Afrobella of the Month: Queen Ifrica

“Queen

In the music industry today, finding artists who truly understand the importance and effect of their image is rare. Even moreso when it comes to females. It can seem like socially conscious musicians like Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Tanya Stephens, and India Arie are anomalies of the industry. Compare their success to the stars who get the magazine cover shine today. Sometimes when I listen to the radio or watch music videos on TV, I’m filled with an overwhelming feeling of despair and unbelonging.

See, I’m a bella who’s constantly seeking music that uplifts, enlightens, and informs. So when Queen Ifrica came on the scene, I sat up and took notice.

I clearly remember the first time I heard her voice — at first I thought she was a dude, simply because her intonation in the chorus of Daddy is so deep. The lyrical content is so heavy. In case you’ve never heard Daddy, click here to experience it. Be forewarned – it’s not every day a song about incest becomes a hit reggae song.

Tackling heavy subject matter head on is what Queen Ifrica does. Name another female artist who’s addressed a topic as controversial as skin bleaching in the Caribbean — a chronic problem as revealed here.

My complexion is better than ever!”

I love her spirit and her sentiment.


I recently had an opportunity to interview Queen Ifrica, and it was beyond fantastic. We chatted for an hour about everything from her musical influences to Michael Jackson, to her views on hair and homosexuality. Will this post end in a giveaway? ;) read on and find out!

Queen Ifrica was born into music. The daughter of ska legend Derrick Morgan, she was mentored by the legendary Tony Rebel. Music has always been her destiny.

“I can say that music realy chose me. I was living in the rasta community, so I’m just being myself in my belief of self-fulfillment,” she revealed.

Although Queen Ifrica’s music is steeped in reggae — she is equally adept at chanting as she is at singing — her sound cannot be limited to traditional reggae music. Elements of R&B and modern soul are evident on her latest album, Montego Bay.

Lioness On The Rise is the first single, and I love the down-to-earth vibe of the video.

Ifrica admitted to having diverse interests and influences. “Reggae is the foundation of it, but I don’t put a boundary on my music. Music has no boundaries.”

One thing I particularly wanted to ask Ifrica about was her position on the other females making waves in music today. Whether it’s in Jamaica or around the world, sex sells and artists are doing everything up to and including bending over backwards to get attention and sell records.

“I guess that’s what the culture of what society is all about. Sex is a big market. But if you don’t think about who you are and what you stand for, then what is it worth? My thing is, when all of this is past and gone, what are you going to think when you look back on life? You don’t want to look back on your legacy and be ashamed of anything. Especially for Caribbean women in the music, don’t let yourself be a platform for someone else’s message. Female artists – we might be in a male dominated industry, but you don’t have to play their role to fit into it. It’s about personal reponsibility for your actions. But at the same time, I am not a saint!” she said with a knowing chuckle.

Ifrica credits the female influences are leading the path that she’s currently on. And I found some of them a bit surprising!

“My female role models are Miriam Makeba, I love Sister Carol, Sister Nancy, and Nina Simone. I admire Beyonce and Alicia Keys because of what they do outside of music. Same with Angelina Jolie because she is a humanitarian. We can all be responsible and make a difference in this world.”

Being charitably conscious is of tremendous importance to Queen Ifrica, and many of her songs address the inequalities and poverty that plagues Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. But Ifrica wanted to make clear – her songs aren’t solely targeted at her homeland.

“The topics I address aren’t just things that affect us here in Jamaica. It is wherever the poor are concentrated all over the world. Men make war and rumors of war. But love is the greatest defense.”

We chatted about several of her songs and the motivations behind them, but one in particular lingered with me and motivated me to seek out this interview to begin with. I had to ask her about Mi Naah Rub, her anti-skin bleaching anthem. So few artists have addressed this topic, particularly in a sensible and outreaching manner. I could tell it was close to Ifrica’s heart.

“In Jamaica here, it is sad to walk into the garrison and see the level of skin bleaching. There is no label on these products and the smell is beyond terrible. The goverment doesn’t intervene and there is nobody coming in to combat the importation of these products. The insecurities is what they are feeding on. I have so many ladies who come to me and tell me about the problems it has caused them. I tell them – love yourself, look at yourself in the mirror and love yourself. And artists are encouraging women to bleach their skin and walk about naked. Why is it so important to then to destroy a nation that used to love itself and see itself as beautiful? From the forums I do, I see that love and self love are hard to find in the community. It is a slavish mentality many have, and it is the individuals who have to be willing to change.”

