Mellow CD releases for Christmas

It is a deep irony that some of the world’s most beautiful music has been composed to celebrate Christmas, yet we only get to hear them played for not more than two weeks at the end of the year. This is the busiest time for the music business, selling not just holiday-themed music but also dealing with the highest number of new releases.

“Traditionally, country music remains hot,” says John Andrews of AI Records, the largest distributor of international titles in Kenya. “However, the current trend is definitely gospel, then R & B and urban dance is beginning to emerge among the favourites.”

From his company’s headquarters along Ngong Road in Nairobi, Andrews whose family has been in the music business since independence, picks the artistes whose albums are creating a huge buzz as the holidays begin: “There is Adele with 21, Rihanna’s Loud, and of course, festive albums like Michael Buble’s Christmas and teen star Justin Bieber’s Under the mistletoe.”

So has the rapidly declining music business changed the trend or is Christmas still a peak time for music sales? “No changes here, the period from November and December retains the highest demand for music,” says Andrews.

Top of the charts

One of his tips to perform well this year is “Christmas” by Canadian singer Micheal Buble which features duets with several familiar names including the classic “White Christmas” with, country singer Shania Twain.

This is a re-release of an album which was initially out last year and made the top of the charts in both the UK and the US. The 37-year-old has settled on a sound that is reminiscent of the era of the big band, jazz vocalists for all 15 songs on the album.

On the CD sleeve notes, the three-time Grammy award winner explains the motivation behind the old school feel to the music: “My goal was to make a record that would make people feel the same way that I did all those years ago when Bing Crosby’s Christmas record would play in my parent’s house,” he says.

Buble, together with fellow stars, Kylie Minogue and violinist Nicola Benedetti, have recorded a special Christmas TV show in the UK with the legendary Rod Stewart. Stewart has also released the first holiday album of his long career titled “Merry Christmas, baby” with a song from the album becoming his first record to top the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart in the US in nearly 20 years.

Fans of smooth jazz will be salivating at the news of a Christmas compilation by saxophonist Dave Koz. “Ultimate Christmas” is a collection of 18 festive songs from the six-time Grammy Award nominee, including “Deck the halls,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The songs were hand-picked from Koz’s three previous holiday albums: “December Makes Me feel This Way,” “A Smooth Jazz Christmas” and “Memories of a Winter’s Night.” These are not all instrumental pieces because as he has done on previous albums, Koz features vocals by among others, Brenda Russell on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” and Kimberly Locke appears on the bluesy “Please come Home for Christmas.”

Selling point

As one might expect from a Dave Koz album, the songs are a joy to listen to and you might often find yourself so immersed in the music in a manner very different from your typical Christmas album. That is the beauty of the arrangement of this collection; that this could pass for any mainstream smooth jazz rather than an attempt to create sounds that are overtly festive is a strong selling point.

This year, the saxophonist is marking the 15th anniversary of “Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour” which is performance tour across the US with guests, pianist and composer David Benoit and veteran drummer and vocalist, Sheila E.

Classical opera meets pop music in “The Christmas Collection” by Il Divo, a group assembled by UK reality TV star and record company executive, Simon Cowell. With a line-up of French, Spanish, American and Swiss singers, the group has sold 26 million albums worldwide and made a widely acclaimed tour with Barbra Streisand in 2006.

“The Christmas Collection” was first released in 2005 in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe and was the best selling holiday album of that year in the US.

Despite the slew of these modern pop releases, John Andrews of AI records says the trends indicate that many Kenyans will still be buying and playing the old Christmas favourites like Jim Reeves “12 Songs of Christmas”, Boney M and the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton collaboration.

Most of the Cds are available at major supermarkets at Sh1,500 and at the AI store on Ngong road.