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Bold-faced Caribbean Women in Music

Patra, Lady Saw and Calypso Rose have paved the way for the brand of feminism that has given us Koffee, Shenseea and Nailah Blackman

By Stephanie RamloganPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
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Bold-faced Caribbean Women in Music
Photo by Boris Isaac on Unsplash

Recent generations of Caribbean women have been raised with a blazing spirit to match the heat of the tropics. We're hot and we know it, and our music reflects that. Feminist Anthems from sexually charged and in-control powerhouses like Lady Saw, Patra and Calypso Rose paved the way for the unapologetic boss-ness and savagery that come from Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. Soca, Dancehall and Reggae mavens like Koffee, Shensea and Nailah Blackman are rarely caught singing sad, longing love songs. Instead they sing about being confident, blessed and strong. To be raised on these icons has been a golden opportunity. Young women see themselves as the stars of their own show, not background dancers shaking it for attention. They understand from early on that a woman is to be respected and honored.

Lady Saw

Imagine being teethed on songs like "Man is the least of meh problem", where Lady Saw in her outrageous fashion and platinum wigs unapologetically denounced the notion that a man could bring her down. In this particular song, she talks about not fighting over men and feeling bad for others who allow themselves to be disrespected. Her image in the 80s and 90s was very sexy, as women of this genre tend to be, but it much less for male attention than it has been for their own personal empowerment and adoration of their own bodies.

Patra

Patra has been another pioneer of the feminism in Caribbean music made by Caribbean women. She gained a lot of popularity in the US, even featuring Rapper Tupac in one of her music videos. Her energy remained distinct from much of the American music of the 90s though, where she always boldly assumed front and center of her performance, and American urban music tended to have women as background players or featured artists. My favorite Patra song has to be "Queen of the Pack" where she says:

"Murder meh wrote and meh nuh tek back meh chat

Shuffle deh deck meh a deh queen ina deh pack

Look how meh cute and sexy like that

Ah meh plant deh corn so unno better watch that"

She is essentially bragging that she is the best she can be, attractive and ambitious, having invested in herself, and she answers to no one.

Koffee

More contemporary artistes like the breakthrough Reggae star Koffee have been spreading a different kind of positivity, but still keep up the energy and self esteem. Koffee's debut single "Toast" was everywhere. She was only fifteen years old when the song hit, and she even won a Grammy award for her uplifting music. I could not go to a single spot between New York and Trinidad, whether it be an underground latin club or a bougie rooftop lounge, without hearing the hypnotic intro to Toast: "Cyah bawl inna life man!" urging us to be grateful, that life has much to offer. She sings about abundant blessings, the journey of life, and toasts to friends who help carry you through the lows that may come.

"Say we a come in with a force, yeah

Blessings we a reap pon we course inna hand full

We nuh rise and boast

Yeah we give thanks like we need it the most

We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to, be thankful!

Blessings all pon mi life and

Me thank God for di journey, di earnings a jus fi di plus (yeah)

Gratitude is a must, yeah

Me see blessings fall by mi right hand

Buss a toast fi di friends weh tek off heavy load"

Shenseea

Shenseea is living testimony of hard work and dedication. This self-made single mother takes every opportunity she can to talk about her focus and drive. She is a fantastic freestyle artist and has gained so much popularity through her humor, and realness on social media. Her music is extremely sexy and of course packed with I-am-woman type power, fiercely and unapologetically loving herself and her body, and encouraging other women to do the same. In her song "Zum" she speaks about choosing to be single if the alternative is to be controlled by her man, likening it to slavery.

You nah go hold me down

No I'd rather be alone

Cyaan' go hold me down (me a rebel)

You cyaan' tell me

Weh fi do (weh fi do), weh fi go (weh fi go)

How fi dress, me no poppy show

Me ah di star so me ah nuh fan ah you

Do weh me wan' nah follow you

Me nah 'itch up under no man arm like roll-on

Boss position, so no boy can try program me

Rebel from day one

Real bad gyal, so no boy can try program me

Me no need donation

Autonomous, cyaan' try come program me

Nanny never go ah war fi me sit down inna 2020 slavery

Nailah Blackman

Nailah is Trinidad and Tobago's soca princess, being born into Soca royalty. Her grandfather is the inventor of the music genre! And her mother and siblings all make excellent music. She teamed up with Shensea for a Jamaica x Trinidadian fusion of dancehall and soca in the song "Badishh" ; a word they came up with to describe their abundant charm and joy with themselves. The song speaks about being completely self-fulfilled, having fun and not caring about what men might be thinking about it. Nailah's other songs explore young female sexuality, with outrageous puns like "watermelon" which she uses to refer to her vagina, and sings about men not being ready to handle her in her mega hit "Oh Gad Oye!" As she is in her early twenties, her boldness towards sex is culturally in Trinbago revolutionary, but it is totally on board with the brand of sexuality we have come to respect from our Jamaican pioneers.

Walk out from yuh know say yuh hot

A yuh tight up inna your jeans

Thick, grown, black boned

Baby show it off

When I sway me'en care

Mami give me all I need

I cyah check up on no man

To see wha' gyal he dey with

Calypso Rose

Calypso Rose is actually not just a queen, but a king. She was the first woman to win the Calypso King competition in a completely male-dominated industry, causing them to rename the title Calypso Monarch. She is a cultural icon; a hero if there ever were one. Her lyrics frequently address social issues like racism and sexism. She survived sexual assault at eighteen years old, and much unlike Caribbean culture has normalized, she uses her platform to be vociferous about it. She is an activist and UNICEF Ambassador. Rose came out as a member of the LGBTQ community too, another rare move for the status quo of the Caribbean. She has received every award available to living artists in the Caribbean. She still performs well into her seventies, with more bite than any of the younger artistes I have named here before her. She famously lifts her shirt up during shows, busting down a little wine on stage. Her soca hit "Leave me alone" became an anthem in protests and marches against the rampant gender based violence in Trinidad and Tobago.

Boy don't touch me

Like you going crazy

Let go me hand

Let me jump up in the band

I don't want nobody to stand and watch me

Leave me let me free up

This list could have gone on forever, but I had to hold back myself. The brand of feminism that Female Caribbean artistes have brought to the table is revolutionary. They all reject patriarchy and rebel against a prominent island culture of women being bred to put in house, and instead uphold the idea that women can very well put their partners (male or female) in house too! They don't shy from their sexuality and they don't put water in their mouth to say anything at all.

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About the Creator

Stephanie Ramlogan

A Trinidadian writer based in Brooklyn, writing about what it's like to exist between the Caribbean and USA, in the form of essays, articles and fictional short stories.

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