All of our talk about skin bleaching and learning to love one’s appearance led us to discuss an individual who came to symbolize so many of our collective issues — Michael Jackson. Ifrica became extremely animated when discussing the tragically deceased King of Pop.

“I’ve been a Michael Jackson fan from day one. Michael Jackson was a youth who was a victim of this very same thing, this self hatred. I think he is the ultimate example. His dad was his greatest downfall in this life — telling him he is ugly, he is black, he has a big nose, don’t love yourself as you are born to be. There are so many men and women like Missa Joe, so hard to the world. It is a subliminal thing. Until we as a people learn to overcome it, there will not be change.”

One topic I especially wanted to ask Ifrica about was — duh — hair. That’s what so much of Afrobella is about, and being a proud rasta woman I knew she’d have wisdom to share. Ifrica gladly went back to the roots.

“I started growing my locs, really at age 15. I had locs before that and my aunts combed it out. So briefly I had straightened hair,” she recalled. But of course, that didn’t last long.

“You don’t have to be a rasta who hails Jah Rastafari to grow dreadlocks. But for me it was a part of my life, of my tribe. There was something in me that — it is an inborn need.”

I noticed that she referred to her hair as “dreadlocks.” Having been previously chastised by readers for using that term, I had to ask her — how does she feel about the word? Would she call them locs, or dreadlocks? Why or why not?

“I am a dreadlocks rasta woman,” she stated simply, and with great pride. “The debate over words… it comes from people who are familiar with it but they don’t truly overstand what it means, or the significance behind it all. It’s RASTA, it’s DREADLOCKS. That is what I believe,” she said.

Well alright, Queen!

I understood where she was coming from; as someone who grew up in a country where this hair is more than a style, I never before encountered anyone who shunned the word “dread” until I moved to America. Where many will argue that there’s “nothing dreadful about locs,” Ifrica and many of the rastafarians I have known in my life would counter, “there’s nothing dreadful about being a natty dread.”

Either way, it’s semantics. We quickly moved past questions about words, and I had to ask for some tips for my rastabellas. What was the best advice she could pass along to those who wear locs? Queen Ifrica had much knowledge to impart. Here are her best tips:

– “For those who love to twist… it’s not the healthiest thing to do. It can thin out your hair and break it. Locks are formed from the residue you would normally comb out from your hair, that is what grows it. So just let them grow.

– Castor oil is a VERY good thing. And for those who hate the smell, there’s a scented castor oil now.

– Wash your hair only when it is itching. You don’t need to wash it all that often. The natural oils are important to the health of your hair. Washing can strip them out.

– The hair is very soft, no matter how it looks – it is actually very soft to the touch. So you need products that nurture it. In Jamaica there’s the Mango and Lime products. They are excellent. I love the leave in moisturizer. It has all natural ingredients, cactus is part of it. Any hemp based products are very good for dreadlocks, too.”

Before the interview ended, I had to ask about a touchy issue that quite honestly, I make a point to ask every reggae artist I’ve been lucky enough to interview thus far. I ask the question simply because I want to know and understand the root of this controversial issue as it affects reggae and dancehall musicians. I want to understand, because I don’t agree with the hatred. So I asked — Queen Ifrica, what are your views on homosexuality? I was extremely, pleasantly surprised by the complexity and consideration of her response.

“I don’t delve into it a lot, but I believe we have to fully understand what being gay is before we have a discussion. There needs to be hope, and an acceptance of every individual. I don’t think everybody who is gay truly wants to be gay. I say this because, especially since I wrote the song Daddy, I have been in touch with many gay people who will tell you they have been abused at some time in their life. Until we can sit down and see eye to eye, we should reserve judgment. I would love to sit down and have a televised, public, eye to eye discussion with the gay leaders here. But In Jamaica, we are so hypocritical. It is not as homophobic as it seems. There are actually a lot of gay people who live and are happy and safe here in Jamaica,” she said.

I was surprised to hear that, because it’s not the impression you get from the horrific news articles that make international headlines. But the same goes in Trinidad – as I have already stated on more than one occasion, I’ve got gay relatives and grew up with close friends who are gay. And growing up in the Caribbean, you’re exposed to a great deal of ignorance about what “causes” homosexuality, and I’ve had to cut good friends off for intolerable levels of ignorance over this very touchy topic.

