Faybiene Miranda Interview – Part 2
In the second part of the interview Faybiene Miranda talks about the inspiration of Marcus Garvey, Canadian recordings, the “A Poet’s Heart” cd, the ‘Itations’ book, her husband Moonie, Jack Ruby and much more.
A STAND TO BE TAKEN
Right, I did an interview earlier this year with Ras Karbi where we touched that era. That was a mighty threesome so to speak (chuckles). What specifically inspired this poem, ‘Prophecy’, from what you learned about Garvey, how did it come about?
Why did I write ‘Prophecy’? Well, the inspiration was that Marcus Garvey, though he had lived and had passed, that I felt that his work needed to be resurrected. Because he was somewhat of a prophet, and he was letting people know what to expect of things to come. So I wanted to be able to say that spiritually if I was going to really go forward as this writer, that I saw myself as a chronicler of events that were unfolding, then I had to pay tribute to that person who had awakened me from my own slumber. So it was going to be to Garvey. And I had wanted to write like three pieces around that inspiration and I actually did. First was ‘Prophecy’ and then there was a piece called ‘Destiny’, which I recorded for Jack also, and then there was a piece called ‘Black Tracks’. ‘Destiny’ became a song. ‘Black Tracks’ actually… do you know Wayne Jobson?
Yeah, he was member of this white Jamaican group Native, I think.
Yes. Well, Wayne and I was supposedly collaborating musically at one point, and Wayne took the song and recorded it for Native. And I really didn’t like how… I did not feel respected by Wayne as a collaborator, artistic collaborator. The poem wasn’t complete when he took it, so he actually recorded it without the pre-amble to the song. It was a piece that was dedicated to the people of South Africa and their struggle for autonomy against the Apartheid regime. And he took the song and recorded it, and I had published it in the ‘Itations of Jamaica and I, Rastafari’ – you’re familiar with those books, right?
Yes I have the first volume.
OK. So those were pieces that were inspired by Garvey’s desire to unite people of the African descent throughout the diaspora. So I decided that if I was going to be doing anything, then I really wanted to acknowledge what my purpose and motivation was to be writing. So one could expect what was to come after that based on what I was doing in the beginning.
So ‘Black Tracks’ was never recorded for Jack?
How many songs were actually laid for Jack at the time, because I was about to ask you about any unreleased songs in the can there, if there is an unfinished album somewhere, or any talk of doing such?
No, we just did the two. We did ‘Prophecy’ and we did ‘Destiny’, and we had talked about doing something beyond that but my movements took me away from Jamaica after that.
You recorded something for someone in Canada in the late seventies.
Right. I went to Canada, and I recorded ‘Destiny’ in French. And I think I did a couple of other independent recordings. I did…
You cut something called ‘Every One Wants Love’?
Yeah… how did you know about that?!
No, I’ve seen it on the web somewhere, that one was released in ’77.
Right. And also a song called ‘Fire’ and a song called ‘Leaving For Jamaica’.
All the same year?
Who produced those in Canada, who did you work with on those?
Well in Canada – I actually had gone there with a musician by the name of Joe Cooper who’s a keyboard player, and I think he was a studio musician for ‘Scratch’ Perry. He played on ‘Police & Thieves’ and several others, studio musicians, studio artists. But we began collaborating also and we actually created a band called Tropical Energy and played in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Made a pretty good impression there. I mean, we ended up doing a lot started in the Caribbean community but very soon after that started playing in the mainstream Canadian nightclubs, etc, doing recordings for CBC Radio and getting lots of coverage from the major newspapers. Because once again it was this whole thing about a woman doing reggae music that was doing this hard, conscious, revolutionary kind of lyrics, and sort of presenting another kind of reggae woman, y’know. Not necessarily the red, gold and green fatigues – just whatever spirit dressed in like satin to long dress or army gear vibe or just street roots if I chose, whatever, it was like you didn’t really know how to pinpoint me, it has always been that kind of…
Not easily marketable (laughs)!
Yeah, I understand. How did you find the reggae scene in Canada at this time? I mean, it was still at a baby-stage at that time despite a large Jamaican community in Toronto for instance.
Right. It was a little difficult at first, but as I said we kind of branched out into the mainstream Canadian community where, I mean, it was pretty good actually. We worked. We had at that time in Canada I think people like Ernie Smith, Ishan People, Carlene Davis, y’know… who else was there…?
