Queen Nadine Sutherland: “I’ve Used My Pain to Create Art” (The Interview)
When: June 18, 2022
Where: Los Angeles CA / Kingston JA (via Zoom)
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Footage: Stephen Cooper – Edited by Teacher@ReggaeVibes
Photos: Courtesy of Nadine Sutherland unless otherwise stated
Copyright: 2022 – Stephen Cooper
When all is said and done—and once the Jamaican government attends to the serious business of properly honoring its music legends—all historians, cultural commentators, and other artists and entities in the music business (even haters who like to waste people’s time and energy with “Chatty Chatty”) will have to acknowledge (what real reggae-loving dancehall fans have long-known): Nadine Sutherland is in the top tier of Jamaican singing legends.
With over 40 years as a professional beginning at the tender age of eleven—when she captured the attention of Bob Marley, who recorded her (on his Tuff Gong label) singing “Starvation (on the Land)” and “A Young One Like Me,” two of the most conscious roots tunes ever recorded—the richness and resilience of Sutherland’s career, one still in bloom, is remarkable.
Given that Nadine is not only a legendary singer, but also an academic, a writer, a journalist, a TV personality, a teacher, a choreographer, a professionally trained dancer, and, incredibly, even more, Nadine’s hot new single “Queen” rings true in so many ways—and on so many levels.
On June 18, I was blessed and honored to talk with Nadine about “Queen,” and, more generally, about her life and historic music career. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Embedded in the transcript are links to Nadine Sutherland’s music, exclusive images and photos, and more. At the end, you will find a link to the entire video of the interview on YouTube.
How are you?
Good. Can you see me—
—and hear me okay?
Can you see me?
Yes, I can.
Your camera is cutting your head off just a little bit.
(Adjusting camera) Right. I’m in my bedroom.
There you go.
Oh man. It’s such a pleasure to see you, Nadine. Nadine, where are you zooming in from? What part of Jamaica—are you in Jamaica?
I am (laughing)—I am in Jamaica, I’m in Kingston, Jamaica, yes.
Nice. Nice. Well it’s such an honor to talk to you today. If for some reason our screen were to freeze, [or if] heaven forbid we have any technical difficulties—I don’t think it’ll happen, but, if it does, I’ll just call you right away, get in touch with you, and we’ll figure something out.
So, Nadine, I hope you don’t mind my starting off by saying that in addition to being a legendary singer, I know that you’re also an academic, a writer, a journalist, a TV personality, a teacher—and, just the embodiment of so many things that I respect. And so I just want to personally thank you before we begin, sincerely, for taking the time out of what I know is an extremely busy schedule. To talk with me—[and] “reason” as we say—for Reggae-Vibes. Thank you so much for doing that.
Cool. Thank you for having me. And thanks for saying all those things—I was like, really? But it’s true. (Laughing)
(Laughing) They’re all true—they’re all true. But—
And please don’t forget that—the only one thing: You forgot dancer and choreographer.
Dancer and choreographer, I’m sorry, that too—
—and performing arts director.
(Laughing) Right, right.
Nadine Sutherland – Starvation
Nadine Sutherland ft. Buju Banton – Wickie Dickie
Nadine Sutherland – Karma
Now one thing I have to note upfront—a disclaimer kind of—of sorts. And I find myself having to make this kind of a disclaimer when I interview somebody like yourself who’s had over forty plus years of a professional career. There’s just no way that I can cover all of the hit tunes and the milestones that you’ve had, though I’m gonna certainly try my best to cover a lot of them today. It’s my hope that you and I will stay in touch, and that if there’s anything that I miss today, maybe we’ll patch it up at some future time.
Sure! Sure. Definitely (smiling).
Now I think that most people, Nadine, would assume—especially knowing me—that I’d want to begin today’s interview by immediately asking you [about] and focusing questions on the start of your career, when you were a child star in Jamaica. [When] you were signed to Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong label. And that is off course a very important aspect of your career, and I plan to ask you certainly a few questions about that. But I would prefer to begin, and frankly I believe that Bob Marley, if he were alive today, would want me—he would prefer—that I begin, instead, [by ask[ing] about your beautiful, gorgeous new single “Queen.” Which is right now just so hot. I read in the Gleaner that you said, “The song is about women who have gone through the wringer to be successful.” And I just—I really dig the message. I think many people will, hopefully especially when they hear this interview, or watch this interview, go and listen to the song immediately—
—and, you know, absorb the message. Of course women will love the song, but men, too; when they absorb the kind of message of resilience—and pride in oneself—in the face of people putting you down. And I wanted to start off by asking you how much of the inspiration for this song—which I know you very much wrote and I think [you] were very involved in the production of, [and] everything—
Everything. And so how much of the inspiration for this song came from struggles of other women that you see around you, and that you know about? And how much of it came from reflecting upon your own struggles and adversity as an artist?
I think both—both. Marcia asked me, you know, we were supposed to record a song together—Marcia Griffiths. So she asked me to write a song, and I wrote “Queen.” But “Queen,” when I started singing it to her—I started [writing] it in Jamaica and finished [writing] it in New York. When I had the idea she immediately resonated with it, but I was speaking about myself, too. And you know with the song, everything—it’s autobiographical. But it also to me captures the essence of what people—and I’m glad you mentioned that men also can listen to the gist of the story, and know that it might be about queens, and [so] it seems gender-specific. But, as you said, the resilience and the power in it, the ability to rise from the ashes of life. And just find something inside to move forward when people are telling you “no,” and “it’s over.” The negative stuff. I was speaking to somebody today, and I was like, there’s a line [in “Queen”] where I [sing], “the tears she cried in the midnight hour to see if she can find any more power.” And I always think about women in Jamaica who are single mothers living in the inner-city. And you hear these beautiful stories about how these women go and sell wares. And sometimes, nothing no sell. I [heard] [an] interview [of] [legendary Jamaican sprinter] Shelly-Ann Fraser[-Pryce’s] mother. And she was saying back in the days when nothing was selling, and you know, she had to go back to her own daughter, to her children, and just like wondering what she gonna do, you know? To put food on the table. Because today was not a good day. And you hear these stories about just women in the world, and I just, I think the song tries to condense everything. Every struggle.
And [I] just made it into a song. It’s not gender-specific. And it’s not class-specific, because [if] you look at it, you have women who are working in the corporate world—[like] in France [for example]—and work hard, and just cannot break that glass ceiling—
That’s true. So true.
Yeah, and in America, you hear all these stories, about you know, [sighing] the struggles. Just struggling. But just finding that power to move on, [to] persevere, you know?
Nadine, I saw when I was watching the video—the official video [for “Queen]—which I have a few questions about, [that] the song was released by Oyin Records.
Oy-in (pronouncing). Oy-in. It [means] honey in Yoruba. (laughing)
Oh! Thank you for [telling] me. And the song is being distributed by “VPAL” [a subsidiary of] VP Records, true?
