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!
“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.
“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!