Leroy Sibbles, right.
Willie Williams, Jackie Mittoo, Stranger Cole.
Stranger Cole, right. So, it was pretty good for us. And then I came back to Jamaica.
’79 I think.
Right, so what did you do there, you kept working at the club again in Ochi?
Oh no, no. That I left behind (chuckles). We have to rewind, I was long gone from there. I think before ‘Prophecy’ was out and before ‘Sun & Moon’ came out, I was gone and I was on my own. Because I was then also working in Ocho Rios managing the Keith Foote Group, a performing troupe that performed in Ocho Rios and also in the North Coast hotels environment. I performed and managed the business for him for a while, until I actually left for Canada.
By the way, regarding the sales of ‘Prophecy’, did you get compensated for this song after it hit and do you have any idea how much it could’ve sold at the time?
Not a thing. No, not directly from Jack. I remember that he actually took ‘Prophecy’ to Chris Blackwell, I think we had a meeting with him. But Jack told me that Chris didn’t like ‘Prophecy’ and he didn’t like me, but that’s what Jack told me (laughs)!
Didn’t like you because of…?
I don’t know. I don’t know, he didn’t elaborate on it. But he said that was cool, y’know, that wasn’t everything. So actually the next time I really knew what was happening for ‘Prophecy’, somebody sent me a Black Music magazine, and ‘Prophecy’ was like number two in the charts, with the Jimmy Lindsay extended play.
Yes, the ‘Easy’ 12″. His cover of the Commodores.
And I still hadn’t gotten any money and wasn’t sure how it had reached England. But once it was banned I think Jack decided to see what he could do in terms of distribution outside Jamaica. He really believed in the song. Amazing. I mean, I can’t tell you how often I have people call me… even someone else on the net has been trying to get in touch with me to do covers. And people would stop me on the street and… I mean, it’s just amazing that people remember ‘Prophecy’. The next thing that happened with ‘Prophecy’ is I went on tour, to do a poetry tour with Benjamin Zephaniah in England, and it was amazing to go somewhere and feel as though you were well-known and appreciated for something you had created but never knew it had gotten so much play.
Because’Prophecy’ had been such a big hit in England and I never knew. And some people didn’t even know who I was, or where I was.
It’s like almost everyone knows the song but hardly the mystical individual behind it, so to speak.
Right, they didn’t know the person, what I looked like – nothing. I guess I was amazed that Benjamin Zephaniah actually decided to have me on tour with him, I wondered what credentials that I possibly had not knowing that Benjamin knew what a huge hit it was! And then I was gonna be coming up there to do this poetry tour with him. So that was very interesting. I found out that ‘Prophecy’, like people were paying like £50 pounds for a copy of it, as a collectors item.
And ‘Destiny’ too.
And I didn’t even have a copy of ‘Prophecy’. I found out that Island Records put it on ’25 Years of the Best of Reggae Music’, and because Benjamin knew about that had facilitated my having a meeting with them, I think they may have given me a £150 pounds upfront for that.
But I never got anything more than that.
What a shame, but that’s how they stay. That tune was issued on the Tribesman label by Lloyd Coxsone as well. How long ago?
Not sure but I suppose he had a deal with Jack Ruby for a release in the late seventies, he reissued it on a 12″ circa 1996.
I would love to get a copy of it.
Apparently he is still releasing the song. There is a compilation titled ’12 The Hard Way’ where ‘Prophecy’ is included, did you know about this?
No. Wow, how can I get a copy of that?
He put it out in the late eighties but has never stopped pressing it so you should find it on the internet.
It’s called ’12 The Hard Way’, Tribesman label?
Right. It features people like Fred Locks, Burning Spear, Ras Midas, Well Pleased & Satisfied and Delroy Wilson among others.
And ‘Prophecy’ is on that?
Yes, ‘Prophecy’ is on there too.
OK. I know that when I was in England I did a couple of tracks with Mad Professor.
Right, you mean the first ‘Roots Daughters’ album?
On the ‘Roots Daughters’ compilation there’s a song called ‘Fire’. And in the can – which I would love to get – is a song called ‘We’ve Thrown True Love Away’.
For Ariwa. So when was that recorded?
I think that was in about… the eighties.
Maybe ’85-86, ’cause I took my daughter with me and I think she was at least three years old then. It was on my tour with Benjamin Zephaniah.