Ifrica continued.

“I was watching a documentary on TV about a gay teenager recently, and he was in so much turmoil. He needed a hug. I wanted to hug him and tell him, don’t force yourself to be who you are not. Go through what you have to go through. But on the other hand, I would love the gay community to allow people to speak their mind. Look at the Miss California scandal. You should be able to express your feelings without being shouted down.”

Ifrica ended that topic on a straight talk note — “People need to think more about situations like Darfur and look at people who don’t have a gay or straight problem. They have a surviving day to day problem.”

It is those people who Ifrica is focusing her attentions on most of all these days. She’s working on getting her foundation off the ground, dedicated to a close friend who lost his life due to senseless violence. In his honor, she ventures into poor communities and speaks to children who need a boost in knowledge and self esteem. In his honor, she’s donating computers and books to the youths in Jamaica’s garrisons. She plans to tour, for sure. Check the VP Records website for details on that. But more than anything, Ifrica plans to do good works for those who listen to her music and her message, and for those who she can physically affect with her presence.

And now here’s your turn, bellas! My friends at VP Records will give 3 copies of her brand new CD, Montego Bay to three lucky readers. All you have to do is leave a comment below, telling me which of Queen Ifrica’s songs you like the best — she’s got several videos on YouTube. I’ll close comments Friday and pick winners over the weekend.

Big, big respect to Queen Ifrica. I sense we’re going to hear a lot from this beautiful lioness on the rise in years to come. Congratulations, and thanks for being my first Afrobella of the Month in more than a minute!

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Comments

  1. This is an excellent post. I’m a huge fan of Queen Ifrica.

  2. Good interview! I hadn’t heard about Queen Ifrica, but will be looking into her music.

    Sad about the skin bleaching going on. I thought it was just a West African phenomenon…I once met a lady whose facial skin had a greenish tint to it in some places…don’t know how to quite explain it. A lot of these skin bleach products are not regulated and leave permanent damage in their wake…The only answer to that problem will have to be education.

  3. Have you heard her retort to Vybz Kartel’s ‘Virginity’ song? Well she says “You can’t take my virginity”. I’m happy there’s a female artiste who isn’t afraid to challenge the chauvinistic ideals of dancehall culture. Ifrica you large!

  4. warrior11209 says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Queen Ifrica- I had not heard her music until 20 minutes ago when I listened to the links you provided(I would have You-tubed more , but I am at work). I have dreadlocs,and have never understood the debate over lingo – dreads , locs,locks, whatever. Letting my hair loc has become much more than a hairstyle for me.
    As a survivor , my favorite song is “Daddy”.
    Thanks for introducing me to Queen Ifrica

  5. I love Queen Ifrica! There was a song she did a couple of years ago…can’t remember the name, but I will always remember her voice. When I first heard “Daddy” I was so moved by the lyrics, but my favorite song of hers thus far is “Calling Africa” as it relates to so many people. That song speaks to those of us from the Caribbean diaspora, whites, blacks…people of all colors…Africa is home!

  6. Thank you for introducing me to this Concious Sister. She has a beatiful voice and I support her in spreading her message of love and self-acceptance. My favorite is Mi Nah Rub. I have never heard this global issue addressed in song. Again thanks Bella for bringing her to our attention.

  7. Thanks. Her CD is now in my Amazon.com shopping cart! I first visited Jamaica eight months ago and miss it very much. Glad to keep in touch with The Queen!

    Love your blog, BTW. Happy Anniversary!

  8. Thank you for the Queen Ifrica interview and another haircare product for me to try (Mango and Lime). I love it! It’s hard to choose a favorite song, but I’d have to say one of my favorite’s is called “Rise Ghetto Youths.” Reason being is because I am a product of the ghetto and I don’t forget that, but I also know that I live in a country where opportunity is abundant. And unfortunately some folks want to dwell on what they do not have and what they can’t get (usually material), instead of having faith and pushing forward. And the song reads that way to me. No one is just going to hand it over to you, you must “rise up” and get moving to make your situation better. I know it can be done.