The same Gleaner article that I read—that was published in March—it noted that “Queen” was recorded at Donovan Germain’s Penthouse Records, and [that] it includes great musicians on the track, like Dean Fraser on sax. And that article noted that, in fact, Dean Fraser was involved in getting VP on board with the song—
He was. I look at him and he looked proud. Because Dean know me from [when I was] a little girl. He [knew] that eleven-year-old girl [who broke into the music business]. I grew up with Dean. Dean is like my bigger brother. And we’re very, very close—throughout the years. Dean is close to a lot of people, because that’s the kind of personality he is; [he’s] giving, an extremely generous soul. So when I did it, I was sitting on the song, because I’m like what am I gonna do, you know? You feel good after you’re like, oh you’re telling yourself all the beautiful, wonderful narrative—(mimicking) “the song was organic, and it was authentic—” (laughing) And you know, even the guy who mixed the song was like, “What do you do with this song?” I remember Greg, who mixed it, said “What do you do with this song?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” And I called Dean, and was like, “I don’t know what to do.” And he was like, “Okay, I’m gonna go to Chris. Because this song is a very good song. And I’m gonna tell him about this song, so—”
How did you—if you don’t mind my asking—so how did you—did you—you create the song with Dean, and then he thought about it—and then he thought about how he was gonna approach VP [Records] with it?
I asked him. I said, “Dean—” Because everybody—when the session was finished, they were all impressed. Because they’re musicians, right? And it’s a very musical song. And I think more than anything else he was proud of me. Because I’m his little sister. [And] [i]t’s the first time I was stepping out as a producer, and an arranger; so I guess he had that pride, you know? And I just never knew what to do with the song (laughing)? I was like, what’s the next step? Okay, and I went to [Dean], and he was like, “I’ll give Chris a shout-out and a heads-up.” So he did that, and I called Chris, and he said, “Send the song over.” And when I sent it over, [he] was like, “I really like it.” He was like “[he was going to] talk to VPAL, and see what [he] can do with the distribution. And he was like, “You need a video!” (Laughing)
That video is fantastic, Nadine—
The video—everyone should go immediately [and] pull it up. Watch it on YouTube; it’s gorgeous. And you look—I hope you don’t mind my saying—you look absolutely stunning in that video.
They outfitted you—
—in these beautiful gowns—
Regality, right? (Laughing)
Yeah, I mean every [gown] is queen-[like]. And then, [at one point in the video,] you’re sitting [on] a throne, I mean—the video is beautiful. And I wanted to ask you—[this official video for “Queen”] is filmed—it looks like you’re on a hill, in a beautiful house. And I wasn’t for sure—it looks like you’re looking—overlooking a lush valley; was this video filmed in Jamaica?
It was filmed in Jamaica. The whole idea was I was looking down on my kingdom—wow (laughing)! It was like the queen walks down, and she’s—I mean if you saw some of the high heels, and me coming down those staircases. I was talking it over, and they’re actually holding me, (mimicking) “get around three steps.” When I look at it, I look really confident, you know, coming down, but I think they got the three steps [on film,] then I look up, because there was a time I was like toppling over (laughing). In that gown, with so much material, you know?
(Laughing) You look like [a] queen coming down. And so what part of Jamaica are we looking at [in the video]?
That was Stony Hill, Jamaica.
We went up into the hills so they could capture me looking down on my kingdom. Wow! (Laughing) I wish! But, you know—
Yeah. Now certainly I think we’ll probably circle back to “Queen,” especially because I think a lot of themes that show up in “Queen”—which is a very deep song—may come back [up] in this interview even. But for now, the last thing that I wanted to ask about it [is], in the video you see a young girl—she’s studying, and eventually she’s growing up, and she’s graduating [from school]. And there’s also a sweet cameo by your mom, Beverly Sutherland. And then we see you singing with some large framed photos of Ms. Pat Chin, [and] there’s the former Jamaican P.M., Portia Simpson-Miller, Rita Marley, Olivia “Babsy” Grange (the Minister of Sports, Culture, and Entertainment for the [Jamaican Labour Party, or] “JLP”)—she’s also pictured. Why did you choose these particular women—these images [of these women]—to be part of that video?
Okay, so Mrs. Rita Marley was very instrumental [to] me as a child—instrumental in my career. And she looked out for me so much. I was a country girl in “Above Rocks,” [a town in the parish of Saint Catherine, Jamaica]. The first kind of official voice training that I got like uptown—
—she was putting Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers in voice lessons, and she’s like, “Nadine, go.” So that was a whole life-changing [event]. She never, ever excluded me while [I] was growing up. And she looked out for me. Because she had young girls, too. So she understood being a mother, and being a young lady in the music industry. So I cannot forget her kindness towards me. And you know people have different narratives, [but] that is what I saw, and I’m very, very thankful. [Rita Marley] was always good and kind to me. And I’ve seen her—you know, a lot of people speak a lot of things, but I’ve seen her be a manager to her children. I’ve seen her—like the first year [after] Bob transitioned—[at] the first concert ever at Nine Mile, I sang on it. And it was her trying to keep the legacy of Bob alive. So…I’ve seen her. How other people see her? I can’t really speak on that. And what she has done with her life, what she has done with her children’s life, whatever Mrs. Marley is, she to me deserved to be in that—in me paying homage to her. Mrs. Pat Chin? The ‘P’ in VP is that likkle China lady. You look at where she’s coming from, from Randy’s Records in Jamaica. And building the empire that VP is now—a big record company in the [United] States. That basically is just the one that people—
And the ‘P’ in it is this likkle China woman called “Miss Pat.” And Miss Pat built it brick by brick. When her husband was sick, Dean, and Chris, and Randy built—and she’s at the helm. So in terms of honoring her as a queen, and I’m sure that some of the stories that I mentioned in my song, she experienced it, just like Mrs. Marley. The “tears you cried in the midnight hour, to see if you can find any more power.” I read in her book, and she said that when she left Jamaica as an immigrant—and also, I am an immigrant. I am Caribbean-American; I’m a U.S. citizen and a Jamaican citizen. She said because she was so afraid and don’t know what the future gonna bring, she pack up food from Jamaica (laughing) so that (laughing)—
I mean, usually it’s the reverse. But starting a new life over? So you look at Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller and Ms. “Babsy” Grange—their stories are the same. And I was extremely deliberate that I chose these two ladies—to choose one from two different [political] parties. It’s problematic for some people. It depends on what political divide that you’re on. But I’m not looking at that. I’m looking at these women, [they] came from the ghettos, the inner-cities of Jamaica. And knowing classism in Jamaica, nothing supposed to a-gwan for them. Dem not supposed to reach anywhere in a dem life!
So much respect for putting the way people live their lives, and, their character, before a [political] party.
Exactly. And that is what I am looking for. Mi say, alright the labourite dem [would love to see] Babsy, and the socialists (laughing) dem [would love to see] Portia. But irrespective of all of that, it’s the gist of the story that I looked at—their life. Those are ghetto girls! [Now,] [i]nner-city woman—
And now they’re running things.
Right! Mrs. Portia made it through a lot of stuff. She went through classism, sexism, everything. And she went to the helm of the PNP as the prime minister.
You have to respect that.
You have to respect that in terms of where they’re coming from. If you look at Ms. “Babsy” Grange, too: she comes from Tivoli Gardens, worked her way as a hard-worker who reached this level in society—in Jamaican society. And I’m sure, when you listen to “Queen”: “Some put you aside thought you gave up and die.” Those women have been knocked down. A lot. In their journey to [get to] where they’re at.
