Looking at the public face of Reggae music, both on record and live performances one could reasonably conclude that musically, the genre is man’s music or a bull boys club. The culture of reggae music is testosterone-driven and, as far as equal representation it is far less accommodating to female artists than their male counter part. The female perspective or presence is not valued enough, nor are they given enough representation. Historically, England where female singers like Janet Davis, Sylvia Tella, Sandra Cross, Carroll Thompson, Janet Kay, Louisa Marks, Donna Marie, and the late Debra Glasgow to name few are household names in reggae, because of the strong lovers’ rock tradition there offers female singers/dj’s more opportunities to be heard and showcase their talent in lime light. In Jamaica, female entertainers are now asserting themselves more and expanding their horizons by demanding to be heard and seen. I decided to speak to female artists to get their perspective on why the situation has been the way it is and how it is improving.
Marcia Davis is a British born, Brooklyn based female reggae singer. She is one of the many female voices in reggae music that the public have not heard. Yet, she soldiers on with her band Outro. A single mother with 9-5 job, Davis continues to fight the odds in a reggae industry that makes very little accommodation for its female artists. Marcia sat down with music writer Stan Evan Smith to air her views on the industry she loves.
SS: How long have you been singing professionally?
MD: Seven years
SS: Who were your major influences, internationally and locally?
MD: Dennis Brown, Carole King, Marcia Griffiths, Gladys Knight, Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, all the English Lovers Rock; Peter Hunningale, Lloyd Brown, Peter Spence, Janet Kaye, Vivian Jones
SS: How would you describe your music, which genre best describes your sound?
MD: Newly transplanted studio one, roots, lovers rock – hmm a mouthful huh?
SS: What are some of the obstacles you as female artist have encountered in your career?
MD: Men have no respect for your opinion for the most part, especially when they think you don’t play an instrument. If you speak to them firmly you are regarded as a bitch, and if you let things slide, they disrespect you. There is also the obvious misogyny that we fight daily and the sexual harassment. If you don’t know how to handle yourself you are treated either as a chicken head or an ice queen. As women, we have to also juggle the job and the children, and there is never any sympathy or leeway made for a woman’s children. However, when a man brings his child around, it is treated as a novelty – women’s, a hindrance. And finally, we have to work harder to get and keep our gigs, and that air of “shelf life” and “past your expiration date” doesn’t seem to prevail around men. Phew, I could go on, and on……
SS: Did you think your gender plays a part in helping or advancing your career?
MD: Now, I guess on the upside for some women, yes, they can use their sexual assets in getting ahead. But in my experience, it only lowers your standard and makes you more accessible to being taken advantage of in the long run.
SS: 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 in reggae?
MD: Hell no.
SS: What are some of the things you think the reggae industry could do to make it easier for female artist to break into the industry or succeed?
MD: Start by respecting us more. If the music we made was given more airplay and maybe even a “lifetime” style radio station, where female reggae is featured it would make a positive impact. There is so much out there, but we are challenged to compete with the men in style and format, when we are unique ourselves and have just as good or better to offer. So, exposure is the main thing. Recognition amongst our own first (the reggae industry) and more exposure in the main stream, not just as the sidekick in some guys rap song. People need to step up and shout down the idea that one has to be young and sexy to sell records. Have videos with less naked women and fully dressed men. Show that there are other ways that women have fun other than by dancing for men, washing men cars, and having show downs with other women. You think about it, what kind of a demographic is that? My daughter has no other reference than myself to show that there is integrity in reggae music for women. Which last female video did you see that didn’t depict a woman half naked defending herself against some mannish argument? I surely can’t think of one. Please remember that there are so many of us out there rocking a career in music, sometimes a 9-5 AND some children THAT needs to be respected.
SS: What can female singers/DJ’s do to improve and increase their visibility on stage and on record?
MD: We must unite and come together as a force of one. Speak out against it and stop endorsing the venues/artists/promoters that practice the discrimination. That’s 50% of all revenue. We are more powerful than we think!
SS: What can the males do to help females’ artists get more exposure?
MD: Respect, respect, respect. For me, that is first and foremost. If the men treated us with the same respect they do themselves, we would definitely get more play. There should be an insistence of an equal amount of females to play a venue as males, simple. And there are enough of us to do it.
SS: What is, or has been the biggest obstacle you have faced as female artist?
MD: Being disrespected because I am a woman, and therefore mustn’t know what’s best for, right for, or good for me. My opinion being disregarded, my sensibilities being degraded whilst misogynistic comments or jokes are made. Having to accept less money, smaller venues and less publicity.
SS: Why do you think that promoters shy away from booking female artists?
MD: I just don’t think they know who is out there. It’s a vicious cycle. They have so many more male artists to choose from who have gained popularity, because of their exposure, that they don’t need to take risks by putting on a female who may not be “up there” yet. But how is one to get there? If one isn’t getting the same exposure, and chances, then we will never be recognised.
SS: List your most successful singles or album?
MD: “You Don’t Know How to Love Me”, and “Another Way Out”
SS: Do you have difficulty getting air play for your music, if so, in what radio formats?
MD: I got the most love when I was promoting a stage show, on which I was only one of two women and 15 men. Doing my own thing, I have to pay.
SS: Why do you think this happens?
MD: People want to do the things that will bring them the most immediate gain. So they will push the songs/shows they are getting paid for.
SS: Do you think females are given equal or enough opportunities to showcase their talents in Jamaican music?
MD: NO WAY
SS: What are your professional goals as singer?
MD: to spread unity, through music, to be a reggae female Grammy winner, to record the best soundtrack album, to start a music camp for girls involved in reggae music. My daughter just attended one for rock music and she enjoyed herself tremendously.
SS: Thank you Marcia, much appreciated and much success.
Stan Evan Smith is music critic and media personality. He can be reached stansmith [email protected] http://www.myspace.com/stanwsmith