Regarding ‘Destiny’, what was the inspiration for that song?
‘Destiny’ was a question to my people, our people…
‘Where are we going’, like.
Yeah. ‘What is our destiny, where is our place in the society, when did we lose our identity, why did we lose it, why did we choose this?’ And it was questions that being asked for us to consider – historically, presently, and we should question our role for the future.
‘Destiny’ didn’t have the same impact. But they didn’t ban that one too, did they?
They didn’t ban that one, and I don’t think that Jack that had an opportunity to really follow it up, to promote it.
A little strange that he didn’t considering the hit you got with ‘Prophecy’, I mean he had something going with you there.
I’m not sure. I don’t think I really had a handle on – I don’t think at that point that I was thinking that I should be managing and evolving a career.
How did you look on your writing at this point, even if you hit with ‘Prophecy’, were you comfortable with the situation as being a recording artist?
I think that even to now if someone probably said to me…
Because you had stated before that you saw yourself as a ‘writer’ more than a singer.
Right. But ironically even not seeing myself as a singer I just saw myself as a vocalist being the best person to say what I was writing, and I continued performing and loved performing. As a matter of fact I hope I will be able to do that, but there’s this fine line of distinction of performing for the sake of performing and what seems to be mandatory to doing that, which from longevity is having a recording and making an impact in the distribution of your recording. And I never had anyone that was really had invested in putting together an album – or CD – with me, so I just continued. I had my band in Canada, Tropical Energy Experience. When I came here to the United States in like ’84-85 I started just doing my poetry, because I hadn’t lined up with anyone musically. And then I did the tour with Benjamin. When I returned I actually then began a relationship with Brother Clifford Moonie Pusey who presently is lead guitarist with Steel Pulse. And we started collaborating and we put together a band called Highly I. So we just produced our own CD, and I actually still feel that there’s a wonderful reggae-fusion… reggae-poetry-fusion, a poetry-reggae CD in me that I would also really love to do, I think that there’s space for it, and I think that there’s still time for a woman to represent in that genre, genre of music.
But you did an album on your own too, didn’t you? I believe it was a nineties poetry album.
Um… Oh, ‘A Poet’s Heart’. And that’s a compilation of my poetry with music, and I don’t think we put any of my songs on the album. But I still have a lot of stuff in the can. And then I have another CD that we did called ‘Tonic’. I’ve been doing a radio program here in New York for over two years with Dr. Kamau Kokayi who’s a holistic practioneer, I co-produce the program with him. It’s called ‘Global Medicine Review’ and I write a piece of poetry that depicts the topic of the modality of the week, I write it the morning of the show. And I put together a compilation of some of the poetry from the first six months of the program with music, different types of music, whether it’s Native American drumming or some very beautiful orchestrated… really like New Age music, African drum music. And I really seem to have created quite a stir with the public around the poetry that’s been done on the radio show. But I was telling Moonie the other day, he’s my husband and he’s been presently on tour with Pulse right now, I said: “I can’t get this out of my blood, I really wanna still do this CD with some of these songs that I have, so I hope that when you have some time you can produce that for me”.
What sort of ‘musical backdrop’ would you use for those poems, not only reggae I assume? I get the feeling you have branched out in later years, to explore your creativity elsewhere, and wanna try your poetry in different musical areas, like.
No. Because with my band Highly I, I’ve used a lot of really hard rock rhythms with the songs and the poetry. Really just very burning rock music, rock reggae music. Yeah, ’cause I love the fire of rock, y’know, for some of the lyrics really demand that it has that kind of fever in it musically. But still with the reggae, and my brand of reggae music.
In the seventies, in Jamaica, did you do any other recordings elsewhere that never came out?
No. No, I wouldn’t have wanted to work with anybody but Jack in Jamaica (chuckles).
But I’m pretty sure the offers came to you from left, right and center after ‘Prophecy’ hit? Apart from that Native collaboration, what about ‘the general’ music community?
Um, I think that…
No. No, but I mean… no, Tommy didn’t want to produce me. He was supportive of the work I was doing. Actually at one point Junior Murvin (actually Marvin, the guitarist) had asked me – was interested in my work, and I think they were looking for material for the Wailers. But I think that’s really it. And then I pretty much disappeared from there. When I came back to Jamaica I was working with as I said Joe Cooper, and that relationship musically and personally dissolved actually. So we didn’t do any more work together after the late seventies, early eighties.
