Leading Ladies: Celebrating The Exceptionalism of the Jamaican Woman
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Leading Ladies: Celebrating The Exceptionalism of the Jamaican Woman

Leading Ladies Celebrating The Exceptionalism of the Jamaican Woman

Ladies of Jamaica and the diaspora, It has long been my desire to express praise for all that you are and have achieved. You are truly a crown jewel of God’s creation. Blessed art thou among the women of the earth! There is so much that you’ve done and are doing today that is worthy of special recognition. In light of recent events (1,2,3 😉), it feels only right that my deep adoration of the complex marvel that is all that you are be expressed now. Understand, my crush on you is a lifelong thing. It’s not going anywhere but please, accept your flowers today knowing that they won’t be the last you receive.

The Jamaican Woman has, since the beginning, been a capable and formidable leader of the people of the Island. Nanny or Queen Nanny, Jamaica’s earliest national hero, retains to this day amongst the Maroon people a mythical status as their greatest leader. Endowed with supernatural powers according to folklore, Nanny led the Maroons in the first Maroon War in which they were victorious over the British in gorilla-style warfare. Myths aside, Her leadership is credited for delivering the first organised force of the island’s self-liberated members of the African slave population to freedom, forcing the British to concede defeat. The 500 acres of land relinquished to them by the British as a part of their peace agreement remain as Maroon territory to this day. Talk about Girl Power!

There are so many women since her time that would have most likely brought a smile to Nanny’s face. In the world of politics, the extraordinary accomplishments Jamaican women and women of Jamaican descent are just as legendary. The election and Portia Simpson, Jamaica’s first female prime minister who served two terms in office, put Jamaica ahead of the vast majority of the western world in appointing a woman to highest position in the land. Then of course there’s VP Kamala Harris. Born of Jamaican parentage, Harris as you know became the first ever female Vice-President of the United States of America earlier this year. She was also ranked 3rd in Forbes magazine’s 2020 list of the most powerful women in the world. Not impressed yet? Let us not forget Jamaican Chanel Chin’s marriage to King Abdul Rasheed Adewale Akanbi making her the queen of not one but TWO Nigerian Kingdoms! #ShesRoyal

Now let’s talk about my favorite subject, Music! The voice of the Jamaican woman has a long history of touching the world. Jamaica’s first international Pop Star Millie Small achieved fame in both the UK and United States with her 1964 cover of My Boy Lollipop. Set to the distinctly Jamaican beat of Ska, My Boy Lollipop rode all the way up to #2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Charts. The song’s success led to television appearances including one on the popular British hit show Top Of The Pops. Sadly we must mention that she transitioned last year but the trail she blazed continues to be traveled. Other notable female Jamaican acts to achieve international success include Icons like Grace Jones who rose to popularity in the disco era even crossing over to film with Appearances in hit movies like Conan The Barbarian, James Bond 007: A View To Kill and the Eddie Murphy led comedy Boomerang. It’s also impossible to mention the history of Jamaican women on the international music scene without mention of the incomparable Marcia Griffiths who’s Electric Boogie recorded in 1983 (which was remixed into it’s current popular version in 1989) is arguably the most infectious dance song of all time. The corresponding dance, the Electric Slide is still heavily present in weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and family reunions across the United States to this day. 

In recent history, the Ladies are still waving the banner internationally for Jamaica as a musical powerhouse. Tessanne Chin for example is the only ever non-American winner of the NBC singing competition The Voice. What’s interesting about this moment in Jamaican music is that it is clear that the women are currently out-pacing the men in many respects. In 2019, Koffee who has become a household name amongst Reggae fans became the youngest person and first and only woman to win a Grammy award in the Best Reggae Album category. She’s also the first artist ever to do so with an EP. That EP Rapture, a smaller body of work than a traditional album, contained only 6 tracks. It did however pack enough of a punch to land on former president Barack Obama’s radar. She’s since been featured 4 times on his published playlists giving her some of the highest visibility in the genre to date. Her single Lockdown was also the most streamed Reggae song of 2020.

