How many hits have been signed by women? Our Top 10 will make you aware of the important place that female singers hold in this still very masculine environment that is reggae.
Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop
My Boy Lollipop is simply the first Jamaican song to be successful abroad. And it’s a woman who interprets it! After recording a few songs for Coxsone at Yard, Millie Small moved to London. When she arrived there, she recorded this title in 1964, which immediately became a hit on the British island. The rhythm, called blue beat, is one of the premise of ska. First success for Jamaican music and for the Island label… You know the rest!
Marcia Griffiths – Feel Like Jumping
Recorded in 1968 at Studio One, Feel Like Jumping was Marcia’s first hit, later becoming a member of the I-Threes, Bob Marley’s backing singers. Does the riddim mean anything to you? Normal, it is the Boops Riddim, better known as 54-46, the same one that is the hit of Toots and the Maytals… Still active today, Marcia Griffiths is considered the undisputed Queen of Reggae!
Lady G – Nuff Respect
Set in 1988 on Gussie Clark’s powerful Rumours Riddim, which features Gregory Isaacs’ terrible tune, Nuff Respect is a bold title for a time when women were very rare in Jamaica’s music scene, and even more so in dancehall. Lady G stands up for women’s rights and demands loud and clear that they be shown respect with a precise deejay flow and an irresistible Jamaican accent. The tune even gets a clip in the pure 80’s style with the haircuts and clothing that go with it. Listening to this title, we see only one simple thing to say: Nuff respect to yuh Lady G!
Queen Ifrica – Daddy
This is a title that became a cult as soon as it was released. Placed in 2007 on Kemar’s 83 Riddim’Flava’ McGregor for his label No Doubt, Daddy may not be Queen Ifrica’s most musically striking tune, but it is undoubtedly the most striking in terms of writing. The singer dares to break taboos and denounces incest and sexual abuse of children in a fiery and beautifully written plea. She puts herself in the shoes of an abused young girl and delivers touching lyrics: “The long showers I take don’t wash away my memories.” Against all odds, the song will quickly rank at the top of the charts in Jamaica, despite various attempts at censorship. And the money will even be supported by UNICEF, which will hire Queen Ifrica for a few concerts for abused children. The perfect example of a conscious and militant reggae!
Phyllis Dillon – Don’t Stay Away
The rocksteady was probably the period when female artists were most prominent in Jamaica. With singers like Nora Dean, Marcia Griffiths, Doreen Shaffer, Joya Landis, The Soulettes or The Gaylettes, love songs took on a new dimension. Phyllis Dillon mourns the departure of her soul mate on an absolutely must-see rocksteady riddim composed and played by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. Don’t Stay Away was released in 1967 on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. This is the first original song recorded by Phyllis Dillon, so far limited to covers of American standards such as Bettye Swann’s Make Me Yours or Stephen Phills’ Love the One You’re With. However, she was only 19 years old when this title was released. Propelled to the top of the charts, Phyllis nevertheless made a short career that she stopped in 1971.
Nora Dean – Barbwire
“The other day, I met this guy who had barbed wire in his underwear…” Nora Dean tells the story of a young girl being picked up by a young man who is a little too enterprising. But she doesn’t disarm, hits him on the head and runs to his mother, calling for help: “Oh Mama, my ma ma ma!” It was precisely this gimmick that made the title popular. Nora Dean will have had a quick career, almost unnoticed if this 1969 title produced by Duke Reid had not been released. She is known for her grippy titles and this one will further shape her reputation. A track released in 1969 that prefigures in a way the slackness of today….
Dawn Penn – No No No (You Don’t Love Me)
Classic among the classics! Many know this Dawn Penn tune, but few know that it is inspired by two American songs. No No No No includes lyrics and some musical elements from the track You Don’t Love Me recorded by Willie Cobbs in 1961 and itself inspired by Bo Diddley’s 1955 title She’s Fine She’s Mine. As the producer Coxsone often travelled to the United States to bring back records, it was not uncommon in the 1960s for some songs recorded in Jamaica to be covers of American rhythms and blues. This No No No No No is part of it. First recorded by Studio One in 1967 on a rocksteady riddim (on which Prince Jazzbo will deliver a superb cut deejay), it became a global hit in 1994 when Steely & Clevie had the good idea to base Dawn Penn on a more modern version (which will even get her clip). Since then, the famous “No No No No” has been sampled and covered dozens of times by American artists such as Rihanna or Beyoncé. Party of the States and return to the States… The loop is closed!
Judy Mowatt – Black Woman
“Black woman, to you I dedicate my song”. A song by a woman for women! Judy Mowatt is a former Gaylettes when she started her solo career in the early 1970s. However, it was not until she joined another trio – the I-Threes alongside Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley – that her solo titles would resonate. Black Woman is one of his most successful songs. Eponymous title of a female solo artist’s first reggae album (produced by herself!), it conveys an emotion that we feel more than sincere expressed in an irresistible soul voice and served by a beautiful riddim.
Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking
One of the most famous reggae songs in the world. It has been used dozens of times, appears in films, video games, series…. When it was released in 1977, the title sounded like a bomb in England. Uptown Top Ranking immediately ranks at the top of the charts making the two teenage Althea & Donna the youngest women to have entered the English charts. They were only 18 when they recorded this song for Joe Gibbs. The riddim is in fact a recut of the 1967 instrument, Alton Ellis’ I’m Still In Love. Althea & Donna answer in this song to the deejay Trinity who had recorded Three Piece Suit on the same riddim two years earlier.
Tany Stephens – It’s a Pity
Adultery is often encouraged in modern Jamaican music. Dancehall artists, whether male or female, do not hesitate to boast of the increasing number of conquests in recent times. But in 2004, a dancehall singer known for her sulphurous side dared to approach the subject in a different way. It’s a Pity is Tanya Stephens’ hit of choice. Rather used to dancehall at the time, she finally settled on a 100% reggae riddim particularly chaloupant. It is Doctor’s Darling Riddim, a huge recruit from Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse, played by the German group Seeed. On the version, Tanya tells an impossible love story between two lovers already taken. But instead of encouraging action, the Jamaican singer wisely closes the song and neither of them skip the step! That’s why we can make hits while remaining moral…