This week … The I-Threes.

This week, I want to talk about women in reggae and in particular the I Three’s who, in my opinion, haven’t gotten their far share of airplay and recognition – then or now. Isn’t it funny how everything reggae seems to stem solely from Bob’s influence on the genre? I mean don’t get me wrong – I love Bob! I just recognise that there are others who have had as much contribution to the growth of the genre … yeah?

The other day, the hubster was looking for videos online that showed the inspiration for many of the WoW class dance moves. When we got to the Tauren Female dance, the video showed Marcia Griffiths’s version[1]. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Mostly because no one really credits her with the song or the moves. (Imagine my surprise to learn that not even she was the originator but that it was in fact Bunny Wailer of the Wailers who first wrote and recorded the song and dance back in 1976 [2].)

My mother has a soft spot for Marcia, though. When I told her I was going to be writing about the I-Threes this week, her response was “Oh? And I rather like Marcia Griffiths too, you know. I don’t think those girls get enough recognition. Overshadowed by Bob most likely.” Of all 3, Marcia might have been the most visible to me growing up – probably precisely because of Mom’s partiality. I think “Electric Boogie” helped her shoot into the international view (AllMusic.com agrees with me that it shot her into the US all-time charts [3]) – it’s still quite a popular song and line dance even today. I think it is a testament to how popular “Electric Boogie” is that my husband, who had no exposure to Reggae or the Jamaican culture before meeting me, knew about the song and the line-dance well enough to teach me how to dance it. (Yeah – I am not a big dancer, so him teaching me to dance this song isn’t all that far-fetched when you realise that I never bothered to learn in the first place because dancing. ugh)

According to AllMusic.com [4], all three of the I-Threes were solo artists before they were pinged to form the I-Threes. The story goes that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer departed The Wailers for their own solo careers in the mid-1970s, and Rita pulled Marcia and Judy together to help flesh out the Bob Marley band sound for a recording and eventually a performance (opening for the Jackson 5 on tour in 1975).

Rita was successful in her own right before Bob. She was part of the lineup for the Soulettes before she married Bob (in fact, it was his mentoring The Soulettes that put them together in the first place) and for a time afterwards, she continued to record and perform with them [5]. She is also said to have been important in pulling together the I-Threes after Tosh and Wailer departed. You might not know it, but during and after Bob’s death, Rita has continued to see success in her own music career. In fact, it hadn’t even hit me that two of her songs are songs I rather like myself. “He who feels it knows it” in 1981 and “Harambe” in 1988 were solo albums that netted her Billboard level popularity.

Judy Mowatt always struck me as the weird one. I have no idea where that impression came from. There isn’t anything about her that can be termed “weird” in any incarnation of the word. She is a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. My mother and I recall that after Bob’s death, she started to sing gospel on the local circuit but I can’t find anything to back that up and AllMusic.com’s biography of her [6] stops in 1977 with her solo album “Black Woman” release[7] (You can sample the album from that link too). The discography shows other albums after 1977, but none of them sound familiar to me.

All of the women have one thing in common: they are grossly under-valued by the musical industry. For instance, the AllMusic.com page for Mowatt’s “Black Woman” album states that while Rita and Marcia retain some of their pre-Bob status (probably because of their association with Bob), Mowatt has pretty much disappeared off the scene. And all three are obscured as women in reggae by others. Dancehall has taken over the visibility of reggae for much of the local scene and overseas most people still cling to Bob and his progeny as reggae icons. It’s sad, for instance, that Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley – as talented as he is and as enjoyable as his music is – has surpassed these women in acclaim – he is, after all, the next generation.

Still, the I-Threes did not only sing for Bob. I found a video on YouTube.com that is just them … and the sound is … oh… so… good.

Bob_Marley_I_Threes

References:
[1] http://youtu.be/2Sb94BZtz3A?t=7m47s
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Boogie
[3] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/marcia-griffiths-mn0000573978
[4] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/i-threes-mn0000068005
[5] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/rita-marley-mn0000173988/biography
[6] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/judy-mowatt-mn0000834976/biography
[7] http://www.allmusic.com/album/black-woman-mw0000203092

A little Bob, some reggae history, and Jimmy Cliff

As a Jamaican in the United States, I encounter accolades and discussions of the most oft-associated cultural icon as Bob Marley. If Jamaica is known for nothing else in this life, it is known that Jamaica gifted the world with Bob and his music, his wisdom, and his progeny. I don’t think too many people understand that Bob, as gifted and as prolific as he was, was hardly the father of reggae and was simply its first and loudest ambassador to the world.