What about the early eighties, when you still lived in Jamaica, did you record anything during that era, the early dancehall period?
In the early eighties? No, not really. I think I was pretty reclusive then. Actually I had my daughter in 1983, and from the times that I had her in ’83 I actually moved back to the United States, in late ’84. What I actually did was more to get involved with projects around vegetarian food and helping to raise money for some of the youth centers. I was really very low-key as an artist. The pieces in the ‘Itations’ book, the pieces were gathered by Mihlard and published in his book, so that was about it.
You think you lost the lust for it altogether when the eighties started and what it became later, musically, lyrically – you simply lost the desire for it and the vibe wasn’t there? The public’s taste had changed a lot too.
When I came back… just a lot of things politically changed. You know, Seaga was in power.
That pretty much explains everything (laughs)?
Yeah. The whole mood changed. Dermott Hussey gave my music, that I had brought home from Canada, like really glowing reviews. But there was no place to really be expressive and I didn’t have a band together, and I wasn’t doing any recording. I just did a lot of introspection, and that was just a period of writing for myself and really literally just surviving actually. I was kind of in a space I hadn’t been in before, which kind of set the present for me to really be focused on having my daughter.
Where did you settle between ’79 and ’83 in Jamaica?
In Kingston, Meadowbrook.
Where is that again?
OK. Red Hills Road, the old club strip.
Yeah, Red Hills Road.
Your music and repertoire pretty much reflected that period, a fruit of that era in Jamaica. And no matter how timeless it appears to be nowadays, with few exceptions there was no real time and space for that form of reggae in the eighties it seemed?
Not in Jamaica. Everybody was changing their clothing along with their attitude. America was now sort of the big bone everybody wanted to chew on, in quotation of all these American goods along with American culture. And I think Jamaican culture was really kind of being put on the back-burner, in what I say was an American-Jamaican culture.
The late seventies was the end of that whole era, where optimism and a strong will to change society around, it gave way to violence and greed. But of course, Jamaica was no different from the rest of the world in that regard.
Yeah. It was the ultimate of what I thought was nationalism and autonomy and a spiritual, cultural movement.
A time where the ego ruled over the collective spirit, I guess that’s where the eighties headed at.
Yes, that as a whole. And I don’t think that things have ever returned to the former. I was back once, actually twice. But the last time I was there I think was about 1995 or ’94, and I was back to Ocho Rios and I almost didn’t recognise it. I mean, I had lived there and Ochi was a village, literally. There was not one hotel on the sea’s front except for Turtle Towers. Anyone and everyone could go there to the beach at any time and had a major exclusivity. And people were (inaudible) like there was no tomorrow, it was horrible. I couldn’t wait to get out of Ocho Rios.
A very touristic place these days, exploited, but still… you have to survive.
Oh yes. Surviving on this, surviving on that.
What’s ahead for you now, the album project with your husband you said?
That’s what I would like to do. I wouldn’t mind – actually I’ve been trying to talk with David about maybe producing something with me.
Yes. My husband has known David for many, many years. And when we met each other it was another one of those indications that I didn’t have a clue that ‘Prophecy’ had made such an impact. And when we met, and we were introducing ourselves to each other, and he said: “I’m David Hinds”, and I said: “Yes, I know”. And I said: “I’m Faybiene Miranda”, and he said: “Yes, I know”. And I was like: “How do you know me?”, and he was like: “‘Prophecy'”. And I was like: “How do you know about ‘Prophecy’?”, y’know (chuckles). And he let me know what a huge hit that was and how it had really influenced him, and how much they all loved the tune from Birmingham days. And we had just become friends from that time, that we actually had met each other back in maybe about ’84-85. I’m actually his daughters Godmother at this point, and I introduced my husband to the group, ’cause my husband is African-American. He has Jamaican heritage but – he’s an absolutely phenomenal guitarist, and he’s really steeped in a lot of rock music. But he used to say:”If I would play with any reggae group, which group do you think I should play with?”, ’cause he really wanted to do more reggae music, and I thought ‘definitely Steel Pulse’. And he’s been with them now for about 14 years. One of their CD’s, on ‘Vex’, I actually wrote the poem on the inside of the booklet. David actually encouraged me to do a re-cover of ‘Prophecy’. So, I mean, I would like to work with David, ’cause to me he still represents one of those… one of the vanguards of the conscious music’s authors of that era. He’s still going real strong.
