Jamaica Gleaner / Live Wyya never intended to be a ‘backing band’ – providing music for vocalists at concert appearances – in the long term. Co-founder, bass guitarist Carl ‘C-Wyya’ Edwards, said doing that was a strategy to get to perform their own music, transitioning steadily into a full-time show band, playing mainly their own music.
It seems, though, that they may have been a tad bit too proficient for their own good – Live Wyya’s Best Backing Band acknowledgements including from the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) from 2005 to 2008, the Jamaica Federation of Musicians (JFM) in 2005 and 2006, and the Joe Higgs Awards in 2009. Still, the sprinkling of Best Show Band honours, from the JFM in 2005 and 2006, and an Excellence in Music and Entertainment (EME) award in 2011 for Best Instrumental Band With Vocals, shows that Live Wyya was determined to establish their own identity.
And the 2002 win in the IRIE FM Big Break contest, as well as topping the local leg of Global Battle of the Bands in 2004, were signs of Live Wyya’s potential as a self-contained outfit.
However, as an entry tactic, being on the big shows failed.
“Every time we backed a show, they put us on (to perform our own material) first and it is only grass in the venue,” Edwards said. Performing time and again to empty venues was frustrating and ineffective.
“After 15 years, we were at square one pertaining to our own music. Everybody knew us as a backing band,” he said.
So about five years ago they just stopped, although Edwards told The Gleaner , “every now and then we do a little backing overseas.” He readily concedes that “we knew from the beginning that once we eased off the backing band thing, the income would be less. But we also knew if we pushed our own thing, it would be more beneficial to us all.”
It helps that the unit has remained stable since being formalised in December 1999, the major change being in the lead singer. The current members are co-founder and drummer Arnaldo Bolt, lead guitarist Michael ‘Colgate’ Downer, lead vocalist Jerome ‘Jay Wyya’ Smickle, and keyboard players Chadian Munroe and Kirk ‘Oneil’ Gayle.
Additional musicians are brought in on recording sessions as required, Edwards saying “the legendary Dean Fraser” (saxophonist) and producer Mikey Bennett are two of the persons the band works with.
There is a partnership of another kind as well, as Live Wyya is working with Dazzle Entertainment from Canada, that connection leading to a trip to the land of the maple leaf in 2016, with another slated for 2018. In January, the band’s latest single, Never Love Again , will be released.
Edwards gives a wry chuckle as he says, “we have the material, but to get the airplay is the hardest thing. If you have no money, it ain’t funny.”
Of course, there is the matter of travelling costs when the band performs outside Jamaica, as “it’s six tickets plus the engineer.”
That did not stop them from doing tours of the US, west coast (2010, 2011) and east coast (2010). Their most recent performance in Jamaica was at Sunday’s Entertainers Against Crime and Violence concert in Montego Bay, St James. Edwards said it was Live Wyya’s final show for 2017.
“We are preparing for 2018,” he said.