I mentioned last week that my parents abhorred reggae; especially my father. He would complain loudly when it came over the radio and I would get stern lectures when I played any kind of music that even sounded like reggae. As I got older, he was more inclined to engage in curt discussions as to why he wouldn’t tolerate it and I realised that it was less about the music and more about the people who sang it. Bob, as we all now know, was a Rastafarian. His hair was matted in typical Rastafarian style and he was an open and proud user of marijuana (or, as we know it in Jamaica, ganja). Rastafarianism is a branch of Christianity that reveres His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, as the second coming of Christ whose main purpose in returning was to free and redeem all people of African descent and advocate for their return to the motherland. Well … if you are in any way familiar with Christianity, you immediately see the problem. And so, this issue was the main issue my father had with most reggae artists – they were Rastafarians – blasphemers, abominations.

My mother is a little less black and white and spent many years attempting to tell me that Jimmy Cliff was a far more gifted and educated, and therefore a much better fit as “reggae’s ambassador”. I think she wanted to help me at worst strike a balance between two artists who, at the time, were just as prolific and “famous” and at best “choose anyone other than Bob Marley” as my favourite. Well, I’ll give her the fact that Jimmy Cliff is extremely gifted. He’s got the voice, he’s got the looks, and – to those of my parents’ generation – he looked “fairly clean” unlike Bob. You have to understand that generation … to them, the British ideal of “clean” was the ultimate passport. So to them, it is still a mystery why Bob’s untidy “dreadlocks”, careless dress sense, and complete lack of decorum would have had more success than Jimmy’s obvious refinement.

The thing is … reggae is Jamaica’s very own. There is very little else in this world that Jamaicans can call their own. Reggae is home grown. It’s ours. Many have taken it, improved on it and changed it … but it is still all ours. It has its influences in rhythm and blues as having been born directly out of ska and rock steady, but it still is a very unique musical genre and very much Jamaican. So it doesn’t matter what you want to think of those who represent the genre … you have to be proud of it.

Back on topic though, Jimmy Cliff was Mom’s favourite reggae artist and so I got a lot of exposure to his music. In particular, she liked “The Harder They Come” which, along with most of the rest of the soundtrack for the movie by the same name, was written and performed by Jimmy himself.

Me? I just like his voice and the fact that he actually sings versus rapping or chanting or … whatever it is that dancehall artists do. Yes; I know – my prejudice is showing. No matter … is there anything more lyrical than this:

Last week, we lost “Bunny Rugs” – let’s talk about Third World a bit.

Last week, we Jamaicans lost a well-loved voice and reggae ambassador – Bunny Rugs.

Every time I hear his real name, I forget it again within minutes… even so, what other name you need other than ‘Bunny Rugs’? Besides, you should know who I talking about when I say it… if you don’t, it is unlikely you know him by his real name. William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clark was the lead singer for Third World; probably my favourite reggae band ever, assuming you were going to force me to choose a favourite.

I remember when I jumped onto the Third World wagon – it was during their “Committed” tour sometime in the early 1990s, and it was probably the first and only time I bought tickets to a music concert … ever. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. ( I actually went to the concert alone too – imagine that!? )

(Note: my sincere apologies if you are having difficulties viewing the videos in this post; apparently YouTube is enforcing restrictions across regions and platforms now).

Now that I’ve listened to the song again, I think “Committed” might just be my favourite Third World song too.

For someone who claims to be one of their fans, I am realising that I know very little about them. Some personal recollections include the first time I heard the names “Cat” Coore and “Ibo” Cooper – those names are so unique that they’re hard to forget. Further, I remember “Cat” Coore because my father used to mumble stories about the Coore family when I was younger. I remember his father was in politics …  the Wikipedia page says his father was actually the Deputy Prime Minister under Michael Manley – so of course, it was in the midst of political drama in the 1970s.

I was never a big reggae music fan, as I mentioned last week. Partly because my father continually described it as “noise” and refused to tolerate it playing in his house. If it happened to come across the radio, he would change the station. If I even thought about playing it myself, I would get a stern lecture about what music is and how I should be “edifying myself with more uplifting sounds”. Yeah, yeah … I know. He sounds quite the stuffy elitist. And he actually kind of is … in a few different ways, but I digress.

