Hot Shots: Barbados’ Cover Drive

Desiree Seebaran meets Cover Drive, the Barbadian “Cari-pop” quartet

From left to right: Jamar, Barry, Amanda and T-Ray. Photograph courtesy Cover Drive

Take four Bajan teenagers, stir in pop music, instruments, and a dose of island energy, and you’d be lucky to come up with the compelling new sound that’s distinctive to Cover Drive. Named for a cricket batting shot, the quartet — lead singer Amanda Reifer, clean-cut bass player Jamar Harding, dreadlocked Barry Hill on guitar, and hat-crazy T-Ray Armstrong on drums and vocals — bear a strong physical resemblance to one of their musical influences, the US rock band No Doubt. Amanda is the elementally sexy, golden female lead with pouty red lips. And her versatile voice is also reminiscent of fellow Bajan pop artist Rihanna, who Cover Drive opened for on the Barbados leg of her recent LOUD tour.

“We love all things Rihanna,” says Jamar. “She gave us a huge break, and we cannot thank her enough for that.” Amanda adds: “Comparisons are really complimentary. I try to learn from her, so hopefully we can also have a shot at an amazing music career, too.”

But Cover Drive is no studio template gone wrong. They were discovered the new old-fashioned way: by posting videos online of their acoustic sessions in T-Ray’s basement, where they did Caribbean-flavoured covers of a range of popular music. It was there that they hit upon a name for their sound: Cari-pop (Caribbean pop). The steel pan intro on the metal-edged “Lick Ya Down” is one of several nods the group makes to their Caribbean roots — they’re determined to blend who they are into their international sound.

“It is what comes naturally to us,” Amanda says. “We love Machel [Montano], Rupee, Lil’ Rick, Kes the Band, and we also love pop music.”

Since they signed with British music label Polydor in 2011, Cover Drive’s singles have come fast and furious. “Explode”, featuring Brit rapper Dappy, refreshes that timeless pop theme of falling in lust with a bouncy techno riff laid over mellower ska-reggae rhythms. The soulful slow rock “Sparks” features a sweet duet between T-Ray and Amanda. Another slow number, “Twilight”, has garnered over seven million views on YouTube. Amanda’s open sensuality definitely draws fans, but it doesn’t hurt that Barry, Jamar, and T-Ray look extraordinary on camera themselves.

Cover Drive doesn’t diversify from the standard pop themes of young, new love (and lust). But their appealingly eclectic videos never get too serious, juxtaposing sophisticated images with rustic roots: a Mini Cooper or a pulsing club scene with platefuls of hearty Caribbean food, or the neighbourhood barber shop.

Their debut album Bajan Style was released in May 2012, and got loads of attention in Britain. The band promises lots of promotional touring in the Caribbean and the US, once promoters get on the Cover Drive train.

“UK fans have really embraced us and our sound,” Amanda says. “But we want to make an honest commitment to sharing our music with the Caribbean.”