Faybiene Miranda Interview – Part 1
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.
A STAND TO BE TAKEN
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Right. But back to where life began for you. You were born in Panama, Panama City?
Well I was born in Panama City and I actually came to the United States very early.
You left at four years of age with the family to America.
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.
How come your family left for the States?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Where did you settle down in the US first, that was California?
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.
How did you find life there?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Right, ‘the cocky one’.
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…
(Chuckles) All that stuff, yes.
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?
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.
What about the California-based Black Panthers, you ever felt like joining them and what they struggled for at the time?
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. 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.
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…
‘What’s Going On’.
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.
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.
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.
All packed into one.
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.
So what did you do when arriving in Jamaica? Were you on a Caribbean travel on your way to Panama for a visit and ended up in Jamaica, like? Or what was the circumstances?
No. When I was living in Boston at the time, I had been working for a few years in different corporations, and I found that ultimately the same stigma about being a woman in a corporation at a administrative level – whether you are a receptionist or a secretary, administrative assistant or whatever, that it always came down to, well, serving the coffee or having to hear remarks about being a woman. And by this time I had definitely developed an ability to appear very arrogant and indignant and refusing to comply with certain demands made from me.
The suggestive stuff, sexual harassment.
Yeah, and I just… actually was asked to probably leave the last job I had in that capacity, but was given glowing references to anywhere else I decided I wanted to work. Because they would rather have me not there influencing the other women than to keep me there. So I decided that I really wasn’t sure what I was gonna do at that time, but I knew that I wanted to move out of the United States and I really didn’t know how I was going to do that, in a way that I was going to be paid. Because, of course, I definitely wasn’t in a position where I could be financing travelling anywhere, let alone the Caribbean. It was just because it was my fancy. So I met someone who was actually at the time working at the Boston Playboy club. She told me “Well, if you’re looking for a gig… why don’t you work at the club, because you really get paid very well, there’s no sexual harassment whatsoever”, even as ironic as that might seem – but that’s totally taboo. And most of the girls that work there are either in school or they’re married, but it’s really like a very high level of exclusivity to work there. So I said well, I never really thought about working in a place like that, and had my own idea of what it would be like. Long story to a short story: I ended up working there because I heard that eventually if I worked there for a period of time I can be transferred to Jamaica.
Long story to short, that’s what happened. And it was almost like being two people there, because there were very strict rules about working there as an American in Jamaica, or in a club whereby they really wanted you to sort of continue your work hours – after-hours – with this sort of superficiality of being, y’know, part of some elite, sophisticated, social-status persona. And my integration into Jamaican society or community was that of becoming very involved with the indigenous community around the club, really getting to know the people, having relationships with the people that live in the village surrounding the club, I started to locks then – just a lot of things happening politically, moving with people that were considered undesireable to the upper echeleons of Jamaican society such as RasTafari bredren and sistren. So that was my intro into Jamaica versus the creation of this superficial Jamaica within the environment of the club itself.
Apart from what you have spoken about, was there anything else reggaewise in the States at that time that had caught your attention, apart from Marley, the movie?
I mentioned ‘The Israelites’, Desmond Dekker. Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley…
How were these names covered at this period in American media, how could you get access to the music if you wanted to know more? There was the odd club somewhere, the odd radio show, even at that stage?
Well, I think the first piece of music was Desmond Dekker and ‘The Israelites’, and of course I was really young, but it was just… You know, Peter, as I said to you before, I live on a multi-dimensional level of acceptance of who and what I am as a human being, something resonates in you – it’s yours, y’know. You don’t graft it into you, it’s you and you begin to express internally out. So when I’m hearing this music and I’m hearing the language, there was just this afffinity that made me feel as though this was mine, but where has it been and where can I get more of it. And then as I mentioned to you the movie ‘The Harder They Come’, the music…
I don’t know exactly for how long but that movie was shown for years and years in Boston, incredibly popular for some reason in that particular city. It might’ve been screened there first of all in the US.
