Jason Panton and Judah Lion stay ‘on the beat’ - Father and son talk pursuing music, production and the rules of screen-time
In what feels like the blink of an eye, Jason Panton’s son has gone from pre-school to music production. Known widely as the principal of the international roots-reggae outfit Dubwise Jamaica, Panton has a wealth of experience in arts and entertainment. As a selector, marketing director, producer of music and live shows, artists and repertoire, content creator, you name it, he is an ambassador for Jamaica’s culture and it looks like his son Judah Lion, though only nine years old, is prepared to follow a similar beat.
“Judah, as early as eight months old, used to sing in the car and he was always on perfect timing. It’s something a lot of artistes who would come and stay with us here in Miami observed. So, that’s when we decided to expand his knowledge in music; we started first by putting him in piano classes from early, because that is good for the ears to understand scales and key, which he excelled in,” said Jason who, along with a lively Judah Lion, hosted a Zoom meeting with The Gleaner last weekend, the day his school officially went on Christmas break.
His upbringing afforded him the opportunity to be exposed to artistes like Stephen Marley, Protoje, Jesse Royal, Lila Iké, Chronixx and Jah 9 – who formed part of his early musical influences. However, as he got more exposed to the US music genres, he looked to the older releases of Nas, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars to also draw inspiration from. Judah Lion’s first vocal feature was in 2014, singing the catchphrase “wadada da da dada da” at 33 minutes and 40 seconds on the Major Lazer-produced, Royally Speaking mixtape featuring Jesse Royal’s music.
“They had grabbed his vocals from a recording of him at three years old shared on Instagram. We have so many videos of Judah singing music from the likes of Bob Marley to Chronixx. The aim is to build on the Jamaican ability to sing on different rhythms and genres,” Jason said as he pointed out that it is a talent of local artistes to adapt to a wide range of music and Judah Lion stated wanting to make reggae music with a blend of hip-hop and rap which his debut single aptly captures.
The initial recording of the track, he said, “happened so organically while playing with a lot of music ideas; the line, “a weh yuh deh” came first, and I thought it sounded good and found a beat online that could be used. Then it was like, alright we need more than that; we recorded piece at home, piece in the car, here and there, driving to school, all this when he was six. But at the time he was missing four front teeth, two at the top, two at the bottom so the first recording had some Daffy Duck moments because he couldn’t enunciate. So, we shelved it while he did voice lessons and practiced drums.”
Judah Lion chimed in: “For a couple years I didn’t do instruments, no piano anymore, and all of a sudden I had a things for the drums. I didn’t know what I was doing at first so the drums I had, started to get very broken, but after two years I’ve stuck with it. Now, I have an actual drum set. though it’s missing one crash [cymbal]. It won’t break easily.”
He continues to work with his drum instructor at Hit Music Studio in Davie, Florida and on summer vacations to Jamaica he attends the Edna Manley College for Visual and Performing Arts to hone his skills. Jason said that he and Judah Lion’s mother, Rachel who has a background in playing the drums, are doing their best to facilitate the process, “in a gentle way that there is no stress and is fun”, so people can experience his gift.
“I didn’t think we’d reach this point until 13 or so. He would ask non-stop when [are] we going to put out the song for about a year and half. Then we revoiced it and turns out, the cadence was still good, his voice hadn’t changed much except for a bit more clarity. We decided to put it out because in 2020 waiting for tomorrow could be a mistake, so, we do what we can today. I never thought it would manifest as quickly as it has, and that he would have such intention behind what he is doing.”
As his father, management naturally falls into that, but Jason says he is not on the Joe Jackson path. “He is aware of the process making a record even before now, he’s heard me going through the process of making a record, doing a revision, getting it mixed and mastered, scheduling, getting a release date, I think he has a familiarity with it and all of us come without advantages, so his, is just that I know the business to the extent so I can help him understand the process and pace that. We’re not paying attention to streams and numbers, I don’t want him to start developing that thinking.”
On that note, Judah Lion is at the core, like any other child in the third grade, who is passionate about music and skateboarding (which was added to his list of hobbies earlier this year) and loves sports like football and basketball as well as Roblox and Minecraft video games. However, before the pandemic, the Pantons ran an “anti-screen time” home, which is where the conversation took a turn from production to parameters.
At this point Judah Lion shares, “I like video games very much, I have a Nintendo Switch and a mini PlayStation that comes with the games built-in.”
“Yeah, old-school stuff I can beat him on,” teases his father.
Judah Lion continues: “And there are games I can play on the computer, but I’m not like a Roblox-hog or anything like that. I also, only discovered Minecraft four months ago.”
“We were definitely anti-screen time before COVID-19,” explains Jason to The Gleaner. “He never had games on the laptop, as a matter of fact he did not have a laptop, but it was required for him to be part of the virtual classroom.”
Schools were open for this term in Florida, but families were given the option for their child to stay-at-home he said, which they opted for.
“I been working from home for the past 10 years, having board meetings with Judah on my lap so I don’t mind it; I actually like it but it’s balance and we have to figure it out like most parents,” said Jason, adding that, “before it was either play outside or inside working on something or drawing something (so) because he can’t play with all his friends, we keep him connected playing games online with those he has not been able to interact with. We’ll see how he settles afterwards. I can tell you though, most of what we accomplished musically wouldn’t have been, if he was on a digital trend.”
The song the family is promoting, Judah On The Beat was revisited this year and is a catchy take on the 2016 single JuJu On That Beat. It was engineered by Neil Dyer, co-produced by 27 Corazones Beats and Jason and is being released by Jason’s own Everything Nice label — which released Sweet Sensation by Heavyweight Rockaz’s featuring Jesse Royal, earlier this year.
“I’m not into it, I really just want to put out a song and put out a song. The lyrics are just about having fun; people listening to it can hear that it’s something they can dance to. It’s a good song and the video is just as good. In it, I’m at the park, skateboarding, which I think I am very good for the time that I have been doing it, which hasn’t been a year as yet. I mean I did fall a couple times but that was all for the video,” Judah Lion said laughing.
Judah Lion is currently working on more exciting releases but isn’t rushing to fully immerse himself further into the world of music.