few clones” due to the intense demand for his indomitable musical skills. “Not only is he super talented as a live drummer and musical director on stage, he is just as talented and innovative in the studio when it comes to drum programming and producing,” she explained. “He’s on top of his game in every way.”
King expressed admiration for Kastick’s tendency to keep current with technology and musical trends while retaining his passion for musical excellence. “He isn’t afraid to say exactly what he thinks because he believes in the integrity of the music, which is why all the top international Jamaican artists’ first choice to work with is Paul.”
Kastick sees great things ahead for both of his singers as he works diligently to expand their musical reach and expose them to a wider audience. At the same time, Kastick is committed to continuing to tour with Priest, producing sweet music with Big Mountain Band, accepting other musical engagements and spending quality time with his family.
Gonzalez, who used to play drums with the Boys Club Band and whose late father was a saxophonist from Puerto Rico, was surprised when he learned that Kastick used to watch him play in their shared hometown of Montego Bay.
“That makes me feel good that I was like a role model to him and I’m happy that Paul went on to follow his dreams and do well,” he said. Gonzalez, who is no longer involved in music and resides in Toronto, Canada, said: “It just goes to show that you should never give up on your dreams.”
McWhinney agrees with that sentiment wholeheartedly and credits Kastick with helping him embrace the full scope of his dreams.
“Paul encouraged me to be myself and not try to copy Jamaican reggae. He encouraged me to reach deep into my experiences in life. I can’t stress enough how important it was for me to understand that,” he said. Savoring the richness of their close bond, McWhinney is pleased that as Big Mountain Band returns to the studio to record an album after a long break it will be with Kastick’s involvement.
“I’m so proud and happy to have my brother Paul by my side,” he said. “Paul Kastick is one of those rare examples of talent, professionalism and sincere heart that keeps reggae music alive and well in 2014.” Infused by the comfort of Kastick’s presence for the next phase of the band’s journey he added: “Big Mountain is back.. Big Time….” Undoubtedly, Kastick, who is described by Priest as an “amazingly versatile musician,” would agree.
The sky is the limit for Kastick as the New Year unfolds and his musical expertise expands. it seems that his work ethic will continue to be his strongest asset.
“Paul takes his work very serious: Always organized, early for work, the first in rehearsals, the last to leave, and enthusiastic when touring,” said Priest.
As Kastick continues to demonstrate his highly developed sense of professionalism while thrilling audiences with his vast skills, the world of music will continue to celebrate his tableau of musical passion, genius and excitement, mixed with a spirit of collaboration, all honed and nurtured on the breathtakingly beautiful island of Jamaica, where he grew up and still calls home.–OnPointPess.net
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