Right, that’s where I saw it. Then on that particular album there was an array I believe of different artists – apart from what Jimmy Cliff sang. And then of course when I first heard ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ by Eric Clapton, I was like ‘I know that Eric Clapton couldn’t write this song’, but there’s something about it, y’know. And then I think of course ‘Catch A Fire’, the originators of ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, when I heard that whole album it was like ‘Oh, my God!’ You know, ‘this is so revolutionary, this is the instrument, this is the tool or conduit for African liberation’ – the music, the lyrics. And then of course there was the Ethiopians I believe, there was this… who wrote ‘Satta Massa Gana’?
Abyssinians. That kind of music, just everything that was coming out of Jamaica at that time. And when I moved to Jamaica, it was like talk about landing in the middle of a banquet. I was just writing all the time. You couldn’t see me without a book. Everybody who knew me at that point in time, y’know, liked me or didn’t like me, it was like ‘what are you writing about?’ You know, ‘what are you always writing about?’ It got to be a point that sometimes people would suspected me as being…
A spy (laughs)?!
A sort of a spy, which was so comical, y’know. And then as I said because I was there, authentically, in those early years I began relationships with many of the artists and writers, and of course at that time it was just (chuckles)… just the crew, in the community, in the neighborhood. I didn’t even realise at that time – I don’t think that Bob had had that much exposure outside of Jamaica, maybe some in England.
And this is the period around ‘Natty Dread’, 1974.
Yeah, ’74/75. So that brings me up to meeting people like Mutabaruka and Bob, Jacob Miller, Horsemouth. I remember when they were doing the film… oh gosh, what was the…?
You mean ‘Rockers’?
That was in ’77 they started filming that I think.
Patrick who was doing that film had originally wanted me to be in that film, but…
Who you said?
Patrick, he was the producer of the film. And Horsemouth was in the film, I think Jacob Miller was in the film, and they wanted me to be in the film but the part they wanted me to play was just some girl I think doing some female kind of task, maybe doing laundry or something.
And after they said: “Oh, you should’ve just been in it”, but I was just: “No, if I can’t do my songs I don’t just wanna be some girl”. I’m me, so I wanna be me in it. So I didn’t do that. But these are the people that I began consolidating relationships with, y’know, Ras Michael…
Kidd-… oh, I just asked somebody yesterday if they knew where Kiddus was, because Kiddus was a very good friend of mine – is a good friend of mine, and maybe up to six months ago just called me. Yeah, Kiddus, Tommy Cowan, that whole vanguard of…
Talent Corporation, yeah.
Mmm, and when I met Muta, I don’t know, I guess I’ll have to say in lack of better terminology, it was sort of spirit-love at first sight, because our head-space was so similar and so in synch. And he invited me to co-author a book with him.
Is this the book ‘Outcry’?
No, ‘Outcry’ came out after that. This was called ‘Sun & Moon’, and it was just a small compilation of maybe ten to twelve pieces each that we did together. And I mean to this day we’re still in touch. Then one day I hail down a mini-van on the way to Kingston. They open the door I get in with a friend of mine and come to find out, this is Jack Ruby’s personal van on the way to Kingston for a recording session. Jack began having a conversation with me having seen me in the village of Ochi asking ‘what do I do’ and ‘how come I’m always carrying this book? He just decided to stop and pick me up and let me drive into Kingston to the studio that he was going to that day, and that was the beginning of our relationship.
What was his stature like in that village at this time? As a newcomer in Ochi, how aware were you of his status there? I can imagine a lot was centered around his activities in that village.
Jack Ruby, I was very aware of Jack Ruby in Ocho Rios.
He had a sound system.
He had a sound system, he had a soccer team. He was the personification for me of what a socialist is. He took care of so many people, Peter. I mean, his yard and his home…
The ‘private social worker’, like.
He was like the ‘Godfather of social work’. When he cooked, he had cooks. And I’m sure that on a daily basis no less than probably thirty to forty people ate. And anybody – and a lot of people might have whatever to say about Jack, but I consider Jack like my Godfather there who brought me into the musical culture without ever having to say directly to me what it was to be like being a conscientious upholder of social responsibility, Jack did it. And I have to give him like a big up, because here he was, y’know, a producer producing Burning Spear and producing…
Yeah, Justin… he had Justin. Oh gosh, Tyrone…
Yeah, and the Black Disciples…
And Righteous Foundation, which was really the Gaylads – or should I add their second line-up, sort of anyway.
