Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter
With a disarming smile, locs flowing stylishly down his shoulders and a personality and demeanor that would suggest this life has never tested him, Karel Wisdom stands as the epitome of a man possessed by his passions and consumed by his singular focus – to change as many lives as he can for the better, through the powerful vehicle of music. His admission of these things makes it no wonder that the 38-year-old is now a finalist in the JCDC Festival Song Competition, leaving him with every bit of confidence that maybe, just maybe, his will be the face of victory when it is all said and done.
“I started singing seriously when I was 17 years old,” the father of two daughters explained, adding that over the years, despite initially finding his genesis in gospel music, he had always felt that his calling was not so much religion-centric, but more so to deliver music that was not only conscious, but music that transcended all boundaries. By all accounts, it would seem that the unassuming Wisdom held true to that conviction, as though his humility did not bring him to tell us, a deeper look into his history revealed that he has worked with the likes of big names such as Ernie Smith, Maxie Priest, Shaggy, and Etana – all individuals known for their unwavering commitment to positivity.
“There are some situations I went through, and I realized that in order to make the change of the magnitude I dreamt of, I needed a bigger platform,” Wisdom said with careful calculation, admitting that he saw entering the Festival Song Competition as the ideal avenue to accomplish this. “I felt that being a part of this Festival Song Competition would have been a good platform from which to make that difference,” he continued. For the tough times the parish he has called home for the past 7 years, St. James, has been having, adding his voice to the mix of those fighting for the good everyday was an easy decision for him. “The crime monster has taken over, so I wanted to use my talent and my platform to get that message out. That’s why the song I did for the competition took a patriotic stance,” Wisdom, whose stage name is Jah Wiz, said. This strong, and these days rare sense of patriotism is not the only driver behind Wisdom’s journey on the path least trodden; he has seen the worst of what awaits one in a life of crime, and he now undeniably knows it’s not worth it.
“I went through some situations – some interactions with the law, and it all gave me time to think and dig deeper. It gave me some time to refocus,” Wisdom said, citing that those struggles did not quite signal a turning point in his life, but rather a returning point to all that was good about himself and the life he wanted to live.
“Growing up, around 16 or 17, I endured some struggles. There came a point where things got even more desperate, and it became much harder, so I felt like just to survive, I had to get a little creative in figuring out a way to survive, and so I did.” That did not yield the results Wisdom had hoped for. It instead landed him an unfortunate meeting with the long arm of the law, one that he would soon come to appreciate it.
“Being incarcerated for a period of time, I got a chance to really see what goes behind those walls on a much deeper level. I got a chance to understand why a lot of them in there did the things they did, and it made me even more resolute in my decision to deliver the message of peace and love to the ones not yet impacted by the prison system. They are who I’m doing this for,” Wisdom asserted. For those still in the system, he hopes his music will serve as a pathway to rehabilitation. That’s why Wisdom remains passionate about capitalizing on simply being in the Festival Song Competition – more people are reached on this stage. That’s why for him, making it to the top ten out of the many who entered, is already a crowning achievement for him. As for those dark experiences, Wisdom feels that they have given him an edge he refuses to take for granted.
“They give me an edge because now, I now know I have something to fight for. I have something that I believe in because I see the importance of it in dealing with what Jamaica has been dealing with. I had a story before all this, before the run in with the law and all, but now, I have a more powerful story,” Wisdom added with confidence.
Knowing that he is already a winner makes it that much easier for the soft-speaking Wisdom to take this mission on of uplifting Jamaica, regardless of whether or not he wins the competition. His Festival Song entry, “Hands on your heart”, is already being hailed as an anthem, and whether or not it continues to pick up traction, one can’t help the feeling that this is only the beginning for the awe-inspiring Wisdom.