The Return of LADIES IN REGGAE
by Lloyd Stanbury
Kingston, Jamaica – In the early days of Jamaican popular music, our female singers and songwriters played a major role in propelling our music onto the world stage. In fact, the first major international Jamaican hit recording was by one of Jamaica’s female pioneers, Millie Small, with her 1964 million-selling single “My Boy Lollipop.” Its success opened the doors for such artists as Phyllis Dillon, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Hortense Ellis, Pam Hall, Rita Marley, Carlene Davis, J.C. Lodge, Cynthia Schloss, Lorna Bennett, Dawn Penn, Sheila Hylton, and Nadine Sutherland, all of whom established themselves as mainstream recording and performing artists.
For some strange reason, however, the early achievements of our female artists did not result in the kind of follow-through seen by their male counterparts. For many years, we have failed to produce top-class female Reggae recording artists and performers. With the exception of the local and international successes of Diana King, Patra, Sasha, Foxy Brown, and Lady Saw, female Reggae and Dancehall artists have become a very scarce commodity over the last 25 years.
Women Performers Step Forward
A number of different reasons have been presented for what many view as a problem in the development of our music. Sexual harassment by music producers and the rough, tough and aggressive face of male-dominated Dancehall music are two such explanations. The tendency of many young Jamaican female artists to idolize and follow popular foreign Pop and R&B female stars is another argument given for the seeming disappearance of the Jamaican female Reggae performer.
Over the past several years, however, there has been an onslaught of female artists in Reggae and Dancehall. This influx is a welcome sign and one to be encouraged. The success of artists such as Ce’Cile has influenced many women who might previously have had a hard time because of their social backgrounds. Tanya Stephens has also helped pave the way with her tremendous accomplishments, thanks to her thought-provoking songwriting skills and her powerful vocal delivery.
Today’s “ladies in Reggae” are not only holding their own, they have positioned themselves to take the lead. Artists such as Alaine, Tessanne Chin, Tami Chynn, Etana, Spice, Macka Diamond, Jovi Rockwell, Cherine Anderson, Queen Ifrica, and Brick and Lace have signaled the long-awaited return of female recording artists and performers. Whatever the reason for this recent upsurge in female talent, we should be thankful and do everything possible to encourage and support them.
Jamaica’s radio and sound system DJs, along with concert and show promoters, need to display more respect for the role and contribution of women to our music and to the development of the industry by including and featuring more female recording artists in their programs and live concerts. We need an injection of the softer, kinder, more loving messages that music can provide, and who better to do this than our strong, caring Jamaican women.
Our ladies in Reggae have not only demonstrated their capability to record and perform at the highest level, but they have also exhibited the ability to properly speak and represent Reggae and Jamaica internationally, as was clearly demonstrated at the press conference held at last year’s MIDEM music convention in Cannes, France.