Also doing exceptionally well are artists Shenseea and Spice, both of whom have topped international Reggae Charts such as i-Tunes and Billboard. Spice also released her highly anticipated first album “TEN” just a few days before this article was published. Lila Ike and Jada Kingdom are also experiencing breakthrough success. It’s also noteworthy to mention that 3 out of 4 of these dynamic and sonically diverse women have major record labels backing them. Up and comer Khalia won JaRia Breakthrough Artist of the Year for 2021 in lew of her consistent string of well received soulful and conscious Reggae singles. Khalia has also broken barriers for herself with pandemic-proof virtual appearances on multiple international festival platforms including South By Southwest which featured it’s first ever Caribbean stage. A resurgent and determined Naomi Cowan is on a roll as well. She’s working closely with Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire and the two collaborated on the release of her “Stargirl” Mixtape this summer. The official video for Naomi’s breakout single “Paradise Plum” recently crossed the 1 million view mark on youtube, a career first for the daughter of beloved Jamaican songstress Carlene Davis. Not to be left out, dancing-diva-turned-DeeJay Tallup celebrated a million views of her infectious single “Waistline” on youtube in the same week, solidifying the “Queen of MoBay” as someone to pay attention to. Another Dancehall rising star to watch out for is Shaneil Muir who’s strong alto voice, butter-smooth singjay style and formidable pen(wo)manship are not to be taken lightly.

As the ladies continue to trend upward with no end in sight, I’d like to share two of my own hand-picked fresh faces to keep an eye on. The energetic and often comedic Deejay Sekklez, aka the “Ghetto Queen” has crept onto the scene with tunes that balance fun and raunchiness perfectly. On the flipside of that coin is the haunting and other-worldly voice of neo-roots/soul singer Timuna. Timuna’s vocals carve their own path in reggae as highlighted in her debut single “I Love Life” whilst simultaneously falling directly into the lineage of greats Erykah Badu and the Legendary Billie Holiday. Hmmm, Could Billie have been resurrected as a Jamaican? Seems like a logical choice to me! 

Any praise of the women descending from the land of wood and water would be incomplete without mention of their competitive prowess in the field of sports. As the ladies of Jamaica’s track and field team continue the country’s tradition of history making at the Olympics, it is important to remember those who paved the way for their victorious runs. At the tender age of 16, Una L Morris opened the doors of international sporting recognition to the women of Jamaica by placing fourth in the 1964 women’s 200 meter finals. Una would later go on to win Silver alongside fellow Jamaican Carmen Smith who took bronze in the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was in the year 1970 that a woman would claim gold for the first time in the name of Jamaica at the Brit Games when Marilyn Neufville won the women’s 400 with a time of 51.02, a new world record!

Track would continue to be a place that our women would shine with greats like Grace Jackson-Small, Merlene Ottey and two time champion Veronica Campbell-Brown leading the charge in the 80’s 90’s and 2000’s. These women would provide the foundation of pride, hope and inspiration that would propel Jamaica’s track and field forward throughout some of the toughest times in the island’s history as political unrest, storm destruction and economic decline would impact the nation over the passage of time. Despite these obstacles, Jamaican sport and the women taking part in it would persevere. As we celebrate our current superstar female athletes led by Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price the first and second fastest women in the world today respectively with Shericka Jackson rounding off the trifecta, we remember that they are not just exceptional themselves but are such in the midst of a history of exceptionalism. 

While I’ve said a lot in this article, there simply isn’t enough room to say everything these magnificent women mean to the world but more importantly, to our lives. The Mothers and Grandmothers, Aunts, Wives, Sisters and Daughters endowed with the magic of the Black, Gold and Green. The educators, healthcare professionals, engineers, authors, inventors, philosophers, physicists, poets and soldiers. The homemakers, dancers, business owners, employers and sole proprietors. The chefs, hairdressers, housekeepers, painters and dreamers. Rose Marie would also like me to remind you of all of the beauty queens, and Miss World winners as well (Because you cyaah talk bout Jamaican women and nuh mention how dem fine so!). These women in all their shapes and forms are amazing and deserving of acknowledgment and adulation not in spite of, but in tandem with the celebration of women in general. Today however we give special attention to you Jamaican woman as you rise up from the water in breathtaking beauty wearing your Jamaica branded t-shirt, hoist a basket of produce atop your head and walk with it effortlessly through the countryside or spin around in your office chair overjoyed with having closed the deal of your career. Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, please, take minute to stop and smell the roses. After all, they belong to you.

About the author

GLeNN BLaKK

GLeNN BLaKK is professional DJ/MC by trade. Touring and performing as a part of New Vision Sound and backing artists such as Lt. Stitchie, Alexander Star, Ghost, Chino McGregor and more. He's a Jamaican/American with a passion for the art and culture of Jamaica, Reggae Music, Comedy, God and Family. He also would like anyone in south florida with excess mangos, preferably those which are perfectly ripe, to contact him for assistance with their relocation and consumption.