Friday, 29 May 2009

Queen Ifrica interview

Conceived around the time her mother was going into her Rastafarian faith, it was decided that Africa would have been appropriate nickname for the first child, especially as she was giving birth to a female. It became Ifrica when she went to live with her mother in Montego Bay; a place where everybody in the household’s name begun with the letter ‘I’. Queen derived from Rastafarians referring to women as Queen or Empress.

Daughter of Ska legend Derrick Morgan, the Fyah Mumma's musical talents were honed whilst singing at Rastafarian gatherings, but begun professionally when she won a competition called Star Search in Montego Bay in 1995. As a result she performed in a prime time slot at Reggae Sumfest later on that year then deciding to take making music seriously after meeting Rastafarian artist Tony Rebel, once again in Montego Bay in 1998.

Despite her hectic schedule, Ifrica is involved in several youth outreach programs in Jamaica's inner-city counseling abuse victims and other disadvantaged individuals. She also performs at various charity events shows where proceeds are donated to the cause.

With an outspoken nature reminiscent to that of Peter Tosh, versatile delivery - switching melodic singjay or ferocious MC delivery - of Sizzla combined with the "Poor people's Governor" stance made popular by Bounty Killer, the Queen has made a rapid rise as the premier Roots Reggae femcee.

To pay homage to the place that both raised her and played an integral part to her career, Queen Ifrica releases her second album aptly-titled Montego Bay (released 16th June). Touching on subjects which plague many people across the globe ranging from child molestation on the controversial 'Daddy', improving living conditions in the other side of popular tourist Jamaican city on title track 'Montego Bay' to romance on 'Far Away'.

Marvin Sparks caught up with Queen Ifrica to discuss her experience growing up in Montego Bay, why females shouldn't use sex to sell, the controversial Daddy, her softer side and whether Bob Marley is the greatest Reggae artist ever!

Marvin Sparks: Why did you decide to make music?

Queen Ifrica: I think it’s a calling; the environment that I grew up in was very conscious, self-aware and poverty awareness. It was easy for me to bring that through to music so it made the job easier for me doing social work and going and talking to people, I could actually do more by putting it on a rhythm so it could go out further into the world and other people could have their input.

Marvin Sparks: You tackle a lot of thought-provoking issues in your music, where do you draw for inspiration when writing?

Queen Ifrica: I draw my inspiration from just observing my surroundings. Looking around me, my community, in my circle where I socialise... There are things there which are noticeable especially where young people are concerned. In society today we complain a lot about how young people are not focused and not knowing their rights - and it’s not just young people, but people in general. It’s not that I have the answers for all the problems that we face, but being an observer of the things that I personally have experienced as an individual living also. Being among the people, I am not alien to their [suffering] and the things that they go through, so it makes it easier for me to write about it.

Marvin Sparks: Do you think it’s important for artists to use their voice as a tool to teach rather than just something to sing along?

Queen Ifrica: Yes I really do think it is important because if it was not the Almighty would have given each and every individual the ability to hold a note and to sing with a melody. So I think that if we find ourselves in a position of people who have that influence and voice, I think it would be fair - it’s not like you necessarily have to because at the end of the day it’s your talent, you do what you want to with it - but it would be fair to give back if the Almighty saw it fit to give you such a beautiful gift. I think it would be fitting that he’d want you to give back something positive and contribute to the development of the beautiful world that I think he would love to see.

Marvin Sparks: What do you make of female artists who use sex to sell? Do you think it has an adverse effect on impressionable females?

Queen Ifrica: I just think those females who do that, it’s just impatience. I think it’s not willing to sit it out and wait for their time. You have an artist that will be famous today, you have another that will be famous tomorrow, another one next week, another one next year and another one that will be famous in ten years time. It is what those individuals do with their fame that will determine how long they are here for or what their contribution is.

Therefore, I don’t believe in females who believe they have to sell sex to be recognised or on par with men. As a woman, sex can’t be the reason you sell music because you think you are going to be popular quicker or get more recognition because at the end of the day when you become 60, if you’re lucky to see that age, you are going to have a lot of remorse and regret because you aren’t going to be able to go on stage and grab up yourself and talk about your private parts. Create a balance from now so that when you become older so don’t feel embarrassed.

Marvin Sparks: You grew up in Jamaica’s 2nd city, Montego Bay; how would you describe growing up?