Did you follow what Jack was doing in Jamaica after you left? He was back on the scene there for a while with a link once again to Island Records and produced groups like Foundation, Link’n’Chain, Earth Messengers and singers like Donovan. Did you check for that at all in the late eighties?
I didn’t know that.
He brought those forward through Island between ’87 and ’89, some if not all were local Ochi acts. I believe some of them was around even in the mid seventies. But that came to an abrupt end when he passed away in ’89.
I didn’t know, Peter. To tell you the truth, as I was saying, in those years I was a single mother keeping it all together.
Yeah, with all what it takes.
And just beginning to sort of re-emerge in terms of my own creativity, and I actually managed to re-direct a lot of my creativity with a very strong community here, an organisation that I’m really one of the foundation members of, called Ifetayo. So I write and produce original works of conscious poetry, affimations for children from the ages of like two to twenty-one. And I work with public schools also as an independent artist in residence, bringing poetry with music to the children in a literacy programme. So in those years when a lot of that was happening, it was happening without me. I was really focusing on raising this young sister, my daughter, and also helping to raise what I call my ‘agent warrior generation’.
I recall seeing a picture of you and Augustus Pablo together at a launching party for somebody’s album – I believe it was at SOB’s, in a US publication some fifteen years ago and wondering “what is she up to?”
Right (chuckles). Yes, I’m here in New York City doing the work, done shows with Muta here in New York at SOB’s. Done shows with and actually opened up for Steel Pulse with my group. I was on an event where Richie Havens was actually one of the performers, I’ve done shows with the Last Poets and with a group called Family Stand, with an amazing sister by the name of Sandra St. Victor – you can check her out. Sandra has actually wanted to do some work and I’ve opened up for her whenever she’s had a performance somewhere.
Last time we spoke you broke down in tears, it got very emotional at the end of that conversation. It just came back all of it and I suppose it tends to be that sort of reaction when one summarise a career that streches back thirty years in time, what happened, what didn’t and could’ve and shouldn’t have happened – things we don’t always are able to control. All the ups and downs, all the creativity, etc. What popped up in your memory afterwards, what would you like to add what we didn’t reach there?
I think just talking about – we spoke at length, and as I said it was a moment – and I’m sure it happens, it probably happen when anyone stops to really gather the memories of their life and really begin to evaluate how you spent your life (laughs)! You know, really the content. And I just realised how much I love what I do and that perhaps I wasn’t doing as much actively in a particular manifestation of performance and that I finally transplanted a lot of that into the work that I’ve been doing over the last like fifteen to twenty years in terms of working in the community. So it really just got me thinking about how I wanted to – as I said to you – put more attention into recording, gathering my work now and documenting myself (chuckles). I think that’s what happened, that it was just a wake up call. And also just a feeling of gratitude that you brought to me in terms of an awareness and appreciation of that work.
Well for me and a lot of others out there it’s just a big shame that so many from ‘the golden era’ never truly got – unlike now – the wider exposure and recognition they deserved at the peak of their powers, even if this is just part of how the business is. So this contribution is just an attempt to create some more appreciation for these people, and they are many – dozens and dozens.
Right. Well, this year I was honored in the community for the last fifteen years at a very huge gala, and I think that was really… it was really great because it always brings to you the idea that when you truly do what you do because you love it, you don’t really look like to be acknowledged or, y’know, you don’t have to have a pat on your back. But when the acknowledgement comes, it’s so gratifying to know that you have made a difference, people are aware of that. And this week in the mail I received like a citation from one of the state senators acknowledging the work I’ve done in the community as well, and I just smiled because I thought ‘wow, I guess this is what it’s about’. And you continue in your life regardless what you do if you do it with sincerity and you really do it with an inspiration to… how to improve or how to change or how to alter something from one position to a higher state of being. You know, a more organic or holistic being in the lives of people, especially children because that’s where my focus has been in the last twenty years, working with children. It’s for me, as I said to my daughter, it kind of gives me permission to begin to think about doing things more for myself now also. And things change also when you do – especially for women – have a child, suddenly you realise that everything is about the survival, preservation and a qualitative support of this child. So it’s pretty difficult to do certain things as an artist – a creative artist – when you’re raising a child and you have to put yourself… you don’t just suddenly wake up in the morning and, y’know, you can’t say ‘where am I gonna go today?’ You feel like eating, that’s alright, I eat later. Now everything changes and shifts. So bringing that child to maturation has been and through doing that also working for other children, now I’m feeling that I’m really allowed to sort of return to that space where I can be like freer to create on that level that I began my journey on so many years ago.
