Faybiene Miranda is a legendary name in reggae, not the least because of her lyrical stand in the music. Although banned from airplay by the Socialist government during the mid seventies, the first recording, 'Prophecy', became a hit and is regarded as one of the biggest classics from this period. The follow-up 'Destiny' wasn't regarded as being of the same calibre, even though I personally rate it almost as high as its predecessor. After this not much was heard of Faybiene apart from a couple of 45's out of Canada and a contribution to an English compilation LP back in the mid eighties. Now residing in New York, she gave me this interview on three occasions in the autumn of 2004. My thanks to Faybiene, Ifetayo Cultural Arts, Moonie, Bob Schoenfeld (in honour), David Corio, Russ Bell-Brown, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.


AUGUST 2004

Q: You came out of a very dynamic era in the music, but there was certain obstacles in the way as a female, wasn't it?

A: Yeah. The issue of my environment at the time, as a woman, there weren't too many people at that time that I thought very supportive of women regardless of what they were doing unless they were really being portrayed superficially, or mimicking what American artists was doing.

Q: It's not only in reggae, but female artists on the whole has been sort of victimized by, as you suggest, being seen as objects or only being 'appealing' if they are shaped by the stereotypical image what a female singer is supposed to be... you know what I'm talking about, right?

A: You know, I think that with anything that anyone does, if you don't have an awareness of how you see yourself developing or evolving, especially as an artist, it's going to be very easy for someone else to manipulate you. If you don't really have a clear vision of why you are doing something or what your purpose is to begin with - it's pretty easy to just sort of fall to the wind. As for me I've always been clear from the very beginning about my writing, historically the information - the metamorphosis that I actually underwent as a woman coming out of an American experience, and realising how much information I had to unearth to find my roots as a woman of colour. I saw writing as a personal form of liberation and articulation of things relevant such as spirituality, consciousness, human rights, the emancipation of women from denigrating roles, children, Global visions, etc, I was greatly inspired by the revelation of Marcus Garvey, a patricarch of Pan-Africanism and Jamaican National Hero. So, some of the first poetry or prose that I really began to write focused on socio-political issues of the times and also, I wanted to make a personal tribute to this man, to this leader. I began sharing that work with the legendary Jack Ruby, AKA Lawrence Lindo his birthname. Jack Ruby really set a path for so many of Jamaica's artists. Primarily at that time people associated him with Burning Spear.

Q: Right. But back to where life began for you. You were born in Panama, Panama City?

A: Well I was born in Panama City and I actually came to the United States very early.

Q: You left at four years of age with the family to America.

A: Right. And returned for a year to begin school in Panama and then left again by the time before I actually finished first grade and be back to the United States, living throughout the United States.

Q: How come your family left for the States?

A: My father was American and he was determined to reach his homeland, my mother being Panamanian and they were married and just relocated to the United States.

Faybiene Miranda @ Manhattan Center, NYC

Faybiene Miranda @ Manhattan Center, NYC
Q: OK. You mentioned something in that 1977 interview with Black Music's writer Carl Gayle that you had an older lady that sort of helped to raise you, and I don't recall if she read palms or whatever but she stated that you were born to sing and dance later on in life. Not too bad.

A: Yes, well I don't remember anything of her reading palms. But I think she read me (chuckles) "Born to perform for the people". Because she used do - when I stayed with her, her dwelling was very humble, it was very communal, and I remember she was telling me I could put on shows because I really loved dancing and singin' and speaking. Her bed would become my stage and friends and relatives would come, I would put on a show for her. I think that was sort of the root of feeling - as a child - I think the interpretation of that was that I was loved, and that what I was doing creatively was being nurtured and appreciated, and isn't that the way that all children should be raised in a village, in a community and a family?

Q: Absolutely.

A: So I believe it's so interesting that you bring that up, but I think that was really the roots of wanting to continue to be articulate and articulate meaning expressive whether as a writer or a dancer, performer, singer - artist of any nature. It's always a desire when the heart and the mind and the spirit coming together in a way that they can reveal facets of themselves to the outside world.

Q: Where did you settle down in the US first, that was California?

A: No, I think that was Ohio, and then maybe Maryland and then we moved to California. And I think probably I spent my years between about seven or eight years old and sixteen was that between Oceanside on the coast, Southern California, and in the middle of the Mojave desert in Barstow, California.

Q: How did you find life there?

A: Well, first it was on the coast, of course I am an ocean/nature person. I've always loved being near the sea. Growing up in Panama was some of my greatest memories being at the sea. You know, actually I have to define anywhere I lived by the closeness of the family, because when you're moving every couple of years, you know the security is around your family, otherwise you're the new kid on the block trying to prove yourself and trying to become a part of that community. But I have to say that being in a military environment - because my father was in the military, especially in the Mojave desert, as a little older, many things became very evident to me as to the kind of world I was living in. We lived on a military base. You know, the world begins to be defined by when your father is home and when your father is away, and over a period of time you realise when your father is away and when you walk past the school where they have kept all the... artillery and armaments you suddenly realise your father is gone the artillerary is gone. Maybe it's gone because it's gone to war somewhere. It leaves an impression at least on my young mind that there is war and many of us as children from the military would lose our fathers or brothers or uncles to this beast. So I think that between that awareness and of racism which existed, my eyes were open to the politics of life in America.