Queen Ifrica: Growing up in Montego Bay was very interesting because it was a very Rastafarian surrounding. It was about self-awareness, consciousness, living in the hills, accepting self and being responsible for our actions and the things we do in life. I would say that my Rastafarianism came from my surroundings in Montego Bay because that’s where I was really introduced to Rastafari by my mum, so it has been a wonderful journey in the fact that I’ve gotten a chance to understand who I am as an individual and understand my surroundings.

Marvin Sparks: Was there a lot of crime in your area?

Queen Ifrica: Crime is something that has always been around since the inception of mankind. However we find that there has not been enough solutions to help with the decline of it. You find that with people wanting to make money more and more, crime is always going to be on the increase because crime, greed, poverty - all these things walk in the same shoes. As long as we have these things around, crime is always going to be on the increase until mankind realise that greed, these things come with a repercussion, and the repercussion is usually crime.

Marvin Sparks: You recorded a song ‘Rise Ghetto Youths Rise’; which ways do you feel the Government should help?

Queen Ifrica: Government are voted in by people who are going through difficulties in their lives and these are people [the Government Ministers] who present themselves as people who have access to the solutions of suffering. It happens every time an election is coming around; you find [the Government Ministers] gather together and come up with campaigns, strategies and teams about the troubles people are facing and the people believe these promises and these mislead opinions. They vote based on that only to find out as soon as they get into power, they forget everything about what it is the people put them there to do.

My thing is that, it’s not only in the Caribbean, England or in America that people and politicians have problems, so I think it’s fitting for us as people to look into ourselves and see that the solution that we seek for our problems really lay amongst us as people. Instead of us going out and voting for these individuals who obviously don’t have our interest at hand, I think we should find a ways to communicate amongst ourselves. Just as we can gang up together and rally to support politicians we think have our interest, we could gather up our own forces to go into our own communities to discuss our own issues and come up with ways we can help ourselves instead of waiting on politicians because it is never going to happen in this lifetime and it never happened in the ones before.

Marvin Sparks: One of the most controversial songs on your album is 'Daddy' where you talk about child molestation. What were your reasons for making this song?

Queen Ifrica: Well my reasons are, as I said, we live in a society where we blame a lot on the things that aren’t going the way they are supposed to go, but we never look at what is causing these things to not necessarily go the way they are supposed to. We have a whole lot of elements of negativity around us today and sometimes when you go one-to-one with these individuals that are creating these problems you find that incest is usually one of the problems for these reasons.

It is not the only reason because many people have reasons for why they act badly, but from research, just looking into young people and their withdrawal, they’ve been abused by not just their biological parents, but an adult who should know better. It could be anyone who is not your actual spouse who’s doing something of a sexual act on you. As doing a lot of social work, we go into a lot of institutions that house these kind of people [sexual abuse victims]. They have kids from the age of 9-20, some who are pregnant by their dad’s and other family members. There is no way that you can comfort these individuals. They think it’s their fault that these things have happened to them, but [we have to explain] it’s not. It’s a sick individual who didn’t know better at the time of what they were doing.

I think that [it is fitting] being the voice of the voiceless that is putting their career on the line to say I can be a martyr. A lot of people thought it was something that happened to me personally, but I’m fortunate to have not shared that experience. Unfortunately there are many who have and as I said earlier I can not alienate myself from the troubles of the people because I live in the society where I can see the effects of it. We’re saying this could be one of the reasons that stuff are the way it is. Aren’t you going to look into it and create better punishments and better laws to accommodate the repercussions that come with these things?

Marvin Sparks: What were your thoughts on the banning of the song in Jamaica?

Queen Ifrica: I don’t think it was justified, but I think it was a beautiful though. Incest affects the middle-class. You’ll find that a lot of people from that aspect of society who drive around in their jacket and tie sleep with their sons and daughters and their family members. [They are also people who] hold high positions in big businesses. Some of these businesses happen to be radio stations that are responsible for playing the music to the people. They didn’t think it was fitting for prime time play because people may be offended by what [I sung].

Then there are normal people in the streets who are very appreciative of a song like that. They would embrace it with open arms the fact that someone who is a public figure would put themselves into a position to sing a song like that. Whether or not you are going to get their 100% that you need to get your message across is another thing. But it’s never about worrying about what they think or what they would do, [because if it was] the song wouldn’t come up everyday and everybody would not know whether they are able to enjoy it.