I was curious if you knew—I heard this just today—I heard today that “Babsy” Grange was at one point a booking agent. [She] was involved actually in the music industry at one point—
She was. She was a manager. She worked with Specialist for a while. During the Bounty [Killer] days. And the Shabba days, she was working—I think the first cadre of Jamaican performers that came to America; they [did] some World Expo thing—she went as a dancer. Mr. Seaga, I think, organized it back in the day.
Wow. I don’t think many people know that.
A lot of people don’t know a lot of stuff, so they chat-up dem mouth. But I know a lot of stuff. And I know why I put these women in my video. Everybody with dem political belief—I’m not looking for no hand-out from nobody—none of those women that I put in my video do I think they’re going to do anything for me. I’m a self-made woman.
Mi no want nothing from none of dem—except respect.
Kind of related to that, Nadine, you’ve spoken out in the press, about both age and sex discrimination in the music business. And I would note also that people should go look, you wrote a very compelling column, just a year ago in the Jamaica Observer called, “Ageism and the Entertainment Industry.” Which I thought was very compelling [and a] well-written article—
—people should go read [it] immediately. My thought reading the article, is, you are one, I hope you’ll permit me to say, one of the most well-known, recognized, and respected Jamaican singers in the world—
—with many hit songs. Which I’m gonna ask you about. A “Queen” in this industry by any objective measure. Do you still feel, Nadine, that ageism and sexism are even today holding you back, despite what I would argue—
Yes, yes, yes. You know, it’s like some of my songs, I think in terms of me as a songwriter, they got lost. I was listening to some of my songs—even with “Queen.” And I was listening to “Chatty Chatty.” “Inna Mi Blood.” “Waggonist.” And I’m like, I don’t think people really rate me as a songwriter. And some of the stuff, you know, in terms of my songs being played, I never really fit the stereotype of staying in one lane. When you see me perform onstage, I’m a bag of fun.
Exactly. But sometimes they don’t want to look at versatility because they’re minds are so socialized, and funneled in seeing one image of a woman in Jamaica. And sometimes I—if you make music, sometimes, either you’re a conscious queen or a sexy mama, or whatever. And I am like, well I am both. And I feel comfortable in that, and nobody is going to change me. You like me? You like me. You’re my tribe? Well, come to me. At this age onstage, I cannot solicit. You know I’m onstage, performing, doing my stuff. If you think my face is too old for you, go find a younger face (laughing).
That would be crazy. When I was preparing for this interview and spending a lot of time, Nadine, listening to your catalogue, one thing that really stood out and impressed me is how you consistently use adversity that you face—dealing with the ugly underbelly of the music business. And you’ve actually channeled that into these faming hot—flaming hot, creative tunes. I mean, I don’t want to hide the ball. I’m thinking, of course, about your massive dancehall hits—you know, “Chatty Chatty”—I could watch [the official video] for that all day long. And “Karma.” And if you look at “Chatty Chatty,” “Karma,” and even I’d say, your most recent song “Queen,” it seems like some of your best writing is really borne from when you have a personal torment of sorts in the music industry—or entertainment business—that’s caused you that pain.
Yeah! Definitely! I’ve used my pain to create art. “Karma” is one. Sometimes you feel so helpless in life—sometimes I do feel helpless—even now. Some of the malice and the underhanded things that happen in the music industry. And you’re like, if I go with the level of their actions towards me, and if I go with that same intensity—you’re trying to stop my life, but you know, in the universe sometime, because I’ve seen it, I’ve seen people, I’ve seen karma really bounce back on people. (Singing) “Boom—,” I love that song they say—I think it’s a rudegirl, [singing] “Boom bang when the pendulum sway…” Brap-brap-brap-brap.
(Laughing) Right! You reap what you sow.
(Singing) “You reap what you sow.” I love that song so much—“Karma.”
I do, too. And you know, I know just from reading a little bit [about you] why you wrote “Karma.” But maybe, if you don’t mind my asking you to just describe the circumstances behind—
Remind me—remind me. Because my mind is so far from—remind me what I said—
I recall that it had something to do with the fact—and I don’t know that everyone knows about this show, so maybe you can correct me, I’m not sure I know all as much as I should [about it]. [But, you] were on a show—
—it was called “Rising Stars.” And Digicel is the [corporate sponsor] who promotes and produces that show; Digicel is a huge Jamaican cell phone company. And you were a judge—I believe it’s a show that’s kind of like American idol—
Yes, it was.
Yeah, and you have three judges and you judged [musical performers]. And you were on that show [as a judge] for several years. And that show has led to successful careers [for] a number of emerging stars in Jamaica. And my understanding is, that they, one year, out of the blue, ungracefully, and discourteously—
—they dismissed all of the judges.
Yeah, they did.
And you weren’t having it. And you wrote this song “Karma,” I think, in somewhat of a response to these people—
That is true. That is true. They really, really were disrespectful. “Karma” was written for that. But also, [at] the same time, I think I was going through—was it somebody who disrespected me in a relationship?
And was being very dishonorable also—dishonoring to me. And I’m like, “Goodbye.”
My life, I really don’t need [that]. Middle finger up to the bwoy—
Oh man (laughing).
(Laughing) So “Karma” was a dual sort of thing, addressing it [and also] the “Rising Stars” thing. Because I was extremely upset in how they did it. It was very, very underhanded. I never publicly came out and bashed them, but I wrote that. It was several issues that I think that I needed to channel my anger into a song. And “Karma” came out.
Well it was a cutting edge, great song when it came out[, and] it’s a fabulous song [still] today. Incidentally I was listening to the tune again, right before we began speaking today. And you know, there’s an incredible saxophone solo at the end—
I know, right!
I know! I love the saxophone solo in that song, too! I’m glad you heard it! (Imitating saxophone riff). It’s so [wicked]—
Who’s the saxophone player?
I don’t know. I think it’s Dean.
Is it Dean Fraser?
I think it is. Because it’s such a kick-butt sax—wow, it’s so awesome.
People will go listen to that song. Now just a few years after “Karma” rose to the top of the charts, you released the other hit [song] that I mentioned, “Chatty Chatty”; that [song] was again borne from negative music industry gossip about you. True?
And, you know, the official video for “Chatty Chatty”—which again is available on YouTube—I believe it came out in 2016, I believe—
No. I wrote it—it was written and recorded in 2016. They contacted me—let me try to get the chronological history for it. I was at the University of the West Indies I remember when I voiced “Chatty Chatty.” Because “Chatty Chatty” was released years after it was voiced. Oh, 2019, they came to me and they were like, “We’re going to release ‘Chatty Chatty.’” And I was like, “You are kidding me?” Because I forgot about it.
It was like [lost] in the stratosphere of life—
I don’t know how you could have forgotten, because that song is awesome! Oh my God!
It’s an awesome song. So, like you know, it was leading into my 40th anniversary for 2020 [in the music business]. And that’s why I’m so thankful that “Chatty Chatty” was released. “Chatty Chatty” was released twice. There was a “soft” release, and then there was a big release. Because I remember when it was February, and it started to play, and oh my God then—
The video is so hot it could cause anyone who watches it—I would just put a warning out—it could cause you to have a meltdown.
But the song “Chatty Chatty,” this could be the best song on the subject of gossipers and backbiters that I’ve ever heard. The lyrics are so vicious. And just for the record, you sing verses like: “Were you emotionally abused? Feeling lost—
—and misused? And then you [sing], “Look how you getting fame, all in bad name.” And then, there’s the great refrain, of course: “Chatty chatty mouth, it feels pretty but you so ugly.” I just—
“Your face pretty, but you’re so ugly.”
