His name has become synonymous with down-to-earth Guyanese music because John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul is about as real as it gets. The affable, multi-talented entertainer and his wife Ingrid have just completed a Christmas album, which even from the name, ‘Christmas is Family’ speaks to who they are and what they stand for.
Slingshot has been dropping some of his Christmas songs on Facebook and on YouTube for his fans, but has no plans to release the album in Guyana given the current status of copyright laws.
‘Christmas is Family’ brings back two well-known and loved Slingshot hits.
The words: “There’s nothing like me home on Christmas morning//Liming with me friends and family…” from “Christmas in Guyana” (remixed version) evoke nostalgia, especially for Guyanese in the Diaspora, spelling out the longing they have to experience a Guyanese Christmas.
In an interview with The Scene, Slingshot reminds that “Christmas in Guyana” was on his third CD release ‘Home Sweet Home’ and notes that he “did not stray from my rural roots.… The song rekindles the Christmas Eve visit to homes around the villages, and would be done by a ‘make-up’ band of just about anyone in the villages. Leading the entourage would be yours truly, Shamboy, Marco, and Neville Budhan. We would play acoustic guitar, mouth-organ, knock bottles, saucepans, bamboo joints, tin-cups, spoons, shac-shac, and just having a whale-of-a-time in typical rustic fashion…”
Then there’s the very familiar “A Very Merry Guyanese Christmas”, which is also remixed and is spiced with a tongue-in-cheek tease to those residing in the Diaspora. Slingshot notes that it beckons them to yearn for “the inter-personal, extroverted display and mixing” that they once experienced in Guyana, regardless of whether they grew up on the city or a rural area.
The title song, “Christmas is Family”, is based on an experience he had at an airport waiting for his flight, after a performance away from home. “I took the liberty of keeping true to the nature and essence of the composition, with authentic airport and onboard announcements,” Slingshot adds. “It brings out both the nostalgia of wanting to be home as quickly as possible to be with ‘family’ on Christmas Day.”
The other songs on the album are: “Let Us All Rejoice”, “When Christ Was Born”, “It’s A Wonderful Christmas Day”, “Draycart Caroling”, “The Best Father”, “Christmas Memories” and “The Nativity: An Oratorio”.
“Let Us All Rejoice” retells the angel’s revelation to the shepherds and the wise men, as well as the meeting at the manger setting.
“When Christ Was Born” keeps alive the spirit and meaning of what Christmas is all about. According to Slingshot, “We used some mid-Eastern instruments to give authenticity to period music. As an example, we utilized at some points of the recording an Armenian indigenous woodwind instrument called ‘duduk’. The haunting sound evokes the sad circumstances and tribulations of Jesus’ pre-and post-birth…,” he explains.
Slingshot says “Wonderful Christmas Day” commemorates “a typical Christmas Day celebration at our home…”
Meanwhile, “Draycart Caroling”, he says, takes him back to his rural roots. But he notes that it would also resound with city dwellers, since on Christmas Eve that has been (and in some cases still is) the mode of transport used to go caroling.
“Best Father”, Slingshot says, reflects his most sincere Christmas wish “as I incorporated the wishes of almost every father around the globe.” For the video, he says, “we have engaged personal settings at our home to promulgate the visuals and intimacy of thoughts as to our fervent wish that the best gift we can give our children, aside from morals and values, is a steady and structured home-life, …family structured support, and the upward striving towards a solid education…”
He recalls how “Christmas Memories” began as an improvisation. It was recorded “impromptu” at a restaurant/club in Kissimmee, Florida and later taken into the studio where “retouching” was done.
Slingshot and his wife Ingrid were at the restaurant when a member of the house band saw them and invited him to take the mic. Slingshot borrowed the acoustic guitar, “cued the band, and the lyrics were improv. The band’s female lead vocalist assisted me.”
“The Nativity: An Oratorio” is a one-of-a-kind Caribbean composition, he says. It features blends, narration, vocal renditions and also a few Mid-Eastern instruments.
Slingshot describes it as “a well-researched oratorical composition that narrates the revelation of Elizabeth’s pregnancy to Zachariah her husband, the Annunciation to Mary of her pending birth by the Angel Gabriel, the message to the shepherds watching their flocks at night, the visitation of the wise Magi, and the words of John the Baptist on beholding Jesus coming to be baptized.”
He notes that it was “diligently researched” and they stuck to the original versions from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It also incorporates traditional Christmas Carols with inspirational compositions.
Ingrid, co-writer on the album with her husband, had the idea for the name ‘Christmas is Family’. Slingshot said that her religious background lent much to the lyrical compositions. The album was originally slated to be released in mid-September 2013. However, he said, there were some logistic setbacks. “Plus we didn’t just want to release something that would not sound right both musically and lyrically,” he added.
Asked what sort of impact he expected the album to have, Slingshot delivers the same message he always has, imploring Guyanese artistes to look inward, especially when it comes to Christmas music. Warming to his theme, he expresses the hope that the album would “encourage our artistes at home and elsewhere to refocus and compose for Guyana and not to rely solely on Christmas standards that have snow, sledding, and mistletoe, and what-have-you… I know we have it in us to make that giant leap from snow and mistletoe and jump into sorrel, mauby, and black cake.”
Although he has lived abroad longer than he has lived here, Slingshot has stayed rooted in Guyana. He reveals that his memoir Slingshot: from No 63 Beach to Madison Square Garden, which will be published soon, “gives poignant details that will attest to such.”
He is preparing for Mash and has already written and recorded “Ah Feelin Nice”. The video is out as well.
To his fans he says “Have a most memorable Christmas and New Year celebration, and, as the lyrics in one of our ‘Christmas is Family’ songs urge:
…Ingrid greeting everyone from top de stairs
Wishing all ah dem ah happy New Year
Health, wealth and success fuh years to come
Don’t drink and drive, stay young, have plenty fun…”