Exactly! And he had the… you know, he just had all this music constantly bubbling, and everything that everybody did around him was conscious. You couldn’t come to Jack with anything soft. And so when he read – I gave him my notebook on our way to Kingston, he started reading some of my stuff and he was like – excuse me for saying this, but it was like: “Bumbaclaat, dis work is haaard ya know dawta!” (laughs).
There wasn’t exactly a flow of female artists at this time in the music – if there ever has been, Jack’s stable was no exception. He didn’t have many female singers at all, if any, apart from you.
No, nobody did. I mean, who really did? I think that, y’know, we found that he was very supportive and intrigued with, here he’s lookin’ at me as this… he used to call me ‘Red’ – ‘Red Dread’, right, and he just looked at me, ’cause he’s saying he used to see me walk past his house all the time and ‘who was this gal’, y’know. ‘Who was this crazy woman who had been dressed just crazy’, and very just individual – didn’t really follow any… anybody’s habit of dressing one way or the other. Skirts one day, shorts and cowboy boots the next, military garb another day – it was like ‘who was this?!’ And for Jack to be able to just say to me: ‘I’d like to work with you, I love your work’, he said: “I don’t see anybody who writes like this except like maybe Bob or Peter, and there’s no woman doing this, would you like to work with me?” And I said no, I’m not a singer, but I’d love to sing ’cause I’d always be singin’, y’know. Any time I would hear music I loved singin’.
What sort of stuff did you grow up with, musically, both in Panama and the States later on?
Well, not really Panama, it was the United States.
Can you recall still what was being played down in Panama?
In Panama? Well of course Panamanian music, exclusively. My mother sings and, y’know, the radio plays Spanish music and…
Mainly merengue in other words?
Yes. But that was what I was dancing to, Panamanian music. It’s just a liveliness about the music that even today… well, actually when I was in Cuba a couple of years ago it was almost a semi home-coming because of just the music, and the vibe was so similar to what I remember growing up as a little girl and dancing to. And then of course growing up in the United States for me I totally loved rock music.
What sort of acts?
Who did I love? I loved the Doors, Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw the Doors, I saw Jimi Hendrix. I listened to… I loved Joni Mitchell because of her lyrics, Laura Nyro, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan – lyrically again…
Definitely Richie Havens… gosh…
The Greenwich Village scene, that’s good.
I always liked the San Francisco music, I think I saw Cream.
The Grateful Dead (chuckles)?
I didn’t really care too much for the Grateful Dead, but I…
Janis Joplin I suppose?
Oh, definitely Janis Joplin. But when I heard Bob Marley and the Wailers, it superceded anything that I ever heard, rhythmically, musically the content, the spiritual fire, y’know, this was it. And I just remember at one point coming up to New York with a friend of mine from Jamaica who was a fashion designer I took up, to help her to get some kind of a stage show, and walking up trying to find any Bob Marley and the Wailers music and nobody had ever heard of him at that point, it must have been ’75. Just interesting how quickly after that the music would begin to really penetrate America. It was the kind of music that inspires me: hard lyrics, something that you could move to – not just with your feet but with your body, and like a call to arms, music that said ‘wake up’, y’know, ‘do something, say something, be something’. And most of the music was always about loving somebody, well, I think what I write about is about love, it’s about loving yourself and loving your own power… loving humanity, loving earth, loving freedom, loving truth and rights.
More about humanity on a whole.
Compassion, generosity, the spirit, co-existence.
A higher tolerance perhaps, seeing the individuality among people.
Exactly. And thinking beyond the surface of life and finding an association with your ancestors, with humanity’s ancestors looking at what a possible future can be if we re-evaluate our priorities. Holding people accountable in leadership positions, y’know, that is for me music and poetry, the responsibility that I had to play that part, because everybody has a role to play. That was what my listening was about, the bottom line, y’know, the fiscal line: ‘who’s gonna pay?’ (chuckles). And if one person have to pay everybody gotta pay.
