Calibe Thompson, a Fresh Female Singer
By Stan Evan Smith
Calibe isn’t a household name in Jamaican music though she is Jamaican. She claims reggae as her root because that is where she’s from. To get her unique sound Calibe mixes pop and rock and soul and jazz. Flattered though she is by comparisons to female singers like Diana King, India.Arie and Lauryn Hill she says she doesn’t sound like any of them because her voice and style changes with each song. Calibe has toured with Beenie Man and opened Kevin Lyttle. I spoke with this relatively unknown singer.
SS: How long have you been singing professionally?
I’d say since about 1996. I started out in a female quartet called Emerge, and then moved to a duo called Girlfriends. During that time I was among Sly and Robbie (the Taxi Camp).
SS: Who were your major influences, internationally and locally?
Locally, of course Sly and Robbie always fostered my creativity. Vocally I always loved Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor, and internationally Stevie Wonder, Lauren Hill and Anita Baker. Of everyone, I think Stevie had the most influence on me artistically. I love how he writes, how different he dares to be and how personal to him his melodies became.
SS: What is Calibe up to lately and what can we look forward to from you?
Right now I’m in studio with Augie Lee from MBIG Music and Drop Di Bass Productions. We’re recording an album due for release in early 2008. You can expect it to have the strong influence of reggae and dancehall, along with a little influence of soul. I’m usually very mellow with my vocal presentation so you can dance but it’s all easy to listen to. I love harmony so there will be lots of that. The majority of the tracks are produced by Augie. There might be guest appearances by some of my stable mates and some other great musicians and producers. Eventually, depending on the response to the music, there will be touring in the very near future where you can expect an engaging show and a good time.
On a side note. inside the MBIG Music camp are Sizzla, Spragga and Mad Anju. This is actually the most intelligent set of artists I’ve ever been around. They are all prolific and witty and well educated. There is much collaboration so you’ll hear me featured all over their tracks and albums also.
SS: Where did you get the name Calibe and what does it mean?
I get conflicting stories on that from my parents. It is the name on my birth certificate for those who want to know. One parent said he wanted a son to be called Caleb but he got me instead, the other says she thought she heard it on TV and liked it. Some one told me it meant ‘Illuminated’ in some foreign language. I think I’ll stick with that version.
SS: How would you best describe your vocal style?
A journalist once described it as ‘laid-back’ and ‘intense’. I would agree with him. It is always mellow, but I still try to infuse whatever emotion a song calls for – passion, desperation, aggression, sensuality – and get the message across even if you aren’t listening to the words. For the genre description, we decided on Reggae Soul. Reggae is always the biggest influence, but you can always hear that little funky outside influence that makes my style personal to me.
SS: List your biggest and successful hit, or popular songs?
I haven’t had too many big ones. People knew ‘Walking on Sunshine’ with Elephant Man, ‘Natty Dread’ produced by Sly and Robbie which was out in Jamaica in 2003, ‘Take Over’ that had a video in rotation for a while a few years ago and maybe ‘Esposa’ that I did with Innocent Crew in 2002-ish. There were some that I heard got good rotation in Europe but I don’t remember which. The song that kind of got me popular in Jamaica to begin with was one called ‘Searchin’’ which got me involved in the Caribbean Music Expo 2002, and which was recently covered by Trini on Sly and Robbie’s most recently Grammy nominated album “Rhythm Doubles”.
SS: As a female do you think gender plays a part in helping or advancing your career?
I do think so. It can help and it can hinder.
SS: In Jamaican music do you think that radio, TV and the concert stage offer the female artist the same opportunities to be seen and heard as your male peers?
I’m still not sure how to answer that. I think because our society is still patriarchal, both women and men expect men to be the exploiters and women to be either soft and wishy-washy, or sex objects (or a little of both). It makes it hard to find a place where people are willing to accept you across the board. Also, Jamaican music has, only in recent years, begun to embrace fusion with other styles of music without calling artists who try it ‘sellout’. I think men face the same obstacles but since women are more likely to venture outside of what is hard core / grass roots, we succeed less consistently.
SS: What are some of the things you think the industry could do to make it easier for female artist to break into the industry or succeed?
First off, the radio would need to be willing to play music outside of the usual 10 songs on a riddim. Many female artists work best on a one-a-way kind of track where they can sing and express a feminine identity. Outside of that, I think it’s all the regular politics of life. People pay more attention to who females are dating or used to date than what they are trying to say or do.
SS: What can female singers/dj do to improve and increase their visibility on stage and on record?
I think just keep doing it if you can. The more of us there are is the harder we will be to deny. Be confident when you do your thing. People are typically unkind for no reason other than they can be so block them out and keep your head up. Don’t quit because of people. If you ever give it up, do so because you’re ready to do something else.
