Interview with Lady Ann
After the very bloody 1980 elections, an affair that brought Jamaica on the brink of civil war once again, leaving 800 dead and countless others injured; the island was desperately in need of peace. Peace, quiet and entertainment. As with everything Jamaican, its music reflected the new state of affairs. The sounds churned out by the various studios and labels was slower paced and less focused on politics, hardship and rastafari. Although the occasional conscious lyric could still be heard on wax, rub a dub; or dancehall as it’s now commonly known, was mainly about love, sex and ganja.
Rooted in the late seventies, the style erupted in the eighties. It caused the reggae scene to change big time and new artists, new players and new producers quickly surfaced. One of them was Barbara Smith who, under the monicker Lady Ann, took the dancehall scene by storm with her superhit “Informer.” Riding a well heavy relick of Don Drummond Junior’s ‘Heavenless’ she chats about how a certain boy ‘pon the corner stands in between her and her lover. The fat mouth is not babylon, not a policeman, not a soldierman and not a dreadlocks. He’s an informer. Murderer!
ALIVE, KICKIN’ AND STILL RECORDING
I catch up with Lady Ann on the telephone. This friendly and very passionate lady, residing in New York but calling Jamaica her home, is still very much living for her art. Born in Jubilee and raised in Western Kingston, Lady Ann’s first music experiences included listening to local soundsystems. While sounds such as Black Harmony must have had an impact on one of the first female dj’s, she also states that Dennis Brown was a major influence.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. The area I come from [Kingston 13] had a lot of entertainer. Sugar Minott, Tristan Palmer, Little John, Barry Brown, Tony Tuff are most of the entertainer I grew up with.
When did you start out performing?
I started out in the late seventies with Toyan, Barrington Levy, Little John and Tristan Palmer. Those were my good friends. We start all in the same time, I grew up with them.
And you all sung on the same soundsystem?
Yes, we all sing on the same set, called Little Jaro, and record for the same producer.
Which producer was that? Joe Gibbs?
No, we start out with Pickout, Lloyd Dennis’ Pickout, then to Don Mais’ Jah Bible, to GG for whom I recorded the “Vanity” album and then we move on to Joe Gibbs, Junjo and Blackbeard. All of the big producers. Bunny Lee… But I can’t leave out Leon and Chester [Synmoie, who ran the Thrillseekers label] out a the thing, ’cause a them really make it happen. They take me to mister G, sign me for five years and release my single “Sattap.”
You seem to have had a peak in 1983, when a lot of Lady Ann records were released on different labels. One for Gibbs, one for Alvin Ranglin and one on Rocktone, I think?
Yes. No! I did an album for Joe Gibbs, I did an album for Eric Bubbles, I do an album for mr G, that’s mr Ranglin. Not Rocktone, I don’t know how them come by that album. That album belongs to mr G. That was my first album, Vanity, and the Informer album was my second. They both came out the same year. I find, when I go on tour, people go for the Informer and Vanity album. That’s what they’re craving for.
I’d like to go back in time a little bit. You started performing on the soundsystem circuit at a very early age.
Yes, I started on the soundsystem when I was 16, going on 17 we started out.
Was it harder for a woman to earn a spot? Did you have to work harder?
No! Because I had talent and I was good in it, so it wasn’t hard. The men would gladly leave me the mic, because I was good. They just pushed me to go ahead. I didn’t have no problems.
And then the studios beckoned. What was your first release?
My first release was “Plan your family”, with me and Ranking Toyan. But I just did the entry on that. That was around 1977 /1978. And then Don Mais released “Shine Eye Boy” for me on the Roots Tradition label in 1978.
And then you recorded “Informer” for Joe Gibbs…
I did not record for Joe Gibbs! I record for Joe Gibbs’ son. Rocky Gibbs is my producer. Errol Thompson and Ruddy Thomas both took my voice.
Did you record this one song at first? Or did you record a few?
I recorded the “Informer” song first. And then Rocky come to me and send me for a whole album. We finished it in a week.
A week! That’s quick. Do you remember who sang the background/murderer chorus on informer?
That’s Eek a Mouse, Tony Tuff and Errol Scorcher.
A couple of years ago, Alborosie revived the Informer tune on his Forward label. It sounds like he took the original to work with. Did you have anything to do with it?
No, I think Rocky gave them the original and they just do their thing. It didn’t do anything for me.
VP Records is about to release and album named “Ladies at Gibbs”. “Informer” is not included. That seems weird.
The reason is because I’m not a Joe Gibbs artist. Those artists that are on it are Joe Gibbs artists. I am a Rocky artist, and Rocky refused to give them the tune. I don’t know why. I think, maybe he didn’t like the deal they were offering. Rocky tell me, time and time again, people continue to want my album. Informer was number one in the charts in Jamaica, it’s a classic and I don’t think he should give it away for a likkle money.
I agree. But from a historic point of view it should have been on there.
Well, the song they requested for the album wasn’t Informer! It was a song named “Heroes connection.” That’s what they requested and I was glad it wasn’t “Informer.”
After 1983 there seems to be a dip in your career that lasted untill 1990, when ‘Lady Ann couldn’t dunn” hit the charts. What happened?
Things changed. But I was still recording! I was working with Blackbeard and things. It’s just, I don’t know what happened. But I can’t quit. I have to record.
You’re very versatile an artist. You’ve been adapting new styles since the late seventies and you’re still going strong, making nowadays music.
I just want my fans to know, Lady Ann is alive, she’s kicking, she’s well, she’s still recording, she still doing her thing. I don’t live off “Informer”, I believe from the heart that when you have talent, you should record. I make records almost every day. Whether old school, new school, whatever. Any riddim. Anything them send, Lady Ann can manage!
Many thanks go out to Lady Ann for her time, patience (!) and music. Please pay her a visit and check her latest and greatest tunes.