Hey! I missed you guys so much! My family is officially back home, and now I can return to all things afrobella. And what better way to kick things off than with a brand new Afrobella of the Week?
They call her the Queen, the Empress, the First Lady of reggae music. Her career spans five decades, and really parallels the evolution of reggae music as we know it today. Her latest album is a reggae anthology, titled Marcia Griffiths – Melody Life, and oh what a life it is.
Marcia Griffiths grew up among reggae’s brightest luminaries. She went to school with Bunny Wailer and Garth Dennis of the Wailing Souls. (click that link for Shark Attack, one of the baddest reggae tunes of all time).
Marcia started her career in 1964, recording vocals for Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. She cut her teeth at the world famous Studio One. Click here to check out a youthful Marcia getting back to nature in her early days. That song in the background was her earliest hit, Feel Like Jumping. If you’re looking for a song to lift your spirits while you clean your room on a Sunday, that’s the ticket.
Feels Like Jumping, Melody Life, and Truly were some of Marcia’s biggest hits, and they were all written by Bob Andy. The pair became famous as Bob and Marcia, and they had an international hit song with their version of Young, Gifted, and Black. Throughout her career, that’s been Marcia’s image. You’d be hard pressed to find a negative or stereotypical image in her music, and she was one of the first icons of natural black beauty in the Caribbean and in the UK, where the song became a hit on Top of the Pops. In the liner notes for Melody Life, Marcia recalls, “That was the show then, you were really really happening to be on that show. Full orchestra with strings, that was my dream all my life, even when I started I had wished to sing with a big orchestra. And here I was in London for the first time on a big show, performing with a big orchestra, singing such a song… our fans were all white skinheads, that was their favorite song. We did performances at that time with Elton John and Rod Stewart on the show with us, with their new songs breaking as well.”
Marcia enjoyed solo success after parting with Bob and Marcia, cementing her position as the biggest female artist in the genre by collaborating with reggae’s only established female producer – Sonia Pottinger. With Mrs. Pottinger at the helm, Marcia recorded big hits like Dreamland and Peaceful Woman. Many of Marcia’s biggest hits are cover songs, and many of her versions more than do justice to the originals. She’s always loved The Beatles, and in my opinion, her version of Don’t Let Me Down is among their grooviest covers.
One of Marcia’s biggest collaborators was the late, great Bob Marley, and her anthology kicks off with a beautiful duet called Oh My Darling, which was recorded but never released when Bob was still in his very early, soulful songwriting phase. Hear it here on her MySpace page. The song totally hearkens back to that slow dancing, doo wop era at reggae’s beginnings. It just pours over you like warm syrup. Love it.
In 1975 when the original Wailers broke up, Marcia became one of the I-Threes and toured the world spreading the reggae gospel alongside Bob, Rita, and Judy Mowatt. If you’re a Bob Marley fan, you’ve been listening to Marcia Griffiths’s melodic croon on so many of his biggest anthems, starting with the seminal album Natty Dread. So without even realizing it, you might already know Marcia’s voice from such tracks as No Woman No Cry, that na-na-na-na-na-nana-na from Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), and of course the title track, Natty Dread. Check her out, singing the refrain in her rasta colored satin jacket. The I-Threes were always impeccably turned out and together, the women represented black, all natural, Rastafarian womanhood at one its proudest pinnacles.
From Marcia’s own home page, she states: â€œWords are not enough to express my experience with the I-Threes and Bob Marley and the Wailersâ€, says Marcia. â€œWhat a blessing to be so privileged …to have shared this experienceâ€.
The I-Threes performed with Marley up until his final concert tour in 1980 — peep this version of Work, recorded in Germany. Bob’s final performance was in Pittsburgh that same year. The I-Threes reunited to sing Rastaman Chant at Marley’s funeral in 1981.
The following year, Marcia recorded her biggest solo hit, the Electric Slide. Not my favorite of her many hits, but just stroll past a wedding reception in its final drunken throes and you’ll realize, it’s still insanely popular.
Marcia continues to collaborate with great artists. Her partnership with Beres Hammond has been positive and fruitful, just this year they hit the road on their For the Love of It tour. (And if you don’t know and love Beres Hammond, you need to check out this live performance of Putting Up a Resistance. He’s one of few artists I’ve seen who sounds just as amazing live as he does recorded. Here’s an audio clip of one of my favorites, just for fun).
To pay homage to her frequent collaborator, Marcia recorded Loving Jah, a sizzling duet with Tony Rebel that gives tribute to Bob Marley and covers one of his most timeless classics. The latter tracks on her anthology reveal the strength of her recent collaborations — her crooning tames the savage chanting of artists like Cutty Ranks, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, and Buju Banton. And because of her bearing, the history of her talent, artists who often delight in being hypersexualized, homophobic, or misogynistic have put those traits behind them and have recorded uplifting and innocent tracks with her. Of “Tell Me Now,” the version that features Bounty Killer, she says “Bounty came in after, and I think he was restricting himself a bit regarding his lyrics, because he didn’t want to offend me.” Hey, Marcia should record a whole album with him if she can get habitual line-stepper Bounty Killer to tone down the vitriol!
After so many years of consistent quality, how does Marcia Griffiths want to be remembered? She addresses that in the very same interview: “I would love to be remembered as the one woman who really touched souls abd at least tried to unite the world through the meditation of the music that God really blessed me and gave me the gift to participate in. I really want to be remembered as someone who did something positive to mankind.” With the sweetness of her voice, the strength of her messages, and the conscious and natural bearing of her appearance, she makes this afrobella very proud indeed. Go ‘head, Marcia!
I had a tough time picking a video to highlight, until I discovered this beautiful live version of her biggest solo reggae classic, Steppin’ Out of Babylon.
I love the Little Superstar-esque child dancer rockin’ it behind her on stage, and I love Sister Marcia’s parting message: Stand firm and keep the faith, oh, your rewards will be great. Words to live by. Nuff respect and congratulations to Marcia Griffiths — a legendary Afrobella of the Week!
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