So moving up to the recordings with Jack, what brought ‘Prophecy’ to his attention? It was that trip to Kingston that made it?
We had the trip to Kingston, he read my work, he wanted Spear to record ‘Prophecy’. That was the – I told him if I ever did anything, if anything was ever recorded, that because my purpose and motivation was to uplift people by what I wrote, I wanted to pay tribute to Marcus Garvey, and that was the song I wanted to have recorded.
How aware were you, while still living in the States, of the works of Marcus Garvey?
Oh, at that time? Nothing.
What a revelation that must’ve been, learning about him at that time – in Jamaica.
That’s why it was such a shock, ’cause I said: “Imagine, this kind of literature has been hidden from us”, never presented. I mean, of course I don’t know if you know, but growing up in America in the sixties there’s barely a sentence – maybe two or a paragraph at the most if it’s needed – attributed to slavery in the United States of America, let alone any leaders that one might’ve identified with.
America has sadly enough hardly dealt with its shameful past, they cover up a lot of this in the history presented, although I believe it has changed for the better in later years at least.
You know. So finding out about Marcus and of course meeting with people like Mutabaruka and Kiddus I for instance, these were brothers that were very literate, I started being exposed to these kind of publications.
Can you recall that first meeting with Muta? I mean, I can imagine you met several of the stalwarts of the music at Kiddus I’s restaurant, he had like an Ital kitchen, some sort of combined cultural center and cafe at the time.
Actually I think that the first time that I saw or met Kiddus is probably around Bob’s yard.
OK. Island House, 56 Hope Road.
Yeah. And then after that I think we just would see each other around… it’s interesting, y’know, I have always been saying that one of the reasons coming out of America to want to live in another country, especially a black culturally significantly enriched country like Jamaica, and then moving through the Rastafari path, for some reason I didn’t really find myself victimized as a woman. I really felt very supported and nourished by the brothers that I met.
That’s what I was going to ask you, how you experienced Jamaica having a somewhat conservative view on women’s role, at least compared to where you came from. It’s not only there, of course, but speaking Jamaica for now.
Well I think that probably for a Jamaican man, especially those trodding the path of Rastafari, y’know, as in anything each man and each woman has their own path, and they generate around themselves either a magnetic force that attracts people to them that they’re interested in, or they repell them because there’s no interest in or no open mind to find something new. And I’m pretty sure that I represented quite an enigma to many people. Because as much as I probably was considered an attractive woman, I was very rough and tough in that, I could hold my own, y’know. And as Carl (Gayle) could say I could play soccer barefoot.
So you know there’s a (chuckles)… And I was articulate, and I was writing these strong poems and lyrics. I mean, we’re talking Mutabaruka reading my work and wanting me to publish with him, you understand what I’m saying? And someone who could as easily be performing at a little pub in Ocho Rios, face make-up and glitter, and then afterwards get on the back of a motorcycle and go to a Binghi. So there’s a reason if anyone is interested in anything other than the routine ordinary that they would want to find out who and what I am, it’s this sort of human nature. You want to expand your horizon, it’s usually expanded by virtues of people you surround yourself with. So I think that for myself I rarely ever felt an expulsion from what was considered male society, if anything I was usually maybe the only sister amongst reasoning, y’know, sessions of reasoning or movements. I’ve been tested in Binghis where it was clear from remnant of lipstic on my mouth, or glitter off of my eyelids and lots of jewellry on that I was not the evident Rasta woman, I had to reason myself on different occasions and I was even welcomed or at least not invited to leave the premises. And then of course I’m also a very demonstrative, loving heart. So whether there was a lot of taboo’s about that ‘oh, you’re not supposed to touch a brother’ or this and that, I would greet you with a hug. You know, if you were unsettled about that then you need to let me know that, but that’s my prerogative to live how I wanna live. And I’m sure – I mean, it surprised some people where they would see these very big, serious-faced dread brethren, and when I would come – like even with Horsemouth, and just hold his head between my hands and kiss him a little on the forehead or on his nose and just say y’know, ‘how you doing?’