“Your face pretty, but you’re so ugly.”
Which—which—I just love it. Can you discuss at all the circumstances that gave rise to the song—I mean, what was going on, Nadine—
What has gone on in my life? There was this big ugly—and I guess it still exists—people say it don’t exist anymore, and some people say I take it too serious. But I didn’t. It was rumored that I was on crack. And I think, [that] I was on drugs or this big drug-taker. Which, never in my life.
And I think it has impaired—well I think I don’t fit the narrative of what reggae and female singers should be. I had my father around me. Nobody really know a lot of stuff about me. Because there’s not a lot to know. I’m boring. Really. Like I’m exciting when you see me on video, and you know, when I’m performing. They see this thing, and I can dance. Because I’m a trained dancer. But when you see me, I don’t think I’m like (imitating someone blabbing their mouth). I can be very, very quiet. Very observant. And I think they wanted some dirt on me. Because there’s nothing that they can say. There’s no “casting couch” stories about me, because [they] just never existed. So I think they needed some dirt.
Can I ask, Nadine, were these rumors—because I tried to understand this—I did see[, or,] I read somewhere where you had kind of alluded to the fact that people had said you were this drug addict. And now you’re telling me—for the first time I’m hearing that they said you were on [crack] cocaine. And I’m sorry—
It was awful. It was my life. And basically there was no sign of it. No sign that anybody could see. [But] even though they don’t see no sign, you are, They’re gonna say—
Was this rumor—when you talk about a rumor now, is this something that’s circulating in terms of hurting you in the music business—
I think it did. I think it did. And that’s why sometimes, I don’t really trust people in the music industry. Because it can be a vile industry. So I think that what happened—I don’t know, I guess, it would be nice to say that about me. I don’t know what they get off on. Because you speak violence [against me]. Karma. You reap what you sow. You reap what you sow. Sometimes I wonder if karma right, because sometimes some people no believe—
In the song [“Chatty Chatty,”] you further pointedly sing—I’m glad you’re listening to me, because sometimes I get my patois messed up. So—
I try to very much recognize my limitations as a, you know, not a Jamaican. But you sing pointedly, “You a-gwan so everybody knows it’s you, us[ing] your life to cause strife.” So, did you really, in real life, too—you know, I just, listening to the lyric. Did you also know in real life, too, some of the real people who were—you don’t have to name them. But did you also know—
Yeah. Yeah. It worked for some. It worked for some people’s agenda. I know. I feel bad for them. It worked for some women’s agenda, you know? I don’t know if [it’s because they felt] they were in competition with me or what, but, hey—
It’s so in the past, and you know I’ve worked my way, and did my stuff. And just like, looking at them, and just going: “Hi. [You] must be very unhappy to have been so obsessed with [me]. And still, you’re so obsessed with me.”
And then you’ve used the music to kind of triumph over on top of them—
Nah (laughing). Yeah! Yeah!
—which I love. Now so far we’ve talked about “Queen,” “Karma,” [and] “Chatty Chatty.” I want to switch gears, if it’s okay, and talk a bit about some of your internationally famous duets. Internationally known, famous duets that you’ve had. Songs that, you know, they regularly ring out [in] different countries. But just before that, with those three aforementioned songs, or in general, for songs that you write the lyrics to—because I agree with you, I don’t think people do give you enough respect as a songwriter—
No, they don’t.
They should. Can you describe a bit, Nadine, your process? And by this, I mean, I’m always very curious about this—especially [because] I like to work with words a lot. And so I want to ask you this: Is there a—I want to know your process a bit in terms of songwriting. By this—these are the kinda things I’m curious about: Is there a physical location where you prefer to do your songwriting? And, do you need to do certain things to get into a songwriting frame of mind? And, do you write your lyrics in a journal—or where? And finally on this, at what point will you take lyrics for a new song you’ve written, and share them with someone?
Right. Okay, so—
And who would be the first person that you’d share [them] with?
I usually share them in the studio. What happens is, just usually, if they send me a track—
—and I vibe—sometimes a track just jumps out. And a melody. [And] you mumble and fumble for a couple of days (laughing). And you drive with it. And you say, “Ahh that melody sound better—that line. Would that line be more impactful [if]”—and you play around with it until everything just….Sometimes, like when I tape (imitating voicing lyrics), and [then] you hear [it], and I’m like, “Oh no, that’s not gonna work.” And you hear the process of songwriting—it’s a very, I don’t know, it can be very confusing.
It’s very organic. Until you get what you want. Or it’s—[for example], Fatis send me a riddim, and I write on it. Or like [for] “Queen,” the melody just came. And “Queen” was written at my house—It was finished in [my house in] New York. I think I write well in my bed. I have my—
You write in your bed?
(Laughing) Yeah, I write in my bed.
On your phone?
On my phone. Or the inspiration comes, and I might hum it. And sometimes you don’t want to lose [the inspiration]. So I’ve been writing first with a tape—you know those tape recorders [from] back in the days?
I used to write with that.
Wow. Like a dictaphone?
Right. Until I started writing with my phone. So that’s what happened. And you know, some of the lyrics, I said this is more potent. And then I listen to it a few times, and I’m like, “Ah, it’s kinda corny, the rhyme kinda corny. We need something more edgy.”
So, that’s [my] writing process.
That’s how it comes together.
Well, very, very cool. You know no one could possibly—I mentioned I was gonna switch [to talking] about some of your duets. And as you know, it would be impossible for any kinda reggae journalist worth his salt not to ask you about your world-famous 1994 hit [song], “Action.” Your collaboration with Terror Fabulous. That again was produced by Donovan Germain at his Penthouse Studio—
No—it was produced by Dave Kelly. I don’t know [why], I hear a lot of people [say that]—that it was Donovan Germain. it’s one of those things on the internet you see, and I’m like, I wish some of those [websites]—
Dave Kelly from Madhouse [Records], yes.
Wow, thank you so much for correcting me on that [point]. And I mean that song has been voted high—high, high—on many official sounding, very authoritative lists for, you know, “best duet of all-time.” And I think a fair[ly] [large] swath of the world’s population you could say—including me, yours truly—has, at one time or another, as a teenager, or, as an adult, jammed to this tune!
That song is like this timeless song.
When I went to New York to be the Director of Performing Arts [for the Challenge School Group], and the kids that I was—I was their teacher, and they knew “Action.”
They [probably couldn’t] believe it.
I’m very blessed to have [had] that song. I don’t know, it’s a dual thing with “Action.” It’s a blessing, but sometimes it’s such a curse, because sometimes some people just box you in, and just want to see that—
True. They don’t know all your other material.
Right. It obscures “Karma.” It obscures “Chatty Chatty.” It obscures “Queen.” Which are great songs. And you know, I’m like, “I am the girl [who sang ‘Action’].” That part of me still exists. And it is there. But I’m also a strong songwriter, and [I] have some powerful songs. But you know, I guess, sometimes I wonder if the listeners are stuck in 1994. And I have moved past that.