What is now your lasting impressions of being part of that dynamic reggae industry all those years ago?
Well, I guess because I never saw myself in the industry maybe I’m into this, y’know. I’m thankful that I was part of it in real time and historically. Because the reason I was in it was an affirmation in itself that my life is a life that followed intuition and followed spirit, y’know, to move in a particular direction. Beacuse this was what I heard the calling to be. And in the beginning – if there was a beginning – I think that by the time you come from this plane, this planet, it’s as though it’s just like a ball of yarn that is unrolling and it just find its way.
You follow that route.
Yeah, you follow your route, you follow the umbillical chord from heaven, from whence we came, and that spirit-world, onto this more mundane, crystalised world that Rastafari, and if I can interpret that just really simply as God calling. And to do this and to move here and to see certain things, I feel as I was gifted that my mind wasn’t so colonised, that I couldn’t move like that freely to discover what my path was really to reveal to me. Because a true path is not one that you walk where others have walked there before, you follow your own footsteps. So I’m grateful that having always wanted to write since I was… before I could write, before I could speak I knew that there was something about a pencil and a piece of paper that was magical. You know, the heiroglyphs on a written page. So I’m just grateful that I was able to be part of something that was historically cultural, political, spiritual and diaspora-building for African people, so I saw myself there. And I think sometimes maybe that’s why I didn’t penetrate so hard to do what is a commercial route, but just kind of looked to see where things were going, create and let it go. Write and speak the word.
If you didn’t had that attitude about your place in the music, you think otherwise there would have been an album out there for Jack?
Yes. Because it wasn’t the pursuit of the product, it was the desire to evolve in myself as a woman spirit/artist. Don’t forget, I think I mentioned to you earlier in the interview how growing up in America and having people in the educational system sort of invalidates you as unworthy to accomplish anything, that one would then strike out to really just do it for your own sake and not to prove to anyone else that you could do it. So having had my very first affirmation to anyone outside of myself, Jack Ruby gave me that opportunity. I will always be grateful to him. Mutabaruka gave me that opportunity or provided that opportunity and I will always be grateful to him. Many other people in their own way, but primarily these were the people that were catalyst for my being able to project from now my own personal journey into the public domain where other people could begin to hear me or read. I have to say, even though I wasn’t in it, I was part of it. It’s like being in the world but not of it, y’know what I’m saying? Yeah, I think that was my role. And until such time, although it’s interesting – I mean, I did everything that most people are doing, but I did it more in a microcosmic way rather than the macrocosmic. I had bands, I recorded, I toured, I continued working, utilising my gift to hopefully heal this consciousness, challenge, question. But not in the context of how many albums have I sold or how many books have I published. It’s only now, and I think part of that too is from the very beginning I felt that I would have… I would be given permission or I would be recruited when it was time to really pursue that level of my life experience, and I think I’m just now beginning to arrive at that point. Things are just… how do they say ‘the race is not for the swift…’?
‘… but for those that will endure’.
Exactly. And I have endured and with no regrets. Because how can you regret that you were gifted with something that moves people, I mean every week someone calls me to thank me for the work, the words they hear every week on the radio or the words that I’ve written for the children in this community. That’s just love and gratitude from me to those who gave me the opportunity to be put in that position and to those who have ears to listen. If the other stuff comes along with it, it’s gravy. But the main thing, the sustenance is there and I’m never going hungry.
So there wasn’t the slightest little regret that you never took the opportunity to do an album with Jack, or pushed some more for it to happen at least considering that band, the studios, and Jack’s production ability that you could benefit from?
I don’t know if it’s that, if it’s regret. But if I look inside myself I hope that it wasn’t a missed opportunity.
You never felt that?
I know that I pursued doing an album, but it didn’t come to pass. So in not coming to pass, I accept that. It wasn’t something to be, y’know. They say that hindsight is to look at something and say ‘what should have been’ or ‘what could have been’. I know in the moments it was something I was working at or working towards, but that didn’t happen. But my life is not over and it will be done.