‘Cause I just loved the spirit of people, Peter. So I would have conversations actually around why sisters were treated a certain way, ’cause I didn’t feel I was being treated in those ways. And that’s not to say that I didn’t…
Of course you didn’t want to be treated as an exception from the rule.
Exactly! Not at all, which is why my writing reflected that. And I remember for a piece that I had written in the book ‘I Am That I Am’, there was a lot of (inaudible) around that because some people… you know, some brothers thought how this is a woman’s liberationist piece and I said well (sighs): “Until women are liberated men definitely are not”. And I remember Mikey Smith calling me one day and it wasn’t too long before he passed, and he just called me to say “thank you for this poem”. He said, “This is so long overdue, thank you, I love it”. So my thing was ‘why are sisters treated in this way?’ And to the sisters: ‘why come to Rastafari because the man is there, he can’t lead you, you have to lead yourself’. You know, ‘if you don’t believe in yourself why get involved?’ You know, ‘are you wearing your head covered and your dresses down to your ancle because this is what you want to do, are you just following or are you respecting the tradition because you are authentic?’ Because if not I’d rather be told that I can’t come in because I haven’t prescribed to the rules and regulations, because these are the rules and regulations and if I cannot abide by them then I’m not gonna force myself but I also wanna be respected for who I am, so you rather just owe yourself that, basically. And any brother or sister, anything that you take up on and you say you’re standing on the shoulders of someone else, you gotta be really sure that your feet are grounded, or else you’re gonna fall by your own wayside. It’s not about somebody else tripping you up or causing you to lose your way. It’s how I say: ‘who’s gonna be your saviour if you can’t save yourself?
As a poet, how did you find this to fit in the poems to a riddim, adapting it? Was the riddim to ‘Prophecy’ already something Jack had recorded?
No, actually I wrote the melody for ‘Prophecy’, and then Jack had us rehearsing I think at his spot with probably some of his studio musicians. And then we went to…
Jack Ruby with Black Disciples
The great Black Disciples band.
Yes. But then we went to Randy’s I believe one day and I just sang the song for them and started doing the arrangements on that tune with Touter, Chinna, Horsemouth… who else…?
Robbie. And then the horn section with…
Bobby Ellis, Dirty Harry, and one more I can’t remember. Yeah, and I think we just knocked that out in like two takes or something. And that was it. I remember it got banned…
Yeah, ‘Prophecy’ was apparently banned by both JBC and RJR at the time ‘according to Section 15 in the Emergency Act’.
I mean, how did you feel about that? The first song released and it got banned on the radio (laughs)?!
Although it wasn’t to your disadvantage this time.
Right. It was my first recording, so people weren’t aware of me, and that was how people were gonna become aware of me. What did happen was… Well, actually Errol Thompson used to be a DJ on Jamaican Broadcasting – JBC.
Right, he produced ‘Turntable Time’.
He said to me one day, it’s like: “So dem ban ‘Prophecy’? You couldn’t do supp’m lighter??” And I said: “That was the lightest load I had”.
He started laughing (chuckles). He said: “Man, you didn’t even get a chance!”, y’know. “You could’ve done supp’m easier”, like.
OK, the stations didn’t have any obligation to explain to you why they banned your song, the authorities just banned whatever for whatever reason or purpose. But did you hear any explanation somewhere afterwards why they banned this tune specifically?
Sure. Oh, I heard that it was considered like sort of an outcry or call for people to resist or to sort of rise up against the government, which I thought was strange because of PNP at the time.
And I was like… just really feeling them (laughs)! So I didn’t know why they would’ve considered this… I mean, it was clear it was about Marcus Garvey. But I guess it was also clear that it was speaking directly to the hearts of the people. Because at the same time I think three tunes at that time that had been banned from not only radio airplay but supposedly sound systems wasn’t supposed to be playing it either on the streets, it was ‘War’ (The Wailers) and ‘Discrimination’ by Ras Karbi.