It’s interesting, Nadine, because you say that and I’m gonna certainly get to the point in [this] interview where I ask you, as I mentioned earlier, about your child-prodigy days. And as you just mentioned, you had the double-edged sword, Nadine, of having some of these giant hits that everyone knows; and then all these other songs which they don’t know because of some of the giant hits [that have obscured them]. Then, you have the double-edged sword also—so, you have one double-edged sword sticking you in one side. And then you have another double-edged sword [sticking you in the other side]—
—which is, that you were a child prodigy. And some people maybe just associate [you with] that. Or, it’s the “dancehall Nadine.” And the thing is that you’ve been, your songs—you have not stuck into one [style].
No, I don’t—that’s why I’m not a [specific] mold [kind of] [person]. If you try to put me in a mold—I’m not a mold person. I live my truth as an artist. And I’m like, who see me, and see the totality of who I am, will see me. But I find that people are so socialized to think in boxes. It’s either you’re this or you’re that.
You know they’re not socialized to think like somebody who’s out of the box.
That’s true, Nadine. And many people don’t know that “Action” was never meant to be this giant hit—that it was actually recorded, correct me if I’m wrong, as a demo.
It was supposed to be my demo. One of my demos. And then what happened (laughing), I came to Jamaica to record—let me tell you the whole story.
I went to London and auditioned for “Soul II Soul.” Caron Wheeler left “Soul II Soul,” and I got the part. The managers hated each other. It’s the funniest thing. You look at how they hated each other, and they’re both dead. They’re both dead. Look at it. So all of that hater-ation—
Where has that gone now?
Where has that gone?
Yeah! A lesson in futility and male machismo. And I—
Thank you so much for pointing that out.
It’s a powerful [lesson]; it just came to me a while ago that they’re both dead. So like, I got the part and they couldn’t get along. So, Erskine Thompson was managing me then. And he was like, “Okay, so I want you to do like”—first there was some R&B, [and] he was like, “I don’t think that’s the [right] direction. Go home and do some dancehall.” The first dancehall song—I started working with [Donovan] Germain [on] “Wicked & Wild,” before it became “Wicked Dickie” with Buju Banton—
Yes. I have a question about that [song] towards the end.
Yes. There was “Action,” and then Dave Kelly decided he was going to release “Action” as a song in Jamaica. So it was Nadine Sutherland and Terror Fabulous’s first. And it [dominated] the place. It [dominated] the dancehall. And then Terror got really hot with a lot of tunes. Terror did a lot of hit tunes. And VP [Records]—no Elektra [Records]—Elektra signed Terror.
And they eventually signed you, too, right?
They eventually signed me after “Action.” With the video now, I basically got the choreography and the dance—everything you see for “Action” was basically me. You know, it was my idea, it was my creativity, it was me and my dancing (laughing). I have to laugh.
Well, you know, when you say—that really makes me want to ask—because you know, I’m very curious about this. Selecta Jerry, he’s a friend of mine, and he’s the host of a very, very popular and respected radio reggae show. And he wanted me to ask—and honestly, especially given that initially this song was created as a demo—your demo—and given what you’re saying right now, I’m very curious, too. Selecta Jerry wanted to know—wanted me to ask you this question. He wanted to know, given how massive of a hit that this song is—“Action”—and how often you can still hear it [being] played all around the word: Did your participation in that one song alone—I loved the way [Selecta Jerry] framed this—this is the way he framed this, did your participation in that one song alone, and the royalties from it, make you “financially comfortable” for life?
I am not financially comfortable for life from “Action” at all. I didn’t write “Action”—
And then why not?
Remember I didn’t write “Action.” [But] it will live forever. I’m a performer. So I get the performing royalties when it is available. But I’m not the writer of “Action.” So the copyright—
You have to separate them.
Yeah. You have to separate them. I’m just the performer [on that song].
And the performing rights don’t pay as well as the songwriting rights.
Not at all.
Do you feel—on the same subject, a little bit—do you feel overall in your career that you’ve been treated fairly, Nadine—
—as it concerns royalties? For the numerous hit songs that you’ve enjoyed over forty years?
It’s not only the royalties—it’s just a lot of stuff. I don’t think I’ve been treated fairly.
Can you speak on some of those things? Like what are the things that—
I don’t think I get the—right now I’m demanding it—in terms of the shows. You know, because in terms of my level of hit songs. Right now I’m seeing myself differently—and I’m like, I won’t be taking that. And I think what has given me the confidence is knowing that I have an alternative. I’m a mastered-degree woman. I stepped out of the music industry and had a successful life. Being the Director for the Performing Arts. I brought a lot to my job when I went to Challenge. And I’m very, very proud of what I’ve done. So it has given me another level of confidence—going back to school. How I view myself when I stepped out into the world—
You said when you went to “Challenge?”
Yeah, that’s the organization I worked with.
So when I stepped out, when I went to America and realized the enormity of “Action.” The enormity—everyone said that this is the woman—and [you] could be white, black, yellow, or purple—I mean, those colors don’t exist. But in terms of people wearing hijab, and you know, they come on the job, and, you know, going places, and you mention [“Action”]—and ears and eyes open. And I realized that I did that. You know, I gained a lot of confidence in terms of myself as an artist, myself as a woman. Because I went and I financed myself through school.
And, you know, I was successful like that. A different level of my life.
Not everyone knows, but when you talk about your school—I know this just from reading about you, but you have your masters [degree] [in] cultural studies—
Right. From the University of the West Indies, I think?
Which I think then also later led to [your] very cultural tune, “Inna Mi Blood?”
“Inna Mi Blood.” Very, very much so. That song was (laughing) totally cultural—totally during my—I was writing my thesis. And the professor said it nuh good, [that] December, and it was so painful for me. And I remember Mad Professor writing me, and he said he wanted to work with me. And “Inna Mi Blood” just—I think at the time when I wrote it there was—a young man of African descent was killed in America. One of the first public killings [that made a lot of headlines]. And I was so angry. I was so hurt. Just like a lot of people in the world.
I saw that you[’ve] talked [before] about the Black Lives Matter [movement] in the United States in connection with this song.
Yeah. Black Lives Matter, and then I was seen in the ghettos of Kingston. And understanding the trajectory of inner-city living. And understand that you came from the long[-arm] of slavery. And colonization, and everything. And peasantry. It’s how it just ended up with—
So much respect. Nadine, I don’t want to lose the track of this, because I was going to ask you still—just going back for a minute—about financial stuff. Because I think it’s important, especially for young artists, to understand some of this stuff. And I know that when you were a—I believe, when you were a child star, I believe, at least until you graduated from high school, that your parents helped to manage your career. But when did you first really learn to manage the business side of the music? And I’m talking now about things like you mentioned, [like] performing rights. Copyrights. Royalties. Making sure that your music—that, you know, you’re getting compensated for your music as much as you can?
[I] learned that later on, but still, I learned, you know? I learned that later on. It wasn’t something that like, in the Jamaican sphere [of] all of these things, [that] happened. Or some people knew, and just never tell anyone. It happened later on in my life, but still I learned. And I think I learned pretty well, you know? In terms of understanding performance rights separate from copyrights—
Did somebody help you with that? Or did you learn that some place?
You know, people helped me. Where the performing rights is concerned, Evon [Mullings] who leads JAMMS, JAMMS in Jamaica—Jamaican Association of—I don’t remember what that acronym means. Musicians—
Oh, I’m familiar with it, too, actually. I should know, too. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
JAMMS. I actually worked there for three months in terms of getting together the—
They’re very involved—[the Jamaica Music Society]—true, in terms of educating musicians in Jamaica—
Very much so. Very much so. And Evon just being a person who is so open, so filled with knowledge.