Looking back I guess Jack saw something in you that had not been presented in the music before you entered the arena, even though you had Joy White but she had a little different approach, you had an extra dimension to add what a female could express with a conscious lyric.
Right. Actually I would say not before or after.
And I’m going to take that stand, because I listen and I don’t hear that. And I think that’s what Jack heard and what he saw in me and my spirit. It was something that resonated with his revolutionary spirit, and when I say revolutionary I mean the fact that Jack was always willing to…
To try something different.
… to try something new. He was not stuck in ‘what was the hit before’, he looked at each artist at their own quality. And I think that he looked at me as he said – and I think I said to you when he was reading through my notebook on that minibus on that day, it was his words ‘bumbaclaat’, this is like – I never read any woman who wrote like this. He said the only people who wrote like this was like Bob and Peter. He said these words are wonderful and I would like to do something with them. And I said he was free to do that and originally as I told you he wanted Spear to sing the song, and when that didn’t happen it was like ‘well, you have to sing it’. “OK” (chuckles). So we began. And I think just due to his life and all of the things he was responsible for as a producer, as a politically conscious socialist in that era of Jamaican history, taking on so many people to take care of, his family, just everything – his sound system, his soccer team. Me moving around at that time also, a lot that didn’t happen at that time and I think a lot of it also had to do with the fact that I left Jamaica and moved to Toronto to work with a band and to record some music there as well.
We touched some of Tropical Energy’s work the last time we spoke, but didn’t mention ‘You’ve Got The Power’.
No, you know about that?
It’s something I’ve only seen on the internet again, never heard. This was on the Samantha’s label.
How much sold of those, how much did you press at the time? They seem so rare, hardly ever seen any of those titles floating around.
I don’t even know. My partner at the time handled that. Let’s see, ‘You’ve Got The Power’, I’m trying to think if something was on the other side of that, that was out…? Wow, that’s interesting, Peter. You definitely have your finger on the pulse of things.
At least trying to (laughs). Like you said before, a female with your repertoire has rarely been pushed to the forefront in the reggae industry. I suppose we can only wish that producers would look at it in a more flexible way, that there’s something beyond the stereotype of having women projecting a certain image, it’s not stopping at what’s selling it seems. It’s obviously a ‘men’s problem’ that.
But that’s across the industry whether it’s reggae music, rock’n’roll or pop music.
It’s a misogynistic society. I mean, men want to hear women singing but they also see them as sexually provocative in terms of promoting themselves. It’s not what a woman is saying that men want to hear, it’s what you’re projecting that will sell the product. And as you said and I agree, if anything that any woman does in this entertainment business, but the business itself run by men makes it very difficult for women to be listened to if they don’t promote themselves as the sexual commodity. And it’s a shame, because as a woman you can definitely be more than a sexually provocative being…
There’s a lot more than that.
But there’s just so much. I mean, the amazing amount of humanity that women in every day life share, and their stories aren’t told, y’know, about human relations whether it’s their relations between themselves or their children or their mates or their community or their country, their own minds. Those are the stories that really need to be told that will contribute to the real opportunities for women to be equalised in the society. And I’m sure there’s a lot of women doing that but we don’t know or hear of them in the commercial vein, and perhaps as we gain our power a little bit more, men also will shift their paradigm as to what it is that’s important about the relationship they have with their sisters, then we will move towards that more equitable industry. And unfortunately the fact that we have to even speak of it as an industry as opposed to a community or a service in interest of nation-building. We have to change that also, that the artist are put in another place of appreciation as opposed to just their utilitarian value. Because artists become part of the plan of a capitalistic society, though it doesn’t just have to do with their art, it has to do with sensationalism, titulation rather than content. So if I had any regrets at all I would say that it was unfortunate that more women weren’t given an opportunity within the industry to be projected outside or even be supported in Jamaica. But if you didn’t have that support in Jamaica you weren’t going to be catapulted outside of that Jamaican reality into a global stage.
And there you have someone like Jack making that difference, or trying to.
I’m not trying to paint him an angel, he’s far from an angel, but he was someone who for me personified a man really trying to live with the concept of his own life. Jack saw himself as a socialist and to him that meant… he was responsible, not only for himself and his family but for community and interpreted, that is what so many people and communities are striving for today, is to return to this what I think is just an indigenous concept of living and co-existing and knowing that you have a responsibility for the optimum level of survival of life wherever you are living. As I said, you couldn’t come to Jack’s house and be hungry. And you’re supporting a football team and it’s not like you’re just saying you’re the captain and you appear at the game. You actually house them, feed them, train them. He did that in sports, he did it in music. He was like many nations onto himself, providing health, education, and opportunity to the people that he came in touch with.