SS: What would it take for female artist to be recorded, get air play, live shows and promotion by the industry?
Once again – strength in numbers. We have to encourage and support each other like the men do. Maybe there should be a female crew, like Monster Shack and Scare Dem back in the days. As long as the ones who make it bring up the ones on the way, I think they’ll be accepted eventually (as long as they are up to the task)
SS: As young artist do you get the respect and support of your peers in the music business?
I do to a certain extent because I’ve been around long enough for them to know my personality profile. I pretty much do as I like and say what I like. I’m a nice girl but I’m not going to allow anyone to impose their ideals on me or judge me for being a free spirit instead of doing what they would like me to do in my personal and professional life. The ones who don’t support are generally people who either are morally opposed to my free-spirited thought, or just don’t know me personally.
SS: Describe your fondest or best memory in the music business?
My favorite performing moment was when I was on stage at the Raggamuffins Festival in California in 2005. The audience was about 14,000 and it was my first time performing with the band. It was the best show I ever did. I felt electric and the audience was bouncing that energy right back to me. Another fond memory is my trip to the Swiss Alps with Spragga, Kevin Lyttle and the whole entourage back when I used to tour with them.
SS: Describe your worst memory?
I think my worst memory was when someone I was working closely with, who I never thought would proposition me, did so blatantly. That was a real turn off.
SS: List some of the countries you have performed in and major shows you have performed on?
I’ve been in Norway, Switzerland, Holland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, England, Canada, all over the US, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos, Nassau, Trinidad and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Some of those were when I was backing for Beenie Man, but for many in Europe, Canada and the US, I performed as Kevin’s opening artist. I’ve also opened at the Bob Marley Festivals in California and Orlando, and done support vocals at Sumfest, Sting and the Caribbean Reggae Fest. There have also been support appearances on Showtime at the Apollo, Soul Train, Vibe Music Awards, BET, MTV, the Box and once again, several others I can’t remember. Doing that level of shows is a great perk of touring with popular artists.
SS: Do you have management team and are you signed to a record label?
I am currently under the management of MBIG Music and signed to their label.
SS: What is, or has been the biggest obstacle you have faced as female artist?
Traditionally, people haven’t wanted to support thoughtful lyrics presented in a way that isn’t grass roots. Many Jamaican men have tons of smart and thoughtful lyrics but I think the subject matter usually falls into the categories that people are used to. People have come to me so many times and said “what happened? I like your voice, I like your songs but I can’t hear you on the radio.” I chalk some of that up to never really having structured management, but some of that have just been people not willing to accept things that they aren’t used to.
SS: Why do you think that reggae promoters shy away from booking female artists?
Some of it is politics – this one is that one’s woman and they don’t like the boyfriend or “if she dealing with him I don’t want her on my show”. At other times it’s the politics of dealing with women. I remember being in the group and wanting to knock some of the girls out myself because of emotional breakdowns and hissy fits. The thing is that not all women are one way or the other and time and reputation usually tell.
SS: List your most successful singles or album?
Other albums I have appeared on Include ‘Innocent’ by the Innocent Kru, ‘Tropical Storm’ by Beenie Man, ‘Under the Moonlight’ by Ghost, as well as compilation albums by Sly and Robbie, Birch, Richie D, General Lee and Dwight Pinkney.
SS: Do you have difficulty getting air play for your music?
Sometimes. Sometimes I hear that people don’t like me, and at other times I hear that it’s an issue of payola. Either way, I’m totally confident in the management and production team we’re working with now in terms of finding alternative means to get into the public eye.
SS: Do you think females are given enough opportunities to showcase their talents in Jamaican music?
I think it’s getting better nowadays. The lineup of females is getting more plentiful at the big shows and we’re hearing more on the radio so hopefully the revolution has begun.
SS: As an entertainer what goals would like to accomplish?
I’d like to make a name for myself internationally. I’d like to present a more mature, but still fun, side of reggae music. I’d like to gain the respect of the Jamaican community. I’d like to be able to integrate reggae elements into other genres, the way that we have begun to embrace other genres into reggae (Sean Paul etc are already well on the way with that). I’d like to succeed. Ultimately, it is the greatest feeling to have people singing along with you when you’re in front of an audience. I’d like to have the audience singing along with me as big as the world is.
Stan Evan Smith is contributing Editor Everybody’s Magazine, Writer for the Gleaner/Star NA. Staff writer for Jahwork.org. Westindiantimes.net and Jamaicans. Com and contributing writer to POSH Magazine. He can be reached [email protected] http://www.myspace.com/stanwsmith