Even though Dad despised anything reggae, he did manage to find a semblance of tolerance for Third World’s sound. Probably because it was mild, mellow, and easy to nod your head and tap your foot to. Their style is known as “roots reggae” and is described as a sub-genre of reggae which incorporates real life concerns (spirituality, poverty, etc.) into the music. More than that, the sound is less hardcore than the more popular dancehall style, with smooth and easy-going rhythms that incorporated more worldly sounds such as jazz and r&b into their music. Something some Jamaican artists were uncomfortable with and I’m willing to bet they got quite the earful about how much they were “sellouts” because they dared to reach out to the world with their music. If you are Jamaican, you know the criticisms Sean Paul got when he first hit the scene. In any case, maybe that is why I got around to liking them – at least I could listen to them at home if I wanted to in those days.

Third World has taken reggae to all corners of the world; even in doing this piece, I discovered they were here in the Pacific Northewest, where I am, as late as just last year.

Imagine that?! Wish I’d known – I might have bought my second set of concert tickets ever if I had. (No; probably not. Seattle crowds are still a little much for me.)

Their accomplishments include 10 Grammy award nominations, the 1986 Peace Medal from the U.N. among various other awards and accolades in the music industry worldwide. Their tagline has ever been “Reggae Ambassadors” and in true ambassadorial form, they have championed the cause of reggae the world over for 40 years or more. I guarantee you -any money spent on their music now is still money well spent. Their music is ageless and sounds as good to me today as it did 15+ years ago.

The Latest Third World lineup: Cat Coore, Richie Daley, Bunny Rugs, Norris Webb, and Tony Williams

The last Third World lineup: Cat Coore, Richie Daley, Bunny Rugs, Norris Webb, and Tony Williams

February is Reggae Month for me, not Black History Month.

I think I am going to forego the Black History Month thing this year.

I mean, it isn’t like there has been a year when I give it any extra thought at all. I have no way to relate to the notion of Black History Month. It’s not something I have ever had any investment in or any experience with.  I think the reason for that is that for me, and for many Jamaicans, the Black History Month celebrations tend to center around U.S. centric milestones, heroes, and accomplishments. In fact, I put in a search in Google just now for “black history month jamaica” and the article that was at the top of the search results was a piece our Carolyn Cooper wrote back in 2011 saying much the same thing:

So we’re celebrating Black History Month again. Like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, Black History Month is yet another commodity we’ve imported from the United States.

Tidbits like this one “Many of us still don’t know, for example, that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus” are not known to me. In school, I was taught that “Columbus discovered the new world”. Even then it felt odd to me that black people were standing up in a classroom full of mostly black students telling them that the Amerindians who were here before Columbus didn’t count as “discoverers” because the only people capable of “discovering” lands and countries were the Europeans. It felt so very wrong even then.  And now, my own historical knowledge is sadly lacking. I keenly feel the gap in my knowledge about my true ancestors and the history of my country; my region; my people. I have been starved of education. Is a good t’ing we nuh need knowledge to live – don’t?

I have nothing against the U.S. or their celebration of Black History Month. I have no comment or opinion about it. It’s just not something I think I have the right to have a comment or opinion about. So don’t get me wrong – I am not decrying the practice in any way.

No, my issue is simply that I have no frame of reference for the celebration as it is currently framed. I was born and raised in Jamaica. My frame of reference for black history is a far different ball game. Our heroes were heroes of the slave rebellion and the abolition movement back in the early 1800s. In the 1930s, a whole century after slavery was abolished in Jamaica, the United States was still struggling with inequality and prejudice on a level that I can only begin to imagine … this for several reasons outside the obvious. The most glaring reason is that I grew up in a time and a place where race was not an issue for us as much as class was (and still is, to a large extent). We aren’t struggling, in Jamaica, against racial bias; we are struggling with ‘colourism’ or ‘shadeism’ and ‘classism’ – a separate but somewhat related struggle.

In Jamaica, our heroes are Marcus Garvey, Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe and the like – the people who fought for an end to slavery in the 1800s, not people who fought against prejudice and racism in the 1950s. It is a whole different cultural dynamic let me tell you.