He has to be given credit for taking better care of his artists than the majority of producers at that time.
Right. And I do, and whenever I have an opportunity to say thank you to him and let people know a side of him that maybe isn’t known, I’m grateful for that because I saw with my own eyes how he lived. I mean, that’s his legacy.
Do you think he will be more regarded than he is presently in the future to come?
I would hope so. I would like to see that if my work getting more – being more recognised will in fact allow him to be even more recognised also. I mean, it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Right, you go ‘hand in hand’ there somehow.
Yeah. One who does well and whatever and ever carries those who contributed to that wellness with them, and that’s what community is about. And for me that’s what reggae music always represented, and I think that’s why I was so attracted to the music. Because my introduction as I told you earlier was music from ‘The Israelites’ – Desmond Dekker, Bob Marley, and there was just this vibe of what it was to be aware or conscious of something outside yourself and your personal relations. America was rife with music about boyfriend and girlfriend and love won, love lost, love compromised (chuckles). But then suddenly there is this burst of music that I heard that represented what it meant to be community, what it means to repatriate with something beyond yourself, what it meant to invoke God and spirit in music. That was it for me.
Are the values from that era coming back as you see it?
I strongly believe that it has to. Because there’s a shift of consciousness – collective consciousness – that is happening on the planet now, and it has to do with our connection with the earth. The earth is a living organism and she herself spawns these children called human beings, and I believe that in order for us to refrain from our own demise, those individuals that understand the responsibility to themselves – their families, their community, and to the planet, they’re revealing themselves and it’s a very exciting time. Very exciting, y’know. Youth are more enpowered, more articulate, global. Women and men see themselves in a different light, more connected rather than disconnected. At least that’s my optimism. I see it every day in one form or another, so I’m definitely encouraged we’re on the right path even though the media would want to project apocalyptic devastation and catastrophy every moment of the day, there’s more going on than the news. That’s why I devote so much of my time to working with my organization, Ifetayo. There is also an amazing Sister at the helm. Founder and CEO Kwayera Cunningham who has committed her life to the upliftment and development of strong core principles based in African tradition that support the children and families of our community. This involvement has allowed me to travel with an entourage of children and families from our community to Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Cuba, Brazil and Jamaica to establish global relationships with our brothers and sisters throughout the diapora. This is what music, poetry the spoken word enables us to do. As Brother Malcolm stated ‘By any means necessary we unfold our possibilities for connection and repatriation’. For claiming our higher selves. It begins with Self and ripples outward in Jamaica and is said, one coco fill a basket. So we all do our work to mek life meaningful.
By the way, have you heard Aisha’s version of ‘Prophecy’?
That a late eighties version of ‘Prophecy’ appeared and unsurprisingly in England perhaps emphasise the longevity and enduring quality of this track even more, the popularity of it in the UK stands intact; and I’m pretty sure we will get more versions of the classic in the years to come. The latest news surrounding Faybiene’s music is that, at last, the overlooked ‘Destiny’ is now finally out on the market again, reissued on a seven-inch, supposedly out of Jamaica and the source seems to be the Ruby family. Otherwise, ‘Prophecy’ is still to be found on the Tribesman ’12 The Hard Way’ compilation. But most of all, I would urge you to check the ‘A Poet’s Heart’ album for a taste of her poetry, as well as keeping your eyes out for what is to come from this extremely and verbally articulate, talented and expressive singer and poet.
Postscript Faybiene Miranda:
I want to publicly thank my REGGAE Sisters for paving the way and holding their own on many stormy seas for women in this industry. Specifically, Sista Judy Mowatt who blew me away with her “Slave Queen”. Back in around ’75 or ’76 I wrote a letter to the Daily News applauding her work. Sista Marcia and Sista Rita; Sista Carol “The Black Cinderella”, Joy White, Sista Tresha, Sista Carlene Davis, Sista Hortense Ellis, Sista Millie Small, Sister Daimah who was a good friend of mine, Sista Puma, Sista Bunny Brisette, Sista Jean Breeze; forgive me if I am remiss for any one forgotten. I love them all.