Jamaican Music Music Interviews

A conversation with Zerby the first white female dancehall artist

Written by Glen Benjamin

We  interview Zerby the first white female dancehall artist.  She who was born and raised in the Midwest of the United States, has defied all the odds and showed her talent as a reggae dancehall deejay. After spending nine months in the studio, Zerby has released “Ready Now” on her own label, Hotness Records. The CD  was released in January 2010.

Q: How did you become exposed the Jamaican dancehall music?  

I was first exposed to reggae in college.  I saw reggae bands at local venues and fell in love with the music.  I toured professionally with the Ark Band as their trumpet player as a teenager.

Q: Are you still in touch with your band members?

 I have not seen them recently.  I am based in Atlanta, GA and the Ark Band is based in Columbus, Ohio.

Q: What was the first dancehall song you heard and what where your impressions? 

Cutty Rank’s “A Who Seh Me Dun.”  Addictive!!!

Q: Did you ever get to meet this artist? 

Yes, at Bobby Digital’s studio on Molynes Road, Kingston.

Q: How did you know this was the type of music you wanted to pursue?

 It felt right, but I had a lot to learn.  I had dreams of being on stage during childhood, but did not know what type of music I was performing.  Not surprising since I never heard reggae until attending college!  I felt the only way to perform reggae correctly was to live in Kingston.

Q: What did your family and friends think when you told them you were pursuing a career in Jamaican Dancehall music?

 I never really worried about opinions.  The music was pulling me and there was no letting it go.  But my people wanted me to do what I wanted.

What was the worse reaction you got?

 I did not get a bad reaction.  My family is very open-minded.  I was brought up to love and respect all people and cultures.

Q: Is there anyone who still things you made a mistake doing this? 

Not that I know personally.

Q: Once you made the decision to pursue this as a career move what did you do next? 

I moved to Kingston.  I won’t pursue something without learning how to do it right.

Q: What did you think of Jamaica on your first visit?

It was chaotic to me.  I first stayed at Jack’s Hill, up from Barbican.  When first arriving at Barbican, I remember seeing a rastaman on a motorbike with a Ting soda balancing on his head.  He passed at least twice.  There was so much energy in the city but I could make no sense of it as then I did not know the patois and culture.  Kingston is a unique city full of bright, beautiful, inventive people.  It saddens me to see such potential from the ghetto, yet no opportunities for these great people.

Q: Are you currently living in Jamaica? 

No, I miss it!

Q: How often do you visit? 

Not as much as I wish! 

Q: You sound like a Jamaican who grew up in Jamaica. How did you learn Jamaican patois? 

By living in Kingston.

Q: What are some of the tips you would give to someone trying to learn Jamaican patois? 

Move to Kingston.  That is the only way to really learn it.  Dialects change from uptown to downtown, and usually those from uptown do not understand those from, say, Dunkirk, Waterhouse, 3 Mile, Trench Town or Craig Town.  It is like two separate worlds.  Segregation is a powerful weapon for poverty to flourish and it builds barriers between people.

Q: There is an ongoing debate about Jamaican patois. Some say it is a language and other say it is a dialect. What do you think? Is it a dialect of language? 

There are so many changes in wording I would say it is a language.

Q:  Do you find it offense when you are referred to as the first white female dancehall DJ? 

No.  In Jamaica, people would call me “Whitey” all the time. 

Q:  Tell us about the new album you are working on? 

It has something for every type of reggae fan:  Roots reggae, conscious lyrics, dancehall reggae, lover’s rock plus a live show in Jamaica.  Both albums feature live performances in Jamaica.

Q:  Do you write many of the lyrics? How do you make it “real” to Jamaica and Jamaicans? 

I write all my lyrics and have written 400 songs.  I DJ about topics that draw interest to Jamaicans.  I like to entertain, but take no pleasure in negative lyrics.  The world, and especially Jamaicans, face many obstacles and promoting violence or slackness is not something that people need to hear.  People need to be uplifted and inspired, not vexed.

Q: What was it like recording in one of the historic dancehall studios in Kingston?  Amazing.  Priceless.

Q: Tell us the best pick up line you heard while in Jamaica? 

Man asks “Mek we gwan get some steam fish.”  My response was “I don’t eat the heads.”  He replied, “Dat ok – we’ll fling dem!”

Q: What would be the highlight of your career so far? 

Performing live in Jamaica.  Jamaicans are the toughest crowd an artist can face – the biggest challenge.  It is a bigger deal to get a forward in Jamaica as a reggae artist than to perform at the Grammys!

Q: Have you gone to battle with any other Dancehall DJ? 

No, but I have been tempted.  I did perform at a DJ contest in Kingston and won 1st and 2nd place.

Q: What do you say to the critics who believe that the majority of dancehall musics demeans women? 

Female artists demean men also.  But there must always be the freedom to sing what you want to sing – NO censorship.

Q: Who is your favorite Dancehall artist? 

Only one???  I like Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Wayne Wonder, Vybes Kartel, Busy Signal, Sizzla, Shaggy, Collie Budzz, Delly Ranks, Captain Barkey, to name a few, and all female artists!  Thanks to all the artists who encouraged me!

Q: What is your favorite Jamaican food? 

Ackee and saltfish, festival, callaloo, butterfish stuffed with callaloo, breadfruit…Have to try not to gain weight in yard the food is soo good!

Q: Where do you get your Jamaican food fix while in Georgia? 

Coconut Grove in Lawrenceville, GA.

Q: Thanks for your time. Any final thoughts?  Hoping to see less suffering and more opportunity for the youth in Jamaica – there is much potential there!

About the author

Glen Benjamin

I strongly believe there are 3 sides to every story. Telling each side is the challenge.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that - Martin Luther King