But I get it. I get it and I step back respectfully because just because it is not in my frame of reference doesn’t mean I cannot respect the idea and the ideal. Usually, I just nod and smile in silence. This year … instead of keeping quiet, though, I think I am going to do a little “going back to my roots” thing. The Jamaica Tourist Board is running a month-long promotion called Reggae Month. They have tons of activities and stuff lined up. I can’t participate physically, but I can get into the spirit of it. So I am going to do a weekly thing where I talk about reggae music stars who have made an impression on me and who I think deserve worldwide recognition for their contribution to reggae and to Jamaica’s legacy. I am not a huge music fan and I am certainly not a big reggae fan either. But I think I can call on a few names who have caught my ear over the years …

I’ve missed a Monday … so I’ll make it up maybe next week with two artists. Today is Bob’s birthday though. There isn’t much I can say about Bob that isn’t already out there. Well, except for the fact that he was born a few miles away from where my own mother was born. She is a bit older though, and they never met – so that fact is trivial at best.

Still, I will just leave this here:

An iconic Bob photo for you.

An iconic Bob photo for you.

It’s a rainy, dreary day in Oly, WA today …

And days like today bring back memories of being back home in Jamaica on a cloudy, dreary, rainy day when we’d be happy for the chill and the wet so we had excuses to drink things like hot cocoa, or more coffee (you haven’t had coffee until you’ve tried Jamaican coffee, if even just once) and cornmeal porridge.

Ah yes. I miss cornmeal porridge. It’s a hot cereal-like meal – it’s made with cornmeal (as you might have guessed), milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. You have to be extra careful with it, though, because if it’s made incorrectly or you let it sit for too long, it can get lumpy and icky to eat. My father used to tell me that cornmeal porridge “put hair on yuh ches’ [chest]” or that it “coat yuh backbone”. Frankly, I think the stuff that put hair on your chest was more of the scotch bonnet (hot pepper) or alcohol (like John Crow Batty – which is an overproof rum that is near enough to pure ethanol that it burns green) type deal than simple, unassuming cornmeal porridge. Frankly, a little John Crow Batty would be welcome about now … a stiff drink is not something I’d refuse today.

Still, despite the dreariness or the potential bad news I’ve had within the last week or so, I am in fairly good spirits. It is odd – I ought to be so down in the dumps that it is difficult to get out of bed. Well … it’s difficult to get out of bed anyway – it’s so damn cold. Not as cold as my Eastern and Central U.S. neighbours, but certainly far more cold than I have been used to all my life. It’s so much more comfortable to lay under a duvet and a fleece blanket than it is to get out of bed … for anything.

Anyway – the reason why I am in fairly good spirits despite all the blows this week … a book that validated my way of thinking for once.

You know how you hear people say “Think positive” all the time? That “staying positive will help solve problems”? That “envision the positive outcome and that is what you shall manifest”? All that drivel. I hear it constantly. And to me it is drivel. Sure I want to think of the positive outcome. It’s what I want to  happen. That sort of goes without saying…. but what happens if what I want does not happen? What then?

Cue the “Oh come on! Be positive!” crap. That doesn’t help me. What helps me is to envision all possibilities so that I can at least be mentally (if not practically and physically) prepared for them all. Apparently, this kind of thinking is called “Defensive pessimism” and there is a book written about it. Yes; there are a few of us on this earth who actually benefit from being negative because it helps us prepare for all possibilities in such a way that no matter what the outcome is, we can take it smoothly in stride and move past it.

Whenever I am faced with a decision, my first question is always “tell me what the worst and best outcomes are?” I only finally got a doctor who understood that recently. Everybody else seemed to think I needed to be coddled and told to “think positive; it’ll work out … somehow”. I want to tell them “Stop coddling me; I am grown woman” but I am too polite to do so. At the end of the day, when the ish hits the fan, I am the one who is going to be able to manage the fallout because I have already imagined the worst and know, in my head, how I am going to tackle it if it happens. Of course, I am also the one who will cheer and celebrate just as loudly with you when it does work out  - because I also know the potential consequences of the best outcomes as well.

I am hoping to read that book so I can see just how much of my own patterns are mimicked by others the world over. I want to know, finally, just how “normal” I am.

It’s that time of the year again …

The hubster found one of those memes on Facebook this morning saying “It’s almost 2014. Time for that new year new me crap.” The image was of Robert Downey Jr looking like someone had pooped in his cereal. I kind of feel the same way.

