The Conscious Era of Reggae – the positive, Rasta-inspired message music associated with the early 1990s – primarily showcased male DJs and singers, notably such stalwarts as Everton Blender, Luciano, Tony Rebel, and Garnet Silk…all revolutionary. This current generation welcomes our female “Love Revolutionary,” our “Rebel Empress,” our Jah9.
Singer/Poet Jah9, aka Janine Cunningham, was born May 23, 1983, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She was raised in nearby Falmouth by a preacher father and singer mother. Her roots in Nina Simone and Billie Holiday are heard in her neo-soul-India-Arie-like, Jazzy, Dancehall, Dub-style delivery of self-penned poetic and powerful lyrics. Her stories surround Rastafari and Selassie, as well as the importance of yoga and women & children’s causes. Continue reading →
Judy Mowatt – Leading the Charge of Sisterhood 1996
By Howard Campbell. V14#5
A visitor to Judy Mowatt’s home is in for a fairly long walk before he or she reaches the spacious front porch which houses a piano. Mowatt’s not pounding the keys today; she’s enjoying some peace and quiet at the back of the home near the hills of St. Andrew, Jamaica, not too far away from where she was born in the small village of Gordon Town.
An admitted lover of the soil, Mowatt’s cozy back room hideaway is surrounded by a small farm of sugarcane and bananas. Gospel music wafts through the air as she appears, barefoot and bareheaded, her locks complimenting her African-style blouse. A photo of Emperor Haile Selassie greets you upon entering, with another postcard-sized photo of the Wailers, circa the Uprising album, occupying one of the shelves of a nearby cabinet.
(The links are to the artists featured in Reggae Trilogy: 200+ 80s & 90s Artist Headshots) Story By R. Errol Lam
Even though the Reggae is still male-dominated, there are a large number of women performers who made their mark, especially over the past decade. Many are the more traditional singers, but DJs and Dub Poets have grown in number and popularity, not only in Jamaica but around the world. What follows here is a brief overview of some of these women. It’s obvious that we need more than one issue to cover the multitude of female talent in Reggae, but we wanted to start somewhere. So to all the Sistas & Dawtas who did not receive a mention here, please “feel no way.” You are important to us and certainly not overlooked. Just continue to be patient, and we’ll give you the time and space you so richly deserve. ~ The Editor
LOUISE BENNETT, affectionately known as Miss Lou, was born Louise Bennett Coverly in the 1920s. This beloved poetess made her Reggae debut on the Woman Talk: Caribbean Dub Poetry album (1986), produced by Mutabaruka. This endeavor is part of her work as a pioneer of people’s understanding and shows her appreciation of the unique culture of Jamaica. Her ever-present use of patois and the people’s language is clearly evident on the albums Color Bar and Dutty Tuff. Clearly, Miss Lou has earned the deep respect that goes with her label “Mother of Them All.”
SISTER BREEZE, whose real name is Jean Binta Breeze, was born Jean Lumsden in Patty Hill, Hanover Parish, Jamaica. She is probably the best known of the female poets. Her Riddym Ravings (1987) was a ROIR cassette with the message of truths and rights. She was a performer at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash, and her “Get Back Ya Slack” spoke for positive statements about women. Three other singles standout: “Aid Travels with a Bomb,” “Baby Mother,” and “To Plant.” She first came to the attention of Mutabaruka as “the first sister who wasn’t bringing me love poetry.” Sister Breeze emphasizes the power of the word, and works to use poetry “to show what is really happening… like a class, a different sort of teaching.”
LILLIAN ALLEN, born in Jamaica in 1952, is now well established and living in Toronto. Her best two albums are Revolutionary Tea Party (1986) and Conditions Critical (1988). She is a Dub Poet. Her recitation of words to Reggae accompaniment hits hard at social issues. She credits her two main influences as Oku Onoura, the Jamaican [poet] who coined the term ‘Dub Poetry’ and the female Canadian folksinger Ferron. Her songs range from “I Fight Back,” attacking the exploitation of Blacks in Toronto to “Birth Poem,” an almost vivid representation of the birth process (this is Lillian’s favorite.) She has won a Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) and continues to sing in patois about struggle and oppression. Ms. Allen has a degree in English Literature and has published a book of poetry entitled Rhythm an’ Hardtimes. According to her, “…I love words…I wanted to create a world where I didn’t have to take somebody else’s journey.” Lillian, who is not a musician, has taken these words and fused them with Reggae music to become a powerful voice and presence.
CARLENE DAVIS is a well-traveled Reggae singer (Europe, South America, U.S., Canada, Japan, and the Caribbean). This Reggae songbird was Jamaica’s 1982 Female Entertainer and Reggae Report’s 1983 Female Performer of the Year. She was born in 1953 in Jamaica, and first came to the public’s attention with the single “Stealing Love” in 1981. She has performed at Reggae Sunsplash in 1980 and 1988. In 1980, Carlene was one of the first females to have performed solo at Sunsplash. Her outstanding single “Winnie Mandela” stands out as a loving tribute to one of Africa’s genuine women leaders. Ms. Davis is one of Reggae’s best.
SOPHIA GEORGE is a young Jamaican songstress who is probably Reggae’s most dynamic and exciting performer. Her flamboyant style and infectious smile connect her with the audience each and every time. Sophia’s constant invitation for audience participation is always accepted. She appeared at the 1989 Reggae Sunsplash and seems to be always on tour, noteworthy of which were the Reggae Sunsplash USA tours of the past few years. Her international hits “Girlie Girlie,” “Final Decision,” “Wanna Dance With You,” and the cover of “Sing Our Own Song” are big favorites of her audiences. Her awards include the Best Female Performer at the Canadian Reggae Music Awards. [She is] a beautiful and inspired singer.
GINGER, part of the duo called Rankin’ Scroo & Ginger, was born Lydia Sur in Hawaii. Since 1980, the duo has been in the San Francisco Bay area. They have released three albums, Thanks and Praises (1984), Dubwatch (1987), which won “Best Album 1987-Northern California Reggae Awards, and Cry Freedom (1990). Two singles, “Burden” (1986) hit the Jamaican charts and “Nuh Do Dat” (1988) hit the U.S. charts. Their combination of DJ and singing with conscious lyrics make this team one to watch out for.
Puma Jones is the American-born female vocalist in the 1984 Grammy Award-winning trio Black Uhuru. One of the first women to break into Reggae’s “Big Time,” Puma proudly acknowledges her position as a forerunner in the recent surge of female recording artists filling international charts today.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, on October 5, 1953, Puma migrated to New York in the ‘60s, where she grew up listening to Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. Continue reading →
January 7, 2008 – 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.
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. Continue reading →
Since Reggae Report last caught up with Reggae/Rap/R&B diva Diana King, the sultry singer-songwriter married the man who inspired her crossover hit “Shy Guy,” moved to sunny South Florida, delivered a healthy baby boy, and is currently doing promotional activities in support of her new album, Think Like a Girl (Work), a powerful follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut, Tougher Than Love (1995 Work/Columbia).
During an early October interview while en route to a radio visit in Providence RI, the affable, articulate Jamaican-born artist spoke candidly about the long-awaited new album, her innovative vocal style, and the personal and musical developments that have led to this point in her career. Continue reading →