COLUMN – Honourable music mother
As part of Barbados TODAY’s team covering the FAS Entertainment’s Reggae Festival, I had the pleasure of focusing on major women entertainers Marcia Griffiths and Queen Ifrica. The two acts did not disappoint with their respective hour-long-plus hit-packed sets.
This week, we get a glimpse of Marcia Griffiths; and next week we meet Queen Ifrica. Phenomenal women are all around, and it is important to show our girls there are many options as they relate to what they can be, and to people they may emulate.
The Most Honourable Marcia Llyneth Griffiths, OD, was born in West Kingston, Jamaica, in November, 1949. As a girl, Marcia sang in the church choir and at school events; and even performed at the birthday party of friend when she was just 15.
Actually, her talent would be “discovered quite by accident”. Philip James of the Blues Busters was visiting his girlfriend’s, next to where Marcia was singing and he couldn’t help but take note of the young talent. This resulted in James inviting Marcia to participate in a talent competition where she became an instant hit with patrons.
She was offered a spot on a television right after her performance, and her professional career started from there.
She would soon join then popular ska band Bryon Lee And The Dragonaires. A record deal with Studio One would follow quickly.
Marcia’s success continued steadily and her first major hit was Feel Like Jumping in 1967. The song did well on both Jamaican and British charts. In the subsequent years, she released her first album –– Marcia Griffiths At Studio One (1969) –– and worked later as a duet with Andy Bob (considered one of reggae’s most significant songwriters). Marcia’s second album Sweet Bitter Love would come in 1974.
That 1974 was significant in Marcia Griffiths’ career. Peter Tosh and Bunny Livington had left Bob Marley’s Wailers. The replacements were three women: Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths. The three, under the moniker The I-Wailers, were an automatic hit from the first album Natty Dread and remained a critical part of Marley’s sound and stage performance until his death in 1981.
Marcia noted that “no words could explain working with Bob”. She remembered him as “wise and generous”.
Although working with Bob was a significant maker in her career, Marcia continued to market herself as an individual talent. While with The Wailers, she also recorded solo albums (Naturally in 1978 and Steppin in 1979).
In 1982, Griffiths recorded the cross-over uptempo Electric Boogie that became an immediate hit in Jamaica. Seven years later, the fascination with it of a Washington disc jockey resulted in Marcia becoming popular in the United States. The dance to the song –– The Electric Slide –– became a staple at weddings and parties all over the world. Marcia Griffiths maintained her relevance into the 1990s and 21st century with a number of songs, albums and collaborations or tours.
Standing alone, her achievements are remarkable as a lifetime of work. Read within the gender-discriminatory nationalist and immediate post-Independence periods of the Caribbean, her achievements are phenomenal not just individually but as a collective statement of the powerful and undaunted Caribbean women. She fought both poverty and gender discrimination to become a female sensation in a business that was male-dominated. She mothered her children singly, yet able to continue building her career meanwhile.
When Marcis stepped off the stage of Vintage Reggae last Friday, and I waited in line seeking an interview, I must admit to feeling privileged in a way I wished more schoolgirls and young Barbadian women could be to interact with one of the “real deal” female warriors of a significant part of our Caribbean story.
Marcia had changed into her white after-performance outfit, standing in the far corner of her room with a welcoming smile. I asked if I could have a photo with her for my readers, and her swift response was “sure” with outstretched hand.
My first request of Griffiths was to reflect on her long and successful career for readers. I told her she had paid tribute to icons in her set, but that she herself was one. She explained she was overwhelmed and grateful she had had the opportunity to contribute to reggae music; and that she always included tributes to the icons, like she had at the Vintage show to past musical Jamaican stalwarts like Desmond Dekker, Millie Small (first female reggae recording artist) and Bob Marley.
Marcia said it was her way of ensuring young people knew where the music came from and what had driven it.
One question for the “musical mother” in the reggae business was how she felt about the young females in the business now. She noted that where in her day females in music could be counted on one hand, it was now pretty much a “fifty-fifty” representation of the sexes, which she thought was to be celebrated. For her, it is wonderful to hear them cite her as an influence in their current musical journey.
As to what being a Caribbean woman and Caribbean womanhood meant to the Most Honourable Marcia Griffiths?
“Caribbean women are queens. With no apology. We must first respect and love ourselves so that we can be respected and loved.”
Marcia was awarded the fifth highest national honour for Jamaica in 2014, but as early as 2002 she had received the Prime Minister’s Award For Excellence in her field.
She is the only woman to ever perform at Vintage Reggae, this year being her third performance in Barbados.
Big up to FAS Entertainment for its embrace of this phenomenal Caribbean woman!
The major secondary sources for this article were two online biographies of Griffiths by Mark Deming and MarciaGriiths.net.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummyand part-time lecturer in communicationsat the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)