His name is Evon? What’s his last name?
I can’t remember Evan’s last name—
I’ll figure it out, I can google it.
He’s my very, very good friend. And he’s incredible. He’s incredibly knowledgeable. And I could ask him anything. And although I know performance rights, he made—he concretized [that concept] in my head, because having him, and just speaking to him—
When I publish [this] interview [in print], I will find his last name and I’ll put it in there. But he works with JAMMS, is that right?
He’s the CEO of JAMMS.
Very good, I’ll find [Evon Mullings]. Now this may be silly. I have to also make sure—because, you know, you get a chance to talk to someone like you, you want to make sure you ask some questions [you might not otherwise]. This may be silly. But when you sing “Action,” and then Terror [Fabulous] follows, okay, and he [responds], “Not a bagga mouth.” Can you please help an American like myself? Though I think I may know, okay, can you give me a translation of what the patois of “not a bagga mouth” would translate to? I have a suggestion. But I’m not sure it’s 100% accurate. But could you tell me what would maybe be a good American substitute [for that]? What is being said [there]?
(Laughing) “Not a bagga mouth?”
“Not a bagga mouth.”
It means, okay, it means that your actions should substantiate what your words are saying.
You are speaking too much, but your actions [are] not doing what you’re saying. [With] action, we want to see the action—we don’t want the talk. You’re just pure talk. You’re a person who just talk, talk, talk. But you’re not doing the actions. So wi a-say: “Action! Not a bagga mouth.” No chatty, chatty (laughing).
(Laughing) Respect. I think what I thought is maybe accurate, because in the United States we have a saying, “All talk and no action.”
That’s it! You got it right there.
(Laughing) So okay, not a bagga mouth!
Okay, we figured this out. You run your mouth—
You run your mouth so, and you not do nothing!
(Laughing) Thank you so much for that. Now if it’s okay, I also, I want to turn to another flaming hot collaboration of yours—came out about the same time. You mentioned it, [and] we talked about it [before the interview, and] I know you have a number of [collaborations] with him—Buju Banton. “Wicked Dickie.” We have to talk about [it].
That’s an incredible song.
I know I mentioned [this] to you before the interview, I mean, wow: The track is so addictive. There’s a reason why it reached number one on the Jamaican charts. Because the song is fire. And one thing about “Action,” and I wondered what you thought about this, one thing about “Action” and [also] “Wicked Dickie” which I find so interesting is, it seems like for these songs that explode—if I was a producer and I was thinking about, you know, who [do] I want to get for a song, right? It seems like whenever you have a deep male, coarse, ragamuffin, raspy kind of voice—and you need to get a good complement to that? You’re going to 100% every single time [choose] Nadine Sutherland. Because—
I think at that time it really was like that. I mean, in terms of thinking that I was so R&B, and my voice was so melodious. It really, when you juxtapose it with a Terror [Fabulous], and you juxtapose it with a Buju—it’s like incredible. As I said, the difference complement[s] [one another]: my sweetness and their raspy ragga (laughing).
That’s right. Absolutely true, Nadine. And in the United States, I would compare it to when you have a Mary J. Blige or a Lauryn Hill. Paired up, you know, with like a Method Man. Or—
—Nas. And so, I just think that these songs, I mean, when you’re a producer and you’re thinking about the way that you match up—the tone and the lyrics. That’s what I also wanted to mention. It’s really not just the tone and the melody that complements so well. It’s kinda also the lyrics that you sing in both the songs, “Action” and “Wicked Dickie.”
(Laughing) You must understand that “Wicked Dickie” is two different songs: it’s “Wicked & Wild” and “Wicked Dickie.” They’re two distinct songs. What happened is that they put them together. I never even knew that we had a duet. I went to London and found out that Buju Banton and I had a duet.
And [it’s] the funniest story, because I went into this record store. You know, we had record stores?
And I went in and [a] man [in the store] complimented me on my #1 song with Buju Banton—
(Laughing) Ha, ha, ha. You didn’t know!?
No, I didn’t. And the man’s like, “You have a sound with Buju.” And I’m like, “Mi no have no sound with Buju, boss.”
Because they just overlaid the—
Exactly. They just morphed the songs together. It was done very [well] if you look at it. But if you really know the riddim of “Wicked & Wild,” you will know that there is a song called “Dickie” by Buju Banton, and then “Wicked & Wild.” And they just put those songs together.
And the thing is though, still the same point [is true]. If you go back and look at the lyrics though, it’s not just the combination of coarse and melody—and the tone. It’s also the lyrics, because if you look at what Buju is saying, and if you—
I know, right! It’s brilliantly done. Brilliantly done.
It really is brilliantly done. Because your lyrics are very sweet and soulful compared to [Buju’s]. Now I have jumped around quite a bit in my questions concerning your career. And thank you for indulging me. I want to go back to the historic, one-of-a-kind, auspicious beginning of your career. Which I mentioned [earlier] there’d be no way I could just not ask you about. And anyone who has taken a serious look at your journey knows that you propelled to fame as we mentioned—I don’t think we did mention it yet—at age eleven. When you won the Tastee Talent Competition. And [in so doing] you beat Paul Blake, who [later] became lead singer of Blood Fire Posse—who I’ll confess I didn’t actually know too much about him, but I’m gonna find out a bit more. And then, unbelievably, because this guy, this man I do know—I actually was in touch with him recently, because he’s coming out here [to California] in November for [the] Reggae on the Mountain [festival]—I’m gonna be talking to him then. But [you beat] King Yellowman at age 11.
I shake my head because it’s so unbelievable that you beat King Yellowman. And my understanding is that as a prize for winning the competition—when you were 11—was that you were awarded a recording contract—
—with Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong [Records]. Is that how that worked?
Yes. That part of the history is right. Diane Jobson was there. And I think Sangie Davis was there from Tuff Gong. Sangie was saying that he wanted to go with Paul Blake, and Diane was like, “We’re going with the little girl.” To record with us. It was just fate that night that my whole life started like that. Because, you know, at that point I was just a country girl singing in my neck of the woods. Although people will remind me that I sang on “Ring Ding.” Which was like this little kid’s show. The first little kid show that they, you now, people started seeing me from [that].
The show was called “Ring Ding?”
“Ring Ding,” yeah. It had one of Jamaica’s cultural icons, Ms. Lou.
On the radio or on TV?
On TV. It had Ms. Lou, our cultural icon. It was every Saturday. I probably was a ten-year-old or nine-year-old girl. And people remember—
And I sang. And people remind me: “You always speak about [winning the] Tastee [Talent Competition], but you don’t speak about “Ring Ding.”
Wow! Well I’m so happy—
Right, right. But I forgot it, too.
Does it still exist on the internet? Can you find a clip of “Ring Ding?”
Saddest thing—that’s a whole other story. All of those tapings [of] Ms. Lou, [I heard, may have been erased], so—
Oh. Okay. Well I’ll have to look into that a little bit, Nadine. Maybe we’ll have to talk about that at another time. But many sources on the internet indicate—and I think I may have mentioned this to you (before today’s interview)—
—that you were the very first artist—this shows up on the internet, [and] I want to clarify it. Just to see if it’s accurate. It says that you were the “first artist to be signed by Tuff Gong.” Is that accurate?
