On January 2, 1962, Ophlin Russell, better known as Sister Nancy, a seminal Jamaican dancehall deejay and singer, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Also known as Mama Nancy, She was the first female dancehall deejay and an important female voice on the dancehall scene for over 20 years. One of her most famous songs, “Bam Bam,” was labeled a reggae anthem by the BBC in the United Kingdom.
Sister Nancy was one of 15 children. Her brother Robert is better known as Brigadier Jerry, also a dancehall deejay. She and her siblings were raised in a conservative household, and she was expected to take on the role of elder in the community, promoting the conservative values of being drug-free and family-oriented.
Although her father encouraged her to pursue Christian music, she rebelled against her traditional upbringing and followed her brother into deejaying and dancehall. When she entered the dancehall scene, she was often the only female to turn up at a dance. During her teen years, she sometimes performed on the Twelve Tribes of Israel sound system. She also worked with the Jahlovemuzik sound system, and for several years on the Stereophone sound system with General Echo.
She ran away from home for months at a time and followed DJ Junior Chalice throughout Jamaica and St. Thomas. While in St. Thomas, he gave her a chance to deejay when she was 15 years old.
In 1980, producer Winston Riley took her into the studio for the first time. This led to her first single, the classic “Papa Dean” on the Techniques label. She performed at Reggae Sunsplash, the first female deejay to perform at the event. She is also the first female Jamaican deejay to tour globally. Further success followed with recordings like “One Two,” “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Transport Connections,” and the classic “Bam Bam.” Sister Nancy released her debut album “One Two” in 1982. She later worked with producer Henry “Junio” Lawes, recording “A No Any Man Can Test Sister Nancy” and “Bang Belly,” She also collaborated with Yellowman on “Jah Mek Us Fe A Purpose”
She toured internationally, and both she and her brother Brigadier Jerry made their debuts in London in 1982. Sister Nancy credits her brother with being her inspiration, which is reflected in her work and career. Sister Nancy’s work is similar to her brother’s in its focus on cultural issues and spiritual tone.
Sister Nancy moved to New Jersey in 1996 and worked in the banking industry, but music was her first love and she continued performing. She stopped recording her songs at one point to give other female artists a chance, and she provided them with an excellent role model for success, influencing musicians like Lady Saw, Sister Carol, Macka Diamond, Lady G, Shelly Thunder, Carla Marshall, Lorna G, Lady English, and Lady P.
Her second album, “Sister Nancy Meets Fireproof,” was released in 2007 and was produced by djMush on the Special Potato Records label. It was distributed by Jammyland Records in New York and features four of her original compositions, along with four instrumental versions of her previously recorded songs.
The original release of “Bam Bam” did not gain much popularity in Jamaica when first released, but it has been a standard in other music genres since them. Originally recorded in 1966 by Toots and the Maytals, Sister Nancy’s version is frequently sampled in other genres and has been included in 73 songs since 1991. In 2016, t “Bam Bam” was sampled in the song “Famous” by Kanye West.
Sister Nancy retired from the banking sector in 2016 in New Jersey to pursue music and performing. She played at Rebel Salute in 2017 in Jamaica and at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York the same year.
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