Tonight I have learnt something completely new and I wonder how many of you out there were aware of this too? How many of you knew just how entwined the music of China and Jamaica (ska/rocksteady/reggae) were? There has long been a Chinese connection with Jamaican music and legendary figures like producer Leslie Kong (Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker etc are testament to this) – He was also apparently an original shareholder in Island Records too!!
Made sometime in the mid to late 60’s for the Chinese immigrant population in Kingston, today’s song has been described as “unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Rocksteady with Chinese vocals and phrasing. It’s killer!”(sourced from here) Always Together is based on a traditional Chinese song which was first recorded in 1949. There have been many renditions, but one of the most fascinating was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica in 1967. Produced by Calypso pioneer Byron Lee (a Chinese Jamaican who had a house band called the Dragonnaires) and long-time collaborator Ronnie Nasralla, this version was performed by a Shanghai-born singer named Stephen Cheng (程俊濤).
Stephen Chun-Tao Cheng was born in Shanghai, China in 1923 and educated in the US. He was an international actor, composer, singer and writer who wrote the Tao of Voice. Throughout his life he constantly tried to blend eastern and western vocal styles together, and with Always Together he successfully fused Rocksteady with traditional Chinese music/vocals. This had never been done before and though not widely known, this was a breakthrough in sound! I hope my post at least spreads this sonic beauty a little further!! I love it! I love that it’s so unusual and I love the SUPER sweet voice of Stephen Cheng! This is about as tender as you can get and it makes my little heart sway every time I hear it! Listen above.