Q: You said in the seventies that after school you were like torn between a formal education, to choose that, and wanting to develop your own 'curriculum in the school of earth', it's like you looked at yourself more as a writer than a singer. Where did this feel for writing come from, what gave you 'the catapult' to develop your writings?

Faybiene Miranda @ Carifest, Canada
A: Well in retrospect and in hindsight, even between the time that article was written and today, because of my spiritual development, I realised that like anyone - anyone born onto this plane - that there's an agreement between that which is invisible and the spirit bound to flesh that there's a bridge that one crosses to enter this material plane, and that each one of us brings with us a purpose which has been somewhat pre-ordained. It's really within us to acknowledge it, to nurture it, to embrace it and often times many children are not encouraged and not nurtured, they're not provided with the supportive community that upholds these beings to reach their full potential. As for me, I have a great memory of being ever so young and having the need for me to express myself other than verbally. When I was first being taught how to write... of course all of us, like you remember because you're a writer, that before we learn to write we actually think we can, and we do when we take a pencil in our hand and we begin to make those circles and those lines and those dots and those crosses and whatever it is, we are articulating in our own language a higher glimpse of our thought processes. The only difference is that no-one else can understand them until we begin to give it form by the education and language we are taught that becomes uniform to other people with ability to understand these heirogliphs. These new scripts. And I just remember when I began to have a handle on writing and the ability to now transfer my thoughts onto a piece of paper where other people could read my scripts. It was just an amazing, magical experience - a tangible experience. And I think if the teaching and educational system was really able to set up to explore a child's mind and individuality, there would be a completely different state of mental health amongst children, if they were paid attention to. Because so often things that happen are directly connected with one's life and what the purpose is. And as I grew older as I would write I felt the need to express my observations of my environment, human relations, my awareness of my thirst for seeking God or spirituality, history - just everything. I was just always so stimulated by my world and the multilayers of worlds that existed - within myself, my body, my mind, my spirit, and projected that onto the greater canvas of other human beings. I found that writing was a way to really express myself and reach out to to others. I also had an innate knowing that it wasn't just me, that my intellect was not the thing that was writing, but that it was being channelled as a gift that needed expression and exposure.

Q: Some people communicate through the written word much easier than verbally, whatever the reason for this introspection is my guess is that some turn inwards more when not being able to settle down at one particular place for an extended period, not feeling safe or whatever. That got me thinking when you said your family moved around a lot, do you believe the writing channeled a lot of this loneliness and not being too comfortable with the situation, and you got that frustration out by the writing?

A: Well, I think maybe a combination. My personality was developed first of all and strengthened by the fact I could not afford to be so introverted because I felt very much responsible as the first child of eight. When we first came to America, Spanish was my first language. I was encouraged very early not to speak Spanish but English to fit in. My father didn't speak any Spanish, my mother didn't speak any English. So it was very important for me to be very articulate amongst adults in order for me to represent. Also I felt very protective of my mother. And sometimes I think because I was very communicative and quite articulate, I was considered maybe somewhat of an arrogant or feisty child. I was also very humble because my parents were quite the disciplinarians. You know in those days, we're talking about growing up in the fifties, the sixties, a young person not able to communicate at a level that causes other adults to feel that you are not being disrespectful but challenging (chuckles). It was easy for people to misinterpret I think.

Faybiene Miranda (Photo: David Corio)
www.davidcorio.com

Faybiene Miranda (Photo: David Corio)
www.davidcorio.com
Q: Right, 'the cocky one'.

A: Yeah, and I just saw it as a tool. You see that when you look around - in order to get what you want - you have to be able to first of all know what you want, and if you know what you want you have to be able to articulate it, y'know, in a way that gains respect, whether it's from your peers or the adults that you're around. So I don't really think that people thought of me as one that was very introverted. But I really thought of it more as an exorcism, that the writing allowed me to get out a lot of things that could have remained causing me to feel frustrated. There's something in the process of creativity that releases the burden. You know, the burden one might carry with them, based on insecurity or fear, misunderstanding, injustice, y'know (chuckles), prejudice, bias...

Q: (Chuckles) All that stuff, yes.

A: Exactly.

Q: I don't know how old you were at the time, but how did the civil rights movement affect you and your writing during the sixties? This is something you caught up with later?

A: Well, it affected me later on, because in the sixties I'm listening and paying attention and really being moved by what's happening with the civil rights movement. I'm still looking at the issues of how the Native American people are being treated, because going to school I had Native American friends who lived on reservations. And going into the reservation and seeing how these people, these Americans - these true Americans - are being treated. You know, as a child, a lot of things that you see and you may not say anything or I may not have been writing about it then, but it becomes cumulative later on in life when you take off the rose colored glasses... I guess when that bubble finally burst, then you have this point of reference as to this sort of historical chronology of what has been happening to indigenous peoples of the environments of the world. The more exposure to what's happening on the planet, the more one begins - at least I felt responsible for commenting on it. So I think that the things I began writing about in the early seventies became a combination of the experiences that I had growing up, looking at the civil rights movement, looking at issues around sexism, looking at issues around Native American people, African-Americans, looking at the issues around the people's of the Pacific islands or the Mexican people. Because California is a homogenous environment where so many different people were living.

