Opening slot for Boney M. a Christmas dream come true for Sask. artists
Local musicians say Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord was the soundtrack to their childhood Christmases
For many Saskatchewan families, Boney M.'s A Christmas Album from 1981 is a mainstay during the holiday season.
Few can listen to the opening lines of Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord and not know the rest of the words by heart.
Other monumental Boney M. hits like Rasputin, Daddy Cool, Rivers of Babylon and Sunny have made the German-Caribbean disco funk group iconic to a wide array of age groups over the years.
Now, Boney M. is set to perform in both Regina and Saskatoon with original singer Liz Mitchell.
"It's overwhelming to think that 40 years ago I could have done something that is so meaningful and lasting," Mitchell said of recording big hits like Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord.
"So it is very, very overwhelming for me and I'm just knocked out completely by the response. From the young people especially."
Organizers have tapped some local talent — artists with their own emotional connection to their Christmas music — to open for Boney M. in Saskatchewan.
Zubazz Read is the lead singer of Regina band Dangerous Cheese. He'll open Sunday's Boney M. show at the Conexus Arts Centre.
Read says organizers want a Christmas DJ set with "a twist," and he's more than ready to get the crowd pumped up with Christmas spirit before Boney M. takes the stage.
The group's 1978 record Nightflight to Venus — where Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord made its first appearance — was on regular rotation in Read's household growing up.
"My parents did not listen to disco, but that song came on and we always played that album. We wore that album out. Really. Honestly," Read said. "It's not Christmas unless you've got Boney M."
For Read, opening for the group is a dream come true.
"You have to understand, Rasputin is one of my favourite songs of all time. I love that song. So to play for this band that sold 80 million albums worldwide … that's pretty special, absolutely."
Memories with the band
This won't be Read's first time seeing Boney M.
Since the group split up in the 1980s, individual performers from the band have hit the road with their own iterations of Boney M.
Mitchell is an iconic voice from the original lineup, and she'll be joined onstage by musician family members and a close family friend.
But back in the 2000s, original member Bobby Farrell took his version of Boney M. to Saskatchewan and Read saw him perform.
Farrell had a really good time at that show and had a few too many drinks, according to Read. This led to the local musician carrying the legendary disco artist out of the venue in his arms.
"He's got his arm around me, he says, 'Zubazz, I can stay at your house anytime I want and you can stay at my house anytime you want.' And that was that was quite the impression there," Read said, laughing at the memory.
When Regina musician Melanie Berglund, who performs as Belle Plaine, was growing up, she made fun of her mom for playing Boney M. all Christmas long. Berglund described herself as being a "cranky teenager" at the time and admitted that, secretly, she loved the music.
So Berglund found it especially comedic when in 2018 she was asked to open for Boney M. featuring Liz Mitchell at Casino Regina.
"I said yes immediately and had to laugh at myself," she said.
Berglund was experiencing some emotional reflection at the same time. Her mother died in 2011. So when Berglund found out years later that she was opening for Boney M., it made a special kind of impression on her.
"Those Christmas traditions all became mine to carry. And when she was sick, she knew that she was going to be celebrating her last Christmas. She was aware of it, maybe in a way that I didn't comprehend," Berglund said.
"So I was the one decorating the tree and and maintaining all of these traditions and putting on the records that, you know, at one point in my life I would have teased her about playing, like Boney M. and Kenny and Dolly."
Berglund said the music is now special to her, given all the memories that are attached. She plans to pass on the tradition.
"My son will be familiar with Boney M."
What's with Saskatchewan and Boney M.?
Saskatoon's folk musician Ellen Froese is prepping her setlist ahead of Boney M.'s Saskatoon shows at TCU Place on Dec. 10 and 11. She'll be opening both concerts and said being asked was "awesome."
"It's going to be wild. It's like the biggest venue I've ever played at, and the biggest band I've ever opened for," said Froese.
Like Read and Berglund, Froese heard Boney M.'s A Christmas Album on heavy rotation at home.
"What is with people in Saskatchewan and Boney M.? Like, everyone loves them here!" said Froese.
"[When] I grew up, my aunt and my grandparents had that vinyl, and then my parents had it on CD, and it was almost to the point where I would get annoyed. It was like, can we switch the CD? I know every word to every single song."
Boney M.'s leading lady Mitchell returns Saskatchewan's affection.
She said the venue promoters and show organizers in Saskatchewan are always so kind and welcoming, and that has led to an intimate working relationship.
"Some places you seem to have a more connected feeling with those who are doing the show. Whereas in some places you have a connection just with the audience. You don't really get to know the people behind the scenes. You just say 'hi and bye.' But here I think that we have this kind of feeling where it's like family," Mitchell said.
As for singing her Christmas songs and disco hits for over 40 years, Mitchell said it's still a good experience.
"We have made this humongous success with Mary's Boy Child and I think have brought [it] into the bosoms of people around the world. So Mary's Boy Child is obviously very important to me now," Mitchell said.
"And I when I sing it, I feel so good because I know that this is the song that has allowed us to be able to come to Canada to entertain the audiences. This is the heart of the Christmas."
She said she would like to leave Saskatchewan audiences — and her opening acts — with feelings of "love and happiness."
"Good feelings for the season. But not only for the season. I feel like when I leave, I want to leave you good feelings for the whole year."