WITH one of his ancestors featuring in Tam o’Shanter, the roots of award-winning Scots Canadian musician Jason Wilson go back a long way.

However it was only when he rediscovered his late father’s 8mm films, which captured life in Ayrshire during the 1960s, that Ontario-based Wilson decided to embark on a musical journey to explore his heritage.

It has resulted in a new album that brings together a line-up of musicians that includes legendary Jamaican-Canadian guitarist Carl Harvey of Toots & The Maytals, as well as Scottish talents like Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton on whistles, Jack Smedley on fiddle, and John Somerville on accordion.

READ MORE: Scottish tourist attraction named among most popular in the world

“This album is very personal, in that it is based around stories of my parents, aunts and uncles, all of whom have shaped my life in some way,” said Wilson.

“The tales told throughout the songs stretch all the way back to my great-great-great-great-great-great uncle John Davidson, who appears in Robert Burns’ Tam O’ Shanter as Souter Johnnie, the shoemaker. In this way, it is a generational body of work – it is made up from my memories, mixed with those of my parents, and all that I know of my roots in Ayrshire, dating back hundreds of years.”

Wilson added that the family always talked about the link to Souter Johnnie.

“My cousin and I proved it via the Ancestry website,” he said. “My uncle had his watch for years but of course no one knows where it is now!”

Born to Scottish parents, Wilson was one half of the successful Wilson & Swarbrick project with the late English folk icon Dave Swarbrick. Also a best-selling historian and adjunct-professor of history, Wilson has eight books to his name, including the award-winning King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land: The Roots and Routes of Canadian Reggae.

In his previous work, he has explored the impact of place on memory, from the urban landscape of New York in Perennials (2016) to the historical trajectory of Toronto in Sumach Roots (2020).

The new album, Ashara, continues this thematic exploration, examining the musician’s Ayrshire roots and the profound cultural connections they hold.

“Ashara has a strong, folky sound with my guitar pieces all in Celtic DADGAD tuning, thanks to Dick Gaughan but it also draws on Canadian influences, served atop, as always, a reggae foundation,” said Wilson. “It really captures my essence as a musician, fully matured. This record truly is where Scotland meets Jamaica in Canada.”

A two-time Juno-Awards nominee, Canadian Reggae Music Award winner, Wilson has performed and recorded with UB40, Alanis Morissette, Sly & Robbie, Ron Sexsmith, Ernest Ranglin, Pee Wee Ellis and Dick Gaughan.

Tracks on the new album include Coila, the name of the muse that Robert Burns invented to help with his writing. For the poet, Coila was the embodiment of Ayrshire. Wilson’s song explores the possibility that her voice called out to Burns from across the “Black Atlantic”, trying to lure him to Jamaica.

The National:

An Evening in Paris in Cumnock Tonight, another track, captures the magic of the dances Wilson’s parents attended in Ayrshire during the 1950s. An Evening in Paris was a much-coveted perfume at the time and the premise of the song imagines a young lad who armed himself with a brand new bottle of the French perfume in an attempt to win the heart of a young lass he had his eye on.

Ashara will be available on CD, vinyl and digitally from September 29 and the band is planning a tour in Scotland next year.