CARLENE DAVIS- TOMMY COWAN GOSPEL SINGER/ MINISTER

By :- Janette Brin

Industry

A truly remarkable couple, Carlene Davis and Tommy Cowan are a rare combination of faith and talent.  Carlene told me that music came about because music found her,  “In the crib there was a lot of cooing and carrying on.  Every opportunity I got since I was knee high I was always singing.  We grew up in a rural area.  My parents would sit me up on the countertop when I was a little older, and I would sing.  In high school and college there was always singing and music.  My dad played five instruments and my four siblings and their children are involved in music.” 

Clarendon Parish, Jamaica is where she grew up.  She first started out in secular music and continued her musical experiences in England where her parents had relocated.  When she was older she came to Canada where she says, “I went gigging at night and working during the day.”  She soon gave up day jobs and decided to focus on music full time.  She started with small labels at first.  In 1978-79 she did her first singles in Toronto.  In 1980, her big break came when she went to Jamaica and did Reggae Sunsplash – her first major engagement.   She recalls that later, “Michael Manning the PM of Jamaica game to visit in Toronto and told me to come back to Jamaica; this was a turning point that turned into bigger audiences for me.”

Carlene did very well at Sunsplash where she was the first Reggae solo female performer.   From there her career surged and whatever she did impressed those in musical decision making so much that the list of personages she has worked with since then is long indeed.  From the likes of Sting, The Police, Peter Tosh, Aretha Franklin, Rick James, New Edition and James Brown, Toots & The Maytals, Grateful Dead, Gladys Knight, Melba Moore, and many others. 

But in life there are moments that bring turning points and for Carlene it was breast cancer.  Having burned the candle at both ends for too long, it was time to cease and recommit her life as a Christian.  She recalls that, “I asked God to forgive me and turn my life around.  It has been a wonderful experience and God has given me a platform that I never thought would happen to me.  I washed my hand of the secular world and wanted what God wanted for me.”

She mentioned that she became involved in preaching and teaching but never did pastor a congregation.  That she leaves to her husband, former Reggae icon and Rastafarian, Tommy Cowan.  These two delightful people truly adore each other and it is easy to see why.  When I asked him how they met, he immediately said that, “When I saw her she was the star vocalist…and I said Wow!  We began to start dating that very night.  When she walks, she walks like she’s walking to music, the same as that first night I saw her.”  They have been walking to music together for 33 years already.

Music history runs deep for both of them.  She said that Tommy was doing his thing already in the music world.  Having worked in the Reggae arena with Bob Marley and others.  But it is the commitment they have made to Christianity and to their faith that keeps them together and also keeps them going in the gospel genre.  What also helps make their marriage work is respect, and that special magic that they have for each other.  Tommy says, “I would not want to change her.”  Carlene chimed in: “Commitment is the other word.  We made that commitment of working together.”

 

Their sense of humor and realness with each other shows.  Time and again it was mentioned that one must be honest, and that in life you need to make the best of it.  Life is short.  Make the best of it because we really know it only one time.   Tommy especially strongly focused on not wasting precious time.  “Caribe people in my view, are more challenged than most culture to keep a relationship.  The idea is not to curse the darkness when you can light a candle!  Don’t feed on the negative things.  You have a choice.  If you dwell on the dark stuff you will get the dark stuff!  In life if you are not living your purpose or passion, relationships won’t work since you will always be grumpy.  If you love what you do in life and you have a relationship and sharing with someone, it makes you a better person.”

I was lucky that we in Tortola got the first live version of Carlene’s next album.  When I asked her what inspired her to write the music she writes today she responded, “ It is what I hear and see and as a Christian it is out of my relationship with the Lord.”

Bubbling over, Tommy is the wordsmith with lyrics: “The word of God comes to you in the time of worship sometimes.  Tommy said that there are also some things that you cannot explain…Dripping Blood for example, is a song I wrote during communion when I felt that I was under the cross and felt the drops of Christ’s blood.  So I wrote about it. These are inspired words by God; it is not about sea and sand and floors, it is about Jesus.

This island needs Jesus to make it right.  You have to walk in obedience and get it.  That is also part of it.  Then you can use your skills to write the songs that are given to you.” 

When I wrote Winnie Mandela, the words came to me and it hit me.  Carlene and I were so excited about it.  When Nelson Mandela came out of prison, I wrote a lyric; we wanted him to know that God put the words into us through song.”

One of the most charming moments I experienced with them both was when Tommy performed the lyrics from a tune called I Wanna Hit Song. Very cute! 

I inquired about a typical day for the couple.  These guys are so busy with studio time, projects in between next albums, charity work, feeding programs, inner city ministering, and their Fun in the Son Christian music festival program events that take a whole year to plan.  Then there is the Vision for Jamaica project that they have done for ten years now. The Antigua prime minister called and wants them to be there too.  So they have to get rehearsals going in Antigua.  In November 2013 they did a school tour to encourage and minister.  They went to the students.  They were amazed to see the kids committing their lives to the Lord.  So often, role models are negative for them.

Carlene and Tommy Cowan say that they pray that youngsters that they have interacted with won’t go to negative events.  They hope that kids recognize that some of the entertainers they listen to are just that…entertainers only.  It is what they may do, but not how they live.  Tommy feels that in life as long as there are choices, it is good for us to offer up our kind of music, our choice. Don’t give kids just one choice.  Fun in the Son is one of the choices.   Give the alternatives.  Show them the better side of life.  We preach about vision for your life.  Where is your life going to go?  Have the vision in front of you.  If you don’t know where you’re going you won’t have a destination.  What is the purpose for your life?  God created your to have a purpose.  You are unique.  God knew your purpose in your mother’s womb.  We are responsible for getting the message out.  We introduce them to the word of God.  Jesus Christ’s gospel.  A lot of kids don’t know the word of God since a lot of their parents don’t go to church.  We tell kids that God wants you to have the good things in life, but you have to line up and be with Him. Righteousness comes first.  It is a simple choice! 

These two are amazing and they have survived to be very thankful for what they have:  their family and their children.  They see themselves in them.  Having survived the music industry and having been able to educate and raise their children is what they are so proud of. 

Carlene’s new album will be out by March.  “We have 30 songs sitting out there and we want it to be right, and to say what we believe God is saying to us, so we can reach the lost.”  Now that is saying something wonderful and we are excited for Carlene Davis’ music to reach our ears.

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