So I really want to clarify that. I’ve seen it a lot, [too]. I wasn’t even “signed” per se—in terms of a contract with Bob. Secondly, when I went there, Judy Mowatt’s album, “Black Woman,” was done. There was a whole cadre of artists that Tuff Gong was—I don’t know if they were distributing. There was Israel Vibration, there was Junior Tucker. So I don’t think I was like the first artist that—I don’t know if I was the first artist that [Bob Marley] recorded. In terms of a Tuff Gong production. I have no idea—I was an eleven-year-old kid. So I can’t substantiate that part of the history, and say “Yes, it was true.” I was just a child, and everything was happening to me. So I don’t even know what was happening around me. So I know you asked me that [before today], and that’s why I said, “I’ll answer everything as honestly as possible.” In terms of my knowledge. But just remember, I [was] an eleven-year-old kid. I know my father never mentioned anything being signed. But I know that I did have [that] recording experience [with Bob Marley at Tuff Gong]. I [do] know that my first recording experience, Bob was there. I know that Diane Jobson advocated for me. And everyone knows Diane Jobson was the attorney for Bob Marley at that time.
It’s really rather a small point, Nadine. You were eleven years old—
Right. It’s a small point, but—
You were signed to Bob Marley’s label at eleven. No one can dispute it. And it was—
And you beat King Yellowman. So no one needs to—it’s just one of these things that comes up, and you wonder when you see it: Well, “She was the first artist….” Like you say, there were probably others artists who were signed [already by Tuff Gong]. But one thing I do want to ask—
[Artists] [w]ho were recording [with Bob at Tuff Gong, but] I don’t know if they were signed.
But probably he would have—probably he would have signed, you know, like the I-Threes. Rita Marley would have been—
You know the funniest thing, the first I-Threes album was after Bob transitioned.
Because I’m a big I-Threes fan.
You know I think what I meant to say was, not so much the I-Threes, but the Melody Makers.
Right! Melody Makers were there. “Children Playing in the Streets.” You know the other day I saw this poster of myself, Melody Makers, and Junior Tucker. Our first performance in 1980, after “Starvation.” And they had “Children Playing in the Streets.” And we did one at Disco Inferno. We did the other at—where did we do that?
You mentioned Junior Tucker. Didn’t he pass not—
No, no, no, no. Junior Tucker is here. He’s a reverend. He’s a pastor. He’s doing so well.
He’s out of the reggae industry. He’s now a Christian.
Okay. Okay. Now, you know, one thing that I have sought to do, Nadine, in my interviews, is to probe people who’ve had actual personal experiences with Bob [Marley]. To, you know, really rack their brain to remember and recount them. However, while I do have a specific question or two for you about it, I really don’t need to do that. Because there’s [no need] to ask you for a whole retelling of [the story behind your recording of] “Starvation” [with Bob]. The reason why, and I would point all the people who are interested in that topic—because it’s a very interesting topic—specifically to the very detailed and revealing interview that you did with respected fellow reggae journalist, Angus Taylor, for Reggaeville.
People can go look—
—you gave a very great interview—I hope people will also enjoy this interview[, too]. But you also—people should go back and read Angus Taylor’s interview with you for Reggaeville. I think it was done in Jamaica, at King’s House.
Yeah, I think I was in braces (laughing).
(Laughing) I think so, because I’ve seen the pictures.
I remember some little kids, this girl, we took our picture together, and she had braces, too. They were kinda making fun of me and my braces.
That’s so rough. That’s the wrong—you look beautiful in those pictures, too. In that interview with Angus Taylor, you really detailed at length your relationship and your interactions with the Marley family as a young child. And you gave some precious details about how you recorded what I think is one of the most incredible roots tunes you could hear ever, “Starvation.” And you mentioned things [in that Angus Taylor interview] about how Bob was there directing the musicians. How he, you know, he had to tell them to put you on a high stool—just so you could reach the microphone. And this is kind of why I think people should go back and look at that interview that you gave [to Angus]. Because you gave some really good details about that. Now both “Starvation” and your other giant Tuff Gong hit, in 1980, a song called “A Young One Like Me”—
I don’t think enough is said about this song.
Isn’t it a beautiful song?
Oh my gosh.
Like I would hear it, and cry.
The lyrics are so conscious—
Written by Sangie Davis, just like “Starvation on the Land.”
True. Sangie Davis—the lyrics that he wrote for both of those songs, for “Starvation” and for “A Young One Like Me,” every reggae fan has to listen to those songs—
—they are some of the most righteous, conscious lyrics, I’ve ever heard. And your ability, at such a young, tender age, to express those lyrics so poignantly, that has to go down as one of the greatest things in reggae. And I don’t care what anyone else has to say about it, because it—
—it’s incredible that you were able to give the emotion that was called for with such a maturity—at that age, so young. And then, of course, it bears noting that one of the reasons why those tracks—“A Young One Like Me” and “Starvation”—sound so irie, is that the legendary Errol Brown—of course, at Tuff Gong—
—was involved [as] the sound engineer. I did want to know, [because] I wasn’t sure, was a “Young One Like Me,” was that recorded the same day as “Starvation?”
No, man, that was recorded long after “Starvation.”
And was Bob [Marley] in the studio for [“A Young One Like Me”]?
No. He was in the studio for “Starvation.” He was always touring, you know, and then after a while I think “A Young One Like Me” was—Bob just went missing. In my narrow eleven-year-old eyes, twelve-year-old eyes, he went missing. But that’s when he got sick.
He was always around, like for a while I would see him when he’s off [from] tour[ing], and you know, [he’d] buck up at Tuff Gong. You know, [at that time] I’m an eleven-year-old kid and he’s a thirty-six-year-old man. [So] [o]nly if an adult [like] Diane would take me to see him. I’m not in his age group, [so] I never had a lot of interactions with him, you know?
So that was it. “A Young One Like Me,” he wasn’t around [for]. I think [I] was then, in my young mind, [thinking that] Bob just went missing.
You know when you—I know that you were quite young, but—well you were older then—but when Bob passed, do you remember where you were when you found out? And how you found out?
Well, I remember speaking to Bob—through again, Diane. Oh my God, that’s why I love Diane Jobson so much. And I still love her. I remember once, I was at Tuff Gong, when in my little head he was just missing.
That was Bob’s lawyer, Diane Jobson?
She was with him in Germany, also. She was like, “Bob, it’s Nadine here!” And [Bob] asked, “How are you doing?” But I didn’t know that he was in Germany at that point—
—or what he was experiencing. That’s the last time I spoke to him. And he asked me how I was and all of that. And the next thing I knew, again, [I was thinking] people just missing. Diane [is] just missing. You just don’t know, because you’re a child. The next thing I knew [was] I heard he was sick. And then one day I was at St. Andrew’s high school for girls, and going home, and on the radio you hear that Bob passed. And I think the whole [of] Jamaica just went into mourning. I know Tuff Gong went into mourning. One thing I remember as a child [was] the feeling that I got when I stepped into Tuff Gong after Bob transitioned. And I felt that the whole place was in mourning. I felt like the walls were crying. It was like the light of 56 Hope Road was gone. It’s like a dark pall just fell over 56 Hope Road.
I’m sorry, Nadine. I don’t want to bring back the memories of that shadow, but—
Yeah, I carry these sad, dark memories.