    I’ll holla.
    Liyah

  9. L'afrique c'est chic says:

    Nope.. skin bleaching is not only a black problem.. Its a big business in Asia too. They believe light skin means you are beautiful.

    I had a friend whose face got burnt from bleaching cream. At first I couldnt stop laughing.
    Then I began to feel very sorry for her because I soon realised she suffers from very low self esteem.

    During our university days she used to rock a crusty blonde weave and the white folks used to stare at her like she was crazy.

    Best thing is not to judge people who seem to be self hating. Just help them learn to love themselves.

  10. My fav would have to be “Lioness on the Rise.” this song has a really laid back vibe and Queen Ifrica has a unique voice. Thanks Afrobella for the interview and the good music.

  11. Patrice, I need to talk to you! Check your email.

  12. I love Queen Ifrica. This article has me wondering about something. Is there a space in dancehall for a woman who is not rasta but doesn’t have the sexy/raunchy image?

  13. afrobello says:

    Why in the world does this woman start a statement about homosexuality by saying many gays were abused and not wanting to be who they are? I don’t care how great her voice may be. She already lost me with that mess.

  14. Afrobello! I’m glad you commented on this particular point.

    She gave this a lot of thought before she answered, so I wanted to include her response even though I realized it might be a real turn off for many of my gay readers. BUT I see this as what Obama might call a “teachable moment.”

    I reserved my own judgment and didn’t counter the discussion at this point, because with reggae artists (and many Caribbean folks in general) – it’s been my experience that it’s best to just listen and let people talk it out. I think she also said something very interesting in that ” believe we have to fully understand what being gay is before we have a discussion. There needs to be hope, and an acceptance of every individual.”

    That’s more than I’ve gotten from several other artists regarding this very question.

    I think it really boils down to the fact that many people don’t understand that being gay is just… being. It’s who you are, not who you’re made to be by some terrible incident. BUT because of her song Daddy, the people who have reached out to Ifrica have presented those feelings and experienced that particular pain. That’s been the lesson she’s learned, from her own interactions. I don’t know if she’s ever really met or spent time with anyone gay who truly has broken it down – this is who I am, not because of any reason.

    I don’t know if homophobia in the Caribbean (or anywhere else in the world) will ever truly go away, but I do know if there ever was the televised face to face she mentioned, it would be compelling and interesting. And a whole lot of people might walk away understanding each other better.

    Great hearing from you!

  15. I LOVE Queen Ifrica!!! Her song Daddy Don’t Touch Me There is one of the most powerful songs I’ve heard in years and not to mention Mi Nah Rub! She is the truth!! Black men and women need to be proud of their complexion and not allow society to brainwash you into thinking that black is ugly! My family is from Trinidad and I never knew about the bleaching thing into I began to meet Jamaicans who are constantly doing this madness to their skin. Learn to love yourself! Afrobella, thanks for this great interview!

  16. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. I love Lioness on the Rise. The song speaks to me on so many levels. Thanks for introducing this artist to others.

  18. i love queen ifrica– i only heard her when i went to trini! Great artist with a meaningful message :)

  19. Thanks for this post about Queen Ifrica. I wanted to share in turn knowledge about a very natural-haired character in the Inheritance Cycle books by author Christopher Paolini.

    For whatever reason, this black female character has no noticable fans. I presume it’s because the average black female does not read fantasy fiction –because most fantasy fiction does not include healthy black female characters.

    The books are Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr. The fourth and final book in the series hasn’t been published yet.

    The character’s name is Nasuada and this is her physical description in the books:
    “Her face was striking, with almond-shaped eyes, wide lips, and round cheekbones.”

    “Her dense, mosslike hair she had piled high on her head in an intricate mass of knots
    and braids. A single white ribbon held the arrangement in place.”

    “Nasuada was garbed in a green silk dress that shimmered in the sun, like the feathers on the breast of a hummingbird, in bright contrast to the sable shade of her skin.”

    This is a fan video I was sent in the mail, if you need a motion picture reference:
    “An Epic Journey”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz43IqQaasQ

    The comment section for the video may be helpful as well about the strong black female character. I am guilty of only recently learning about these books, and this is an attempt to show this rare distinguishably ethnic character some support.

