Sound advice

Overdue recognition for Barry O'Hare

Observer senior reporter

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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For as long as he can remember, Barry O'Hare has wanted to to be involved in music and audio engineering.

Today, he is one of the renowned names in his field, working on projects for the who's who of reggae. And come this Sunday, O'Hare will be among a number of Jamaicans who will be recognised by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) for their contribution to the growth and development of reggae music.

“It feels great to be recognised,” he told the Jamaica Observer during a break from a mixing session at his St Ann studio.

“It means that people are paying attention and taking note of the work that I do. I really don't do the work to get noticed. But what feels good is that the industry is watching and feels confident in my work and sees it fit to honour me at this time. So I am just thankful, honoured and most of all humbled,” he continued.

O'Hare began his musical journey at an early age. The son of a minister of religion, he attended Vaz Prep School in Kingston where he started piano lessons. By age nine, he was playing piano in his father's Pentecostal Church, and the organ by 11.

He recalled his mother's horror — “Boy, Dem set you pon wire?!” — when she visited his bedroom and discovered a web of wires and gadgets. But that was where O'Hare's mind was.

“I wanted to study sound engineering at Fulsail University in Orlando. My mother didn't really approve but could live with my decision, but my father was not having it. My cousin Stephen Stewart, who was also the son of a minister, had got into the industry working with Bob Marley at Tuff Gong and I remember my father seeing Bob flashing his locks and said: 'A dat you want to get into?'.”

O'Hare was not deterred. His parents would get him good jobs, but they would only last for three months at best. He even went to work as an engineer at Club Caribbean hotel in Runaway Bay, St Ann for free, just to gain an insight into the music business. Then it was Stewart, who would call with the job of a lifetime.

“He told me of a new studio being opened in Ocho Rios, Grove Recording Studio, and I went there and met (owner) Karl Young. At first, he said no... 'yuh finger dem too big, gonna mash up the board'. I was offered the job as an assistant and paid $300 per week. Within two months, I was doing all the recording at Grove. That was in 1987,” he reflected.

Since then O'Hare has racked up an impressive resume, working with the likes of Third World, Steel Pulse and Burning Spear. He was engineer for Spear's Grammy-winning album Calling Rastafari in 2000.

Tanya Stephens, Diana King, Yami Bolo, Jack Radics, Prezident Brown, Mikey Spice and Jahmali have also benefited from his expertise. He also worked on sound for film and television projects including the Disney film Sebastian and the ABC series Going to Extremes which was shot on location in Jamaica. On the road, O'Hare was engineer for Shaggy for 10 years; he has also worked in this capacity for Sean Paul and Beres Hammond.

O'Hare believes that his willingness to learn is what sets him apart from his peers. He advises youngsters wishing to come into the field to learn from the greats.

“Understand the principles of sound recording first and foremost. Listen to the guidance of seniors. I always loved watching people like Geoffrey Chung. See how they deal with sound, watch how they mic a session or an instrument... It's not just about turning knobs,” he explained. “Nowadays, a lot of youngsters come into the industry and all they want to do is sit around a board and mix. You must also realise that you are the captain of the ship and there must be patience. One line in a song can take three hours to record just to get it right.”

O'Hare shies away from naming his favourite project but when pressed, points to Calling Rastafari.

“I guess it's because I did everything on that project. From recording to mixing and free mastering. That was really a great project. But there were so many before and even more since then and I am continuing to do what I love,” he said.

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