Q: What about the California-based Black Panthers, you ever felt like joining them and what they struggled for at the time?

A: Well, I was pretty aware... but I would say that it's interesting that you bring that up, because I just bought this book last night called 'The Motorcycle Diaries' which is a journey by...

Che Guevara
Q: Che Guevara.

A: Che Guevara. And of course it's really back to the era and I said wow, y'know, I feel so fortunate that I was alive and conscious and was living (chuckles), as history was unfolding. I was still rather young but I was inspired by Che and Fidel pretty much in the same way I was inspired by Marcus Garvey, Ghandi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or Paul Robeson. I was inspired by the Black Panthers, their cultural resistance to the dominant vestiges of post slavery America and to their political awareness. They were standing up and really talking and acting on liberation. Their focus and attention to independent community development and education for African Americans was paramount at the time as well as the sense of cultural pride infused with a declaration of 'Don't Tread On Me'. In their own way they inaugurated an era that demanded tangible freedom and respect as human beings. You know like H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I ventured to articulate in his speech to world governments: 'Not until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, not until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to those without regard to race, and so on. So for me they were my heroes. Then of course they were my heroes because they were living in the United States, and because of our relationship with Cuba I was aware of Che and Fidel representing the interest of my Latin American Hispanic brothers and sisters. Being Panamanian I took pride in this movement for independence from hegemony. Then coming out of the United States (chuckles), moving to Jamaica, and suddenly finding this, y'know, a whole pantheon of black leadership that I had never learned about, living in the United States.

Q: Musically speaking?

A: Musical, political - everything. You know, Michael Manley, Paul Bogle, Garvey, Nanny, Cudjoe, Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop in Grenada, Bob Marley - as a writer, first of all - always caught my attention musically, as to the lyric. So, for me, Marvin Gaye was writing...

Q: 'What's Going On'.

A: Yeah, stuff of consciousness. You know, 'What's Going On'. I remember listening to... going to see 'The Harder They Come' and being blown away rhythmically. 'The Israelites', I remember when that music came out and just totally having this affinity with the rhythm of music. But it's always for me 'what are you saying?', y'know. Like one of the lines in Bob's songs where he says 'say something, say something', y'know. You gotta be saying something to me, for me to really be involved in your music. And for me then that meant I had to be saying something. And I don't know if I'm gonna be hailing myself, but for me until I actually met Jack Ruby... oh gosh, sorry, let me just go back for a second... I think that I was doing - I recorded 'Prophecy' simultaenously to the times that I published my first book of poetry with Mutabaruka.


Jimmy Cliff

Q: Before we go into that, I meant to ask you the 'motivating factor' why you moved to Jamaica, I suppose seeing 'The Harder They Come' played a large role. I think you went down there in March '74 or thereabouts.

A: I think so. The movie was part of it, because 'The Harder They Come' represented black liberation and black emancipation. I didn't see any female figures in that movie that I identified with, but I saw what my spirit identified with - a declaration that God was alive in man. And philosophically it was really the first time I had ever heard anyone say that and it resonated with me. And when I say 'God was alive in man' I'm including myself in that, it was man being human - humanity. And the fact that it was the first time I had seen a black man whose hair was allowed to be free. Everything else that I had seen seemed to fill the - except of course during the sixties when the Afro, the style that was considered or called 'the Afro' but just a natural manifestation of ones cultural tradition in a way one dressed or wore the hair, just anything and everything - everything was just happening so quickly. So it was really interesting to me that this film showed me possibilities that I hadn't seen before. And then living in the United States, the other reason was for me, it seemed as even though there was this woman's movement, women was still very, very stereotyped. It was either, y'know... how is it they say? This myopic vision of women being sexual beings or utilitarian. I didn't understand why a woman couldn't be all of that, y'know, everything: the mind, the intellect, the sensuality and femininity, the strength and the warriorship.

Q: All packed into one.

A: Exactly. And that's what I wanted, but I didn't see how that could be so easily in an environment that was so strategically set up to be prejudicial to a woman's, y'know, self-development or awareness. Like you couldn't choose for yourself, it was put upon you. So I had this feeling and I didn't know why, but I felt that if I just could get outside of this sort of socio-political environment of Euro-American dominance and iconic imagery, that perhaps I could find something in myself and something in another environment culturally that helped me and allowed me to develop in a way that I didn't have to apologise for any of those factors. You know, the strength or the consciousness, the mentality, the quest for spirituality and God, the sensuality and sexuality of being a woman - all of those things. I mean, it just seemed like everything represented power, if you could work it together. And that's what I wanted, the empowerment to really hold up that which holds me up, and all of those components were part of that.

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