Ewan Simpson, chairman of the board for the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) and an attorney-at-law, is no ordinary guy. An alum of Glenmuir High School in Clarendon, The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona and Cave Hill campuses and the Università degli Studi di Torino in Italy, Simpson has also traversed the spheres of music, from holding down posts as musical director of the National Dance Theatre Company to managing reggae group One Third and doing vocal arrangement for Shaggy.
An adjunct lecturer in intellectual property management at the Institute of Caribbean Studies and a former lecturer at VDTI, Simpson has made his mark in academia; however, it is his music creds that invariably come to the fore when his name is mentioned. He has been described by a colleague as “a true music biz professional to the core, in carrying out his undertakings with excellence and high standards”.
In commenting on his own musical accomplishments, Simpson paid tribute to his Clarendon roots and his grandfather, Samuel Simpson, a church deacon and a skilled tradesman and his teacher grandmother Sislyn Simpson. “I’ve been doing music for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a Clarendon, Christian home. That’s a double dose of musical influences. My grandfather played rhythms with his tools, from his hammer and saw to his cutlass. My grandmother ensured we knew and performed songs not only as part of our worship experience, but as part of our education,” he told Flair.
And, side by side with the religious, the musical palette of the boy who attended the Assemblies of the Firstborn Church in Curatoe Hill, was also coloured by the intoxicating sounds of the “forbidden sound systems of the community” as well as the distant hypnotic strains of revival music. “Add to that a solid grounding in European classical music and Anglican hymns at Glenmuir along with the influence of movies and TV series like Sarafina, Shaka Zulu and an addiction to the sounds of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, as well as Jim Reeves that were ever-present in my house and you get the full picture,” he elaborated.
It was, therefore, kinda inevitable that Simpson would fully embrace music. His journey has seen him performing roles such as arranger, producer, conductor, musical director and manager, working at various times with The University Singers, the NDTC, the Cathy Levy Players and Richie Stephens, Jah Cure, One Third, To Isis ( now Kingston Rockers) as well as Bryan Art.
He added, “I have arranged or sung harmony for stalwarts such as Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffith, U-Roy, Alton Ellis, George Nooks and Leroy Sibbles. I also sung harmony and did vocal arrangements on three tracks for Shaggy’s 2019 album Wah Gwaan and have worked on various other pieces of music for advertising, film, theatre and TV.”
BALANCING LAW AND MUSIC
The JaRIA chairman describes music and law as “two different kinds of satisfaction, like hunger and thirst”, and thankfully he has managed to balance and harmonise his two passions. Simpson shared that his legal journey started with a prediction. “In high school, I was told by my then ISCF camp counsellor (now Supreme Court judge) Leighton Pusey, that I would become a lawyer. I laughed since my only intention was to join the JDF and do aviation. Having gone to UWI and completed a geography degree, and having been immersed in matters of culture and entertainment, as well as being exposed to philosophy and political science, the law bug bit me, and I yielded to the calling that Justice Pusey saw some 10 years prior. I, however, insisted on using law to advance my involvement in the cultural and creative industries,” he said.
A Jamaican who is “passionate, proud and humble at the same time”, the boy who “grow wid him granny,” has remained grounded, with a touch of noble on top. “I grew up in a home where I was accustomed to attention, whether from church or school or community. I learned very early that the gifts and opportunities I am given are for the purpose of making the world around me better. Not as a decoration to be boastfully worn. So, I know that the extent to which some light is shone on me for the work I am doing, it is for a cause or purpose greater than me and my friends and family help to ensure it never gets to my head. They will be making a big deal in one minute about something praiseworthy and reminding me in the next minute of a promise I haven’t kept or a chore that needs to be done, or a personality flaw I need to work on,” the father of twin daughters said.
Clothed with a “Mr Nice Guy” persona and possessing quite a bit of charisma, Simpson quickly dismissed any suggestion of him entering representational politics. “My early university days disabused me of any such notion I may have had. I have, however, remained committed to serving my country in any capacity that dovetails with my skills and personality. In this regard, I would consider it favourably if I were invited to serve in the legislature, simply because legislative drafting is a skill I enjoy exercising, and it dovetails with my passion for nation-building. But you’re unlikely to see my name on a ballot,” he declared.
As to the ‘nice guy’ thing, he admits that it all depends on who you talk to. “My friends think I am too much of a nice guy, and they blame my grandmother. My exes think I am cold. My children think I am an Oracle but lots of fun, and my colleagues think I am crazy, but strategic. Anybody who has worked for me thinks I am tough but fair. They are all correct.”
Unmarried, but reluctant to say whether or not he falls in the category of “eligible bachelor”, he did, however, say that he has “always wanted to be married and I still do” and named the qualities he looks for in the ideal woman.
“My ideal woman ( I always say this) should have five senses – a sense of purpose (some strong connection to spirituality and a calling beyond yourself). A sense of humour (find the humour even in a rough moment. Be able to laugh at yourself). A sense of style (be able to rock a T-shirt as well as an evening gown). A sense of occasion (just know when to be loud or soft or just when to walk away from a fight). A sense of accomplishment (know your worth and the value you bring to the life of a partner, unapologetically).”
His favourite place to relax is a villa in Negril or Portland, “once it is clean, quiet, safe, has beach access, Jamaican fresh fruits, tasty food, and a good supply of red wine”.