  20. I’ve listened to a couple Queen Ifrica songs before but Lioness on the Rise makes me eager to hear her new album. I think it was fair for afrobello to call her out for saying that people don’t really want to be gay, but I think it is a bit unreasonable to dismiss someone based on her ignorance, especially when she seemed to come from a place of honesty and willingness to learn.

  21. Wow, I’ve never heard of her before but I’m so glad you posted this! She’s really great. After listening to several of her songs, I think it’s a tough pick, but my favorite is “Born Free.” It’s so uplifting, and says something we should all stop and remember here–we are born free. Not free from hurts or struggles, but at the core of our humanity we are free, and that’s something no one can take away.

  22. That song “Daddy” is really heavy, and yet through the video all I could think was, “OMG that gap in her tooth makes her sooooo cute!” Is there something wrong with me?

  23. I like “Lioness.” I find “Daddy” difficult to listen to because of the horrors of sexual abuse by a father. Yet this is what I love about reggae. It’s not all champagne and roses. It provides social commentary.

    Above all, reggae makes it alright to be “black like a tar” [Richie Spice] and have natural tightly curled hair – a.k.a “grow your dreadlocks; don’t be afraid of the wolfpack” [Bob Marley].

    This means a lot to me, a dark-skinned dreadlocked (yes I embrace the dread word) African woman with two lovely dark, curly hair-headed children.

  24. Love her music. I also like what I see of her personality…strong, Caribbean woman who is confident and proud of who she is. My favorite songs are “Lioness on the Rise” and “Far Away”.

  25. Great article! Queen Ifrica is a talented artist who combines style and substance. She embodies strength, confidence and high self-esteem. Self-love is vital, the foundation of every human being. Skin bleaching is a serious problem that feeds off people’s insecurities. The problem is very widespread, it goes beyond Africa and the Caribbean. One also notices ‘bleachers’within African diaspora communities in countries like France, Belgium and Switzerland. Discussion, education and the promotion of self-love is key!

  26. Lioness On The Rise will be a hit .It is a wonderful song I could understand all the words and thats important to me because I am 100% deaf in my right,50% left ear. I am also a DJ so clear sound is important. Queen Ifrica is an excellent singer now that I am able to tag a name to the music.Because of this article she is now one of my fans. Her music will be added to my DJ collection of best Reggae artist groove dancing music.Short cut for my good stuff .

  27. Barbara Jones says:

    It has been a long time since I’ve heard good music like the sounds coming from Queen Ifrica. She is blessed. I love Mi Nah Rub. It not only touches the Carribean but Africa as well. Here in America we expect black women to praise lightening up the skin, wig wearing and faux eyelashes, and walking around half naked. God forbid the “Congo Blonds” the darkest of women with blond hair. There are no positive images of beautiful Black women on tel-lie-vision. Black women with dreadlocks are rarely seen on TV and it’s a shame. I wear my locks with pride with no apologies to anyone. I am Black and beautiful. I’m smart too. Keep on singing and telling it like it is Ifrica. You have a new fan. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  28. She seems like a sweet person, but she is very ignorant when it comes to gays and lesbians. Gay is not a choice, and the only people who don’t want to be gay are filled with self-hate and are bullied and discriminated against like gays and lesbians in Jamaica. Poet and activist Stacy-Ann Chin talks all of the time about homophobia in Jamaica and how she was raped as a teenager by boys who were trying to turn her “straight”. Needless to say it didn’t work and she is living happily as a lesbian.

  29. Lioness on the Rise!
    When I first heard this song, it took me off on a mind trip! There was both sadness and gladness. I actually cried being stirred within my spirit because I went so within. It took me into my life over many years to include my love for Jamaican people and the many moods in the world especially the caribbean. AS I have took interest in this artist I find her to be wise, culturally enriched, self affirmed. Moreover, she knows who she is, where she wants to go. With all of that said, I am impressed. She even knows that some of the keys to life is to give of yourself, give from thyself, and acknowledge and be true to thyself. I pray with her that she does continue to rise, because she has my attention. You go girl!!!!!!!!!

  30. I LOVE YOU!!!! SISTA!!!!
    I just seen you in Columbus 12/5/09 with Rebel..and you were fantasic..we wanted more!!! Many Blessings and praises must come to to…keep on speaking of our lives, pains and joys in your music..my soul sister.
    I and I thank you.

  31. Heard of her about 3 yrs ago! And I’m in love with her music! Thank you for posting this!!! <333

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