But, you know, I also know that you were often called upon to do various tributes concerning Bob Marley. And people know that you were very much his protégé. And I appreciated, I saw that you did an interview where you said—
“Protégé?” No, it’s okay, that’s a long story with the “protégé,” but I won’t correct.
Well I only said that word because I think I heard you say it once.
Right. Um, um, it’s a long story. We finish it [another time].
Well, next time I’ll bring that up. I’ll remember to bring that up.
And I want to thank you. We’ve already been talking for quite a long time, actually. Now that I notice. And I want to thank you again for being so generous. I do have one more substantive question I hope that maybe it won’t be too taboo, and not too complicated, that I want to ask you today. You can tell me if it is, and I’ll respect your decision. But before I turn it over to you, and I want to turn it over to you also, after I ask my last substantive question. I want to turn it over to you one last time to speak directly to all of your many fans around the world. And I need to also point out at this juncture that, as I knew would be the case, there are so many hit tunes [of yours]—like “Anything for You,” “Baby Face,” [and] we mentioned “Inna Mi Blood,” but just cursorily, as well as many aspects of your career—[that time prevented us from exploring today,] [but] that I’m very, very, very interested in—and I want to ask some more questions about. Like when you worked with Peter Tosh. [And,] [w]hen you worked with Gussie Clark. Like I [said earlier]: You’re a fixture. You’re one of the most respected [musical artists]. I know you get a lot—you deal with a lot of adversity, and a lot of “Chatty Chatty”—
—but I hope that you know that people like me exist. And so many more people than me, millions of people around the world, Nadine, who believe that you’re one of the greatest legends in this industry.
So the last very serious question I want to ask today, Nadine—and I know maybe you’ll need to think about it, but because, you know, we connected of all places on social media, actually. Through Twitter. And the first time was when Robbie Shakespeare tragically passed. And the second time was when Tabby Diamond was tragically murdered.
And I’m bringing this up, because a recurring theme in many of my interviews has been this concern [about] the Jamaican government’s failure to properly invest in, promote, and honor reggae artists. And I’m talking about the failure to build and properly fund a grand “Reggae Hall of Fame”—in Kingston, perhaps, on the waterfront. And then also I’m talking about the failure on the part of the [Jamaican] government—and now I have to be very honest, including maybe even—[and] maybe I’m wrong—maybe even Olivia “Babsy” Grange—who I know is a friend [of yours]. Even a “shero” of yours. But [I’m talking about the failure] to officially recognize some of these legendary reggae artists. And, I mean the names, they’re too numerous to mention. But I would start with some of my friends. Like Scientist. Tony Chin. Winston Jarrett. Sister Carol. Nadine Sutherland. And then, of course, I would even have to mention—because I think I may have told you this—that eighty-five-year-old Larry McDonald: this is the best hand-drummer in the world. And the coolest conga-playing cat—I told him today—I’ve ever seen.
He just turned 85 last weekend. So I’m gonna go see him tonight—he’s gonna be [downtown] with the Skatalites in Los Angeles. But none of these legends [I just listed] have been officially recognized or honored by the Jamaican government—at all!—for their contributions to reggae music. Can you comment on your view of this situation? And also, do you have any suggestions for how we could change the situation?
(Sighs deeply) First and foremost, I’m very, very proud that, you know, what the music has done to really evoke this passion in people who are non-Jamaicans. I’m proud that the power of reggae has done that. And it’s from the roots of the people. From our pain and our struggle. And how it just resonated across the world. That someone like you really feels so strongly about it, that you articulate it with such passion, it makes me proud. In terms of governments doing stuff, you probably—I think there’s a point [to be made there]. There’s always, I think, there’s a problem that, you know, sometimes you have a good wife [who’s] beautiful, but because she’s in your face every day you don’t see her beauty.
So you always take for granted those who have done so much for your culture.
And it’s something I think I’ve struggled with because of, you know, when you travel the world and see the passion [people] have for reggae music. And what they want to do, and you know I wish sometimes that [more] people would feel that way—that way about the music. But, you know, when I come home there has definitely been a cultural shift. Even in my growth as a person. I remember once that our own music was scorned upon on by our own people. Because of slavery. And the indoctrinization or colonization of not appreciating what you have. And I’ve seen people now grow. I’ve seen people from white Jamaicans, Black Jamaicans—uptown, downtown—identifying stronger with our own culture, and feeling proud of it. So everything that you speak about, I don’t know if I’ll be here, but I know in terms of how people are coalescing. And you still do have some negativity around, but I pray that at one point, there will be something like this—like the museum you could envision. But also [that] the support to give to the music will be there from a corporate and a government level. So I don’t know, but I thank you for that, and I’m so appreciative.
Nadine, thank you so much. Because someday I do want to—when I next come—or not when I next come, because it’s going to take some time—so I’ll give them some time—the time that they need to build that kind of a museum [in Kingston,] that I can come to as a tourist. And I want to be able to go down the “Nadine Sutherland Hall.” And I want to be able to look up on the wall at the various records—hit records. And I want to be able to see little plaques underneath to describe some of this history that we talked about today. And I want little children in Jamaica to be able—and also from all over the world—to visit. To be able to do that someday. It’s been such a blessing to talk to you, Nadine. I want you to please, please, stay safe. Please don’t listen to the negativity out there. Please keep making music. Please stay in touch with me. Because I want to talk to you more about some of these subjects—[and songs of yours] we didn’t reach today. Before we hang up for today though, and until next time, can you please let all the reggae fans know about any new musical projects—that everyone will immediately go and check out. “Queen,” I know[, for example]. [Everyone] [g]o google that up. But can you let them know—I know you’ve already been involved in some projects [this year, like] you were on a cruise earlier this year—
I was like, wow, I hope she doesn’t catch anything on [the] cruise, you know—
I know, right. But they were very—I would say they were meticulous—I think everyone who came on knew—or, you had to be checked for Covid—
—before you [came] on[board]. And I think they really, really, really went that extra step to make sure of the safety. I still felt a little [awkward], you know—
We’re in a weird time I think in the world where, you know, we all—I’m going downtown—even my wife pointed out—I’m going downtown [in Los Angeles] today to see Larry [McDonald and the Skatalites]. And I don’t think there’s gonna be too many people masked up, you know, at all, etcetera. But, you know, we all have to make various decisions as we—judge things as we go. But, do you have any other—is there anything that you want to let the people know about [concerning your future] concerts, tours—
People are contacting me for shows, that I know. Nothing has really been concretized [yet]. There will definitely be more music.
There has to be!
Yeah, there has to be. There’s so much music in me, so much music [still] to be done. And, yeah, you can contact me on Instagram, Twitter, [and] Facebook. I try to be as transparent as possible with my friends, and with the people that love me. I try to write back—
It’s so appreciated, and actually, it’s refreshing, Nadine, to see somebody who is so real. And, keeps it real. It’s such a blessing to know you. Please let’s stay in touch. And I’ll get in touch with you soon, you know, just about various details and things. But please take care of yourself, and thank you so much—
I definitely will. And thank you! Thank you. I mean, we organized this call for so long, and I’m glad we were able to do it. And thank you for your interest, and just, thank you for your passion.
Thank you, Nadine. Bless up! And you have a great day, and we’ll talk soon.
Yeah, man. Big up! Big up! Big up! Thank you.