Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Reggae Divas"...A Story I Wanted To Tell

It's a story I wanted to tell, a genre I wanted to celebrate, and a demographic that I genuinely believe needed to be highlighted and publically celebrated. I love reggae music, I love my Jamaican culture, and I wanted the world to know about the females in the reggae music industry, and what they represent.

I was going to call the book "Reggae Divas" simply to honour the music and the vocalists that help reggae transcend beyond boundaries of gender. I've been thinking about it for years, gathering information, and mentally preparing myself for the exciting journey or research, music, and enlightenment. I set up social media sites, began the conversation with a few artists, their managers, and publicists...and then after a series of events in the past few weeks, I've decided that it is not my story to tell.

As a writer, I realize all content is pretty much open for intepretation and study. As an artist, we receive inspiration from a variety of sources regardless of our cultural backgrounds and preferences. So while I still love reggae music and the industry that surrounds it, I have enough respect for it that I will not continue to tell a story that I am essentially not yet qualified to tell.

A few things sparked this revelation: 1) Watching the performances and surrounding incidents at the Sting 2012 concert, 2) Watching the documentary "Queens of Sound" by Sandra Krampelhuber, and 3) Revisiting the works of professor Carolyn Cooper.

Why?

1) Because of the controversies and excitement surrounding the female performances at Sting 2012, and then the subsequent Twitter battles and back-and-forth "war" that took place in the weeks following. I realized there is an element of "clash" and female-on-female disrespect, and a history and background to the performers, their relationships, and their power struggles that I am not aware of. I love and admire SO MANY female reggae artists, but when I was reminded of THIS part of the culture, I realized that I am not in a position to pass judgement, understand the musical creativity and other elements of clashing, and that it was not something I was an expert in. I didn't enjoy seeing this level of female bashing, and the lack of unity.

2) Because Sandra Krampelhuber did a great job with her documentary "Queens of Sound," and essentially answered many of the questions I was hoping to explore in my book/anthology. She personally sent me a copy of her film (which I am extremely grateful for), and I saw that she asked many of the questions I would have probably asked, and had amazing access to the legends and stars of the genre. My rendition would have almost been redundant, and I can not guarantee that I would have provided any additional perspectives or retrieved any additional answers than Sandra had already done, with great care.

3) Because of Carolyn Cooper -- as a Jamaican scholar, one who teaches and researches reggae music, females in the industry, Jamaican pop culture, social practices, and the music community extensively...I realized that I would never had the same level of innate understanding and passion for the subject on that level. When individuals like Cooper have dedicated their lives to being well versed in the subject, and have helped to bring it into academia and university-level study...I know that their works already speak volumes.

Now, this is not to berate my writing abilities or my genuine intentions to tell the stories of Jamaican females in reggae music. It is my thorough understanding of my limitations as a writer, and as a music lover, and supporter of Jamaican culture. While my heart is in the right place, and it is still quite a possibility that with a lot of hard work, research, and face-to-face time spent in Jamaica with the subjects that the book "Reggae Divas" is still an option...I still choose to resign this project. I will leave this story in the hands of those who know it intimately.

For example, individuals like the brilliant Carolyn Cooper. I've read her work before, and continue to be inspired by her. In her 2004 book "Sound Clash" she comments on females in reggae music, and says that "Self-righteous critics of the sexualized representation of women in Jamaican dancehall culture, who claim to speak unequivocally on behalf of "oppressed" women, often fail to acknowledge the pleasure that the women themselves consciously take in the salacious lyrics of both male and female DJs who afffirm the sexual power of women."

Cooper combines her academic strenghts, along with an acute understanding of the culture and products of the reggae music industry. She has brought the dancehall into the classrooms of universities, and as the subject of many scholarly works and discussions.

As a writer, I think it is our responsibility to tell stories accurately, and to be genuine when we communicate them. We must also know our strenghts, as well as our limitations. We must know what stories we are capable of telling...and those that are not our story to tell. I feel good about this personal revelation to NOT write "Reggae Divas, and will continue to support those who ARE dedicated to telling these stories. And telling them well.

The Jamaican media, Jamaican musicians, scholars, authors, theorists, and even individuals like Sandra who live in other parts of the world, but their hearts still beat to the sounds of reggae music and Jamaican culture.

I love Jamaica. I love my people. I love reggae music. I would not be who I am without it. However, I am also intimately connected to my Canadian roots and culture, and believe I am better equipped to tell the "Jamaican" story from the "Canadian" perspective, for this is the life that I live...daily. This epiphany has been strengthened by the awareness of Black History Month, and the dedication that we all must have to documenting the stories of our surroundings, and our heart.

I will continue to use the divas of reggae music to cultivate the vibes, the energy, the passion, and the culture that I need to pursue my other writing initiatives. With utmost respect and honour for their work.

I absolutely love Etana, and Marcia Griffiths. I can't get enough of Alaine's voice, and think that Cherine Anderson is vibrant and fabulous. I have been listening to Rita Marley's "One Draw" since I was a child, and again...love it more and more with passing years. Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Rankin" speaks to me on a level that makes me comfortable with being ME, and I think the Chin sisters (Tessanne and Tami, pictured with Celine Dion) are beautiful singers. I loooove to hear Tanya Stephen's "Goggle" and Lady Saw's "Hice It Up" and "Ease Off, Breeze Off" in the club and they brought so much vibes and energy to me growing up. And a little Tifa, Stacious, Macka Diamond, and Spice are great for when you're in a fierce mood, and want to let off steam!

The world of female reggae artists is full of talented, energetic, vibrant, intelligent, and fabulous women! Yes, there are moments of shame and questionable words/actions...but it is all a part of the culture, the flare, and representative of the diversity of the island itself.

Here is a list of the females of reggae music, past and present, who I have compiled. I will continue to honour them. Continue to listen to them. And continue to wish them well as the faces and voices of a country and land that I love.

Alaine / Alibra / Althea Forrest & Donna Reid / Altyah / Angie Ange / Anna Fisher / Audry Hall / Barbee / Black Queen / Brick & Lace / Carlene Davis / Carol G / Carol T / Cecile / Cedella B / Cherine Anderson / Cherry Natural / Claudette McLean / Cynthia Schloss / D'Angel / Dawn Penn / Denyque / Diana King / Erica Newell / Etana / Hortense Ellis / Irie Love / I-Threes / I-Shawna / Janet Kay / JC Lodge / Joanna Marie / Jovi Rockwell / Judy Mowatt / Kim Nain / Kris Kelli / Lady G / Lady Saw / Lady Venus / Leba Hibbert / Lorna Bennett / Louisa Mark / Macka Diamond / Marcia Aitken / Marcia Griffiths / Michie and Lou Chi / Millie Small / Miss Thing / Nadine Sutherland / Natalie Storm / Natasia / Nikki Burt / Omega 4 / Pam Hall / Pamputtae / Patra / Phyllis Dillon / Queen Candace / Queen Ifrica / Queen Omega / Queen Paula / Raine Seville / Rita Marley / Rochelle B / Sandra Joy Alcott / Sasha / Sharon Marley / Shiela Hylton / Shema / Sister Carol / Sophia George / Spice / Stacious / Susan Cadogan / Sylvia Tella / Tami Chynn / Tanya Stephens / Tessanne / Tifa / Timberlee / Twiggi / Winsome B / Worl-A-Girl

While I may not choose to write about them at this time, I know for sure that their music and legacies will still help me to write. I will remain inspired.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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