I’ve written about New Year Resolutions on this blog before and I haven’t really stuck to that process either. For me a new year is just that … a new year. Like a new day. It’s an opportunity to live some more. Maybe this is how I live the Taoist life – just flowing through life and taking the opportunities as they come. Or maybe I am just making excuses for myself and my laziness. But the thing is that aside from a few issues, I am happy; content. I want for nothing in my life. There are a few things I’d like to have, some will come, others won’t – I am not too worried about it.

An old friend with whom I reconnected this last week told me she got to cross something off her bucket list this year. I paused for a few minutes to think about what might be on my own bucket list that I wanted to cross off. And … I realised that I really don’t have a bucket list. Strange? Yeah – I’d say so. There is nothing that I absolutely must do before I die. And it’s not that I “have it all” … far from it. There are a ton of things I wish I had; just as much as a ton of things I wish I could do. I guess I feel no urgency to pursue them and I … am not entirely sure why.

An acquaintance once told me that I lack ambition. At the time, it felt like a put-down. I think what he meant to do was inspire me. It doesn’t much matter what he meant or intended – I agree with him. I don’t. Or maybe my ambition is simply to strive for harmony and balance (as much as I can) in my own life and help others achieve the same in theirs. (Still a work in progress with me, incidentally – I ain’t perfect. :D)

The thing is that I wake up every single day with one key thought: today I must do only good. I must strive to touch someone else in some way meaningful and if not, I must do no harm. I don’t know how lofty or meagre that goal is, I just know that most days … I nail it.

It’s the last day in 2013. I’ve had tons of ups and downs this year – made friends, lost friends. Made realisations about myself and the world around me. I’ve learned new skills, re-learned one or two I had forgotten about, and made up my mind what hobbies to focus on and which ones to leave by the wayside (Because one can have too many interests. How to know when you do? When you don’t have time for them all. /nod)

What am I vowing for 2014? Much the same like 2013, please. If I get more, yay! It not, yay! I’m still good no matter which way the wind blows. If 2014 ends up being sucky, I’ll figure out a way to find my lessons in it anyway. If it ends up being better than ever, I’m sure I’ll be happy with that too.

 

It’s been a while since we last spoke …

Ok, maybe not quite as long as it has been in the past, but it’s still been a few days. What’s new with me?

Well, for the first time in a year or two, we have a Christmas tree up …

It’s looking a lot like Christmas around here …

Of course, the reasons are far from being particularly Christmas-y. There are no presents underneath it and we aren’t particularly feeling Christmas-y (yet), but I did need it for the backdrop for our first ever family portrait for Christmas cards (which are more of a duty than out of anything other feeling right now). Yes; I am admitting it on my blog. I’m not sending out Christmas cards because I feel the spirit of the holiday season. I am doing it because it’s what is done these days, at this time of year.

For a couple years now, I’ve wanted to add my own creative touch to holiday communiqués. Buying cards, writing a little nonsense on the inside and sending them far and wide is a tradition I grew up with. It shows that you’re thinking of these people at this special time of year. I like the gesture, but I hate the chore of it. I’ve always wanted to *make* my own cards. For birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. And last year, I made myself a promise that this year I would do exactly that. (“Project!” *whoooo*)

I guess the spirit is lacking in me this year … for several reasons. Mostly personal. Still … I am going to “fake it” because at some point I am hoping that I’ll actually feel it. And this is my first attempt at faking it. A christmas tree – all lighted, and pretty, and festive and stuff. The next step is the cards (some of which have already gone out – some of you will be receiving yours WAY early; yaadies may get theirs a little late). A third step is participating in a Jeep Christmas parade this Saturday (maybe I’ll get some pictures – we’ll see if I get a chance to work the camera a bit). One certain step is on December 21st (which is my “Christmas”), I think I’ll flood the house with candles (some of them ones I make for myself hopefully) all day.  Candlemas is supposedly February 2, but for me December 21st is all about coaxing the light back – even more so now that I live in the Northwest U.S. where the daylight lasts less than 12 hours (it’s actually about 8 hours in total; not counting dawn and twilight).

So … it’s early days yet, but here’s hoping all of you have a very happy and safe holiday season – whatever you may be celebrating at this time.