Adahzeh - A band of 'sisters'

BY CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, October 21, 2019

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PICTURE a woman in her 20s sitting at her desk at work, performing mundane office tasks. Then she receives a call. She smiles at the phone and answers, “Hey, Rissa, what's up?” Her face buzzes with excitement as the person on the other end of the line tells her that she needs to pack her things and get ready to go on tour with female entertainer Spice. The woman hums a tune and plays an air guitar as she joyfully shuts down her computer, completes a leave request form, and heads out. The band needs her — that's Adahzeh, Jamaica's very own all-female band.

“My friends and I started a band”, is something you expect to hear from a rebellious teenage boy who has perhaps been listening to a little too much Maroon 5 or Coldplay. It is not something you expect to hear from a young Jamaican woman who has a career path in business set out before her. But these exact words are the reality of Karissa Palmer, who recruited the other members of Adahzeh in 2013.

“I've had a dream of forming an all-female band since I was eight years old and I started learning music,” the keyboardist and vocalist told All Woman.

“Growing up as a musician, being in a band was the thing to do. I didn't want to be in a group that wasn't special, or just be that girl in a bunch of men. I always watched Beyoncé and her all-woman band, the Sugar Mamas, and that really inspired me to be a part of my own band.”

Palmer nurtured this dream while she attended St Jago High School, but didn't set it in motion until she was studying at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where she saw Tara Williamson (guitarist) in action.

“She came to my school and performed with a bunch of men,” Palmer recalled. “After the show I called her and asked if she would like to join an all-girl band, and she said she would think about it. I then saw Tash (Tashana Barnett, drummer) on a local morning TV programme and we got a friend to contact her and asked if she wanted to join an all-female band, and she said yes.”

Palmer did not have to look very far for the fourth member of the band. Her little sister, Chevanese, was a talented performer, who quickly learnt to play the bass guitar and came to 'help out' the band. Six years later, Chevanese, who is also a dancer, is perhaps the band member who receives most of the spotlight on stage for her moves while playing the guitar.

“My entire family and extended family are musicians,” Palmer explained. “Everybody either plays an instrument or sings or can do both. My older brother, Caniggia, who is also our manager, plays the keyboard and teaches music. Vandeleer, our youngest sibling, also known as Vancreed, is on the rise as a producer and artiste. He plays the saxophone, drums, keyboard and guitar.”

But while the Palmers grew up in a home that fostered their love for the performing arts, the two other members of the band had to fight to pursue their passion.

“When I was younger I wanted to learn to play the drums; I really liked them,” Barnett confessed. “But the reaction from everyone around me was that it was not something for a girl to do. We're trying to take that out of everybody's mind.”

Williamson holds a degree in computer science and is a graphic designer and computer technician by profession. Music, however, is what she sees as the vehicle that will take her and her family to a better place.

“I really like being around my family,” she said in her calm, unassuming manner.

She lives with her mother, godson and brothers.

“I enjoy being able to make the money, bring it home, and spend it with my family.”

Barnett, who is a student at The University of the West Indies, aspires to further her education in music to understand the industry better.

“I'm pursuing a music and technology degree in performance studies,” she divulged. “I'm hoping to certify my craft.”

The band leader wears many hats. After acquiring her degree in music education, she became a music teacher. Having realised her entrepreneurial spirit, she also started a swimwear line.

The baby of the band, Chevanese, also does her own thing outside of the group — “I started a movement called Harvest Dance, which is to promote good health and the idea that whatever you sow is what you will reap,” she beamed.

So how does a group of women in their 20s, living different lives with different schedules, keep it together?

“Adahzeh is really where the heart is,” Palmer said solemnly, as her bandmates nodded in agreement. “It's a relationship that doesn't need to be fed every single day.”

“We don't have to talk every day, but when we link up it's like no time has passed. We're good,” Barnett chimed in.

The chemistry of the group has mellowed over the last six years, and the women have come to know each other so well that nothing can throw a rehearsal or show far off enough that they cannot fix it and get back to business. They know their individual personalities very well — Chevy is the fun and bubbly one, who gets excited for everything and always has a positive outlook; Tara is the caring, laid-back one who only talks when it's absolutely necessary; Tash is calm and collected, the mother of the group; while Karissa is the goofball who becomes serious when she needs to be.

They do not believe that being women makes the group dynamics any more difficult. Instead, they see it as an advantage in the populous music industry.

“Being that we are women is very unique, and people are always happy to see us perform and always excited to talk to us. I think we have an advantage because we are female. While individual women acts might have a lot of difficulty in the industry, we are a band. We are unique, and being female is what makes us special,” Palmer pointed out.

“That gap that usually exists between artistes and the other musicians, we don't have that, because we are our own musicians too,” Barnett added.

The group blazed into stardom in 2016 after the release of their debut Reggae single Island Girl, which took them overseas on tour, performing at some of the most popular local and international shows. Since then they have been learning to adjust their personal lives to accommodate their band duties. Recently they were on tour with the queen of dancehall herself.

“Working with Spice is amazing. She is all about women's empowerment, and she is a genius,” the younger Palmer gushed. “She knows exactly what she wants and where and when she wants it. She takes full control of the stage, and we learned a lot from her.”

“She taught us a lot about not compromising, and never dropping your standard for anyone. Mediocre is just not accepted with her,” Barnett inputted.

Adahzeh is taking the journey in strides — making the moves and the beat up as they go. Three of the band members hope to be able to do more for the development of music locally, and use it as a tool to reach at-risk youth. The youngest member, however, wants do more in the area of dance, which was her first love, and what she is most passionate about.

“Do not dim your light and your glow to make other people feel comfortable,” she advised young girls who want to pursue dreams that are deemed to be unreachable. “Go for what the hell you want, and don't let anybody tell you that you can't achieve it, or that you are too 'nuff'. Be 'nuff' because anything you put your mind to and work hard for you can definitely achieve it.”


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