Once you’ve got the English /ð/ sound right, you can play around with it. Here’s Desmond Dekker singing Israelites. He sings a standard English /ð/ at the beginning of that, but listen to the way he sings the /ð/ of the. Is he singing a /ð/ or a /d/?:
Desmond Dekker was born in Jamaica. In Jamaican English there is a choice between a clear /ð/ or a clear /d/ in words where a British or American English speaker would use a /ð/. In Jamaican English, both sounds are correct. Desmond sometimes chooses one, sometimes the other. It’s a conscious choice and he adds depth to the sound sculpture of his song by moving between the two sounds at will.
Desmond’s clear Jamaican English /d/ is nothing like the clogged d sound he’d make if he was trying to make an English /ð/ but putting his tongue in the wrong place. It’s nothing like this. Desmond doesn’t sound ill. He’s made a choice. Not a mistake. When you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.
As a by the by – did you notice Desmond relishing the rolled r in the word every? Rolling his r draws attention to the word. Why does he choose to roll his r in every, but not to roll his r in Israelite or darling? Why doesn’t he roll the r every time he sings every?
What does his choice add to the song? This is the kind of detective work that’s worth doing if you want to sing a cover version.
You don’t need to copy Desmond, but working out why he made his choices will help you to refine yours.
If you’re going to sing reggae or ska be careful not to adopt a blanket approach to pronunciation. Don’t sing every /ð/ sound as a d. You’ll sound ridiculous. Like this. Jamaican English is full of choices, depth and variety. Respect that.
Watch the 4 backing singers on Israelites and you can see that they are singing /ð/ instead of a Jamaican English /d/ at the beginning of each the. Why?
Here’s some more of the wonderful Desmond Dekker to help you think:
When you sing, make conscious choices, not unconscious errors. Be Sherlock Holmes – investigate the choices made by the songwriter and by the original singer of any song you want to cover. Your own version will sound all the better for it. Knowledge is power.
© Sing Better English, 2014