Marvin Sparks: You do also have a softer side to you with songs like your lead singe ‘Far Away’.

Queen Ifrica: Well it’s not necessarily a softer side you know. For me as an artist, I don’t think there is an artist that is there to only sing one particular topic or to be in one particular mood all the time. Music has a freeness about it; depending on the riddim you get at the time and the meditation that you are under at that time, that will come out into the song that you decide to put on that particular project. 'Far Away’ is one of those riddims where it doesn’t have hardcore, social or any of that type of vibe. It has more instruments in it and it accommodates that [lovers] kind of vibe.

Marvin Sparks: Is there a personal favourite?

Queen Ifrica: Ahhh, personal favourite. Let me think [long pause]. I don’t want to be unfair to my babies because they are all my favourites [laughs]. I like ‘Coconut Shell’ and ‘Lioness on the Rise’. It’s kind of hard to choose but ‘Coconut Shell’ has a vibe to me, still - and also ‘Lioness on the Rise’ which surprisingly is doing so well at the moment. I give thanks for that.

Marvin Sparks: My personal favourite is ‘Keep it to Yourself’.

Queen Ifrica: Well yes, ‘Keep it to Yourself’ has a beautiful vibe.

Marvin Sparks: I like the way you put your opinion across. You voiced your opinion and it wasn’t offensive, you just said you don’t agree with it and why.

Queen Ifrica: See we live in a world today where speaking on what you believe in - whether it’s good for you or bad for you or for the person listening - has been compromised whichever elements were set up to distort freedom of speech. My thing is not to tell an individual how to live their life, so I think it would be fair for me to ask them not to try to dictate to me how I should live my life. If a lot of us approached it from that angle we wouldn’t be fighting across the table for so long.

Marvin Sparks: What is the overall message you would like people to take away from the album?

Queen Ifrica: The message I would like people to take away from the album is this is not Queen Ifrica who you need to listen to and be praising, just accept it as an individual who has a talent and has decided to use it towards a positive contribution. If you are an individual who believes we live in a world where we don’t have to agree with everyone and everything, but we can meet halfway then this album is for you. It has nice melodies, you can sing along, you can dance but you can have a hearty conversation based on the topic I choose to touch on.

Marvin Sparks: Any plans on touring?

Queen Ifrica: We are going to do some tours in America in July to promote the album. Also going to do some festivals in Europe and I’ll be going around the Caribbean. It’s a whole lot of work but I enjoy it because it gives me the chance to do what I am passionate about, which is reminding us we can do what we want as long as it is in the context of what the Almighty want us to be.

Marvin Sparks: Who were you musical influences growing up?

Queen Ifrica: Nina Simone, Bob Marley - not because of his popularity but what he represented as an individual who took it upon himself to take on world problems and do it in a way that everyone across the world could see where he was coming from, both culturally and politically.

Marvin Sparks: That’s a hot topic in Jamaica right now. Buju Banton said he doesn’t feel Bob was the greatest. He said Bob was the most promoted and said it isn’t correct that the whole genre is credited to Bob Marley, put artists such as Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh on the same level, and said the greatest is yet to come. Do you feel he is the greatest?

Queen Ifrica: I can not say he was the greatest ever and I’m not taking anything away from him. Bob Marley is Bob Marley. There is never going to be another Bob Marley, but there are many who have done the work with the same passion as Bob had. The thing about Bob is that, I think personally that Bob’s success was based upon his passion. He had a passion as an individual in music that whatever he got, whether it was promotion, admiration or popularity, it came because of the passion that he had as an individual for what he was doing.

I think where a lot of out follow-ons in the form of superstars have fallen off is they were willing to go as far as they could but not beyond where they could go. Bob Marley got some promotion and help from Chris Blackwell and all those who helped him, but if he did not put in the work he was putting in while he was getting help then he would only be someone who could have been what he is today. While you cannot take away the fact that he works, I cannot say that he is the greatest of all that came along because Culture is still alive, Burning Spear is still alive, my dad [Derrick Morgan] is still alive, Bunny Wailer - all the great people who are recognised in the same places that Bob is. Maybe not to the same level, but the fact remains there names are still there and that has to count for something.

Interview conducted by Marvin Sparks []

Montego Bay is released on 16th June by VP Records
For more info visit

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