One strong Black Woman

By Kediesha Perry
Observer writer

Friday, March 08, 2019

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Judy Mowatt believes women have achieved a foothold in the music industry since the release of her 1980 album, Black Woman.

“During the time and before the songs [on the album] were recorded and released, women held unequal positions, not because they were not able to or qualified, but there was a stigma; they were considered less important. As my friend would say the testosterone would rule. Men were seen as more important,” she told the Jamaica Observer's Splash.

The I-Three are the most influential female group in Jamaican music. The trio comprised Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley, who provided harmonies for Bob Marley's performances and recordings from 1974 until 1980 when cancer ended his career. He died in May 1981.

On Tuesday, the group received an Icon Award for outstanding contribution to reggae music at the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) Awards, held at the Little Theatre in Kingston.

Since the release of Black Woman, Jamaica has also seen its first female prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, who served two terms: from March 2006 to September 2007, and January 2012 to March 2016.

Black Woman is regarded as one of the greatest reggae albums. Its songs include Slave Queen, Many are Called, and Zion Chant. She covered Marley's Concrete Jungle and saluted the reggae king on Joseph.

Mowatt said inspiration for the album came from the universal struggles of black women.

“I was reading a book called To Be a Slave and when I saw the pain and degradation of women, how they were treated as chattle slaves, their children were taken away... I mean, they had children but they just couldn't keep them. I thought to myself, 'what a sad, sad time that must have been? What a sad era?'. I was on a minivan while reading and I got more sick. Sometimes I would come off the minivan and cry, so I would have to take another one. I had my own struggles and I think black women around the world could relate to these struggles as black women,” she told the Observer.

She explained that the formation of the I-Three was inevitable, and their cohesiveness is what makes them unique.

“We were the first ladies to come out of where we were. I had a solo career and Marcia had one with Bob [Andy] with hits like Young, Gifted and Black and my album got lots of awards. Coming together was ordained by the Creator. These were women I looked up to, I was honoured; I couldn't contain myself,” she said.

“We are family, not just a group but sisters and friends. Bob taught us that even when there were no stage shows or concerts we were always [to be] rehearsing. He instilled that in us. With constant rehearsal, we really formed that bond. Marcia and I would room on tours and the same harmony that was there when we were singing, was the same when we were speaking,” she continued.

Mowatt is happy with the compromises she made in the 1970s when the I-Three was constantly touring.

“I went on tour when I was three months pregnant and came back when I was seven months pregnant; almost ready to give birth. But I don't regret it, because we had no idea what we were working with. We are now seeing the fruits of our labour. People are becoming more conscious through our message and Bob's message of peace and unity, no matter what colour, class or creed. I left my son when he was six weeks old for a winter tour in Europe. We sacrificed a lot but I don't regret it,” she stated.

She encourages other females who are interested in the industry to pursue their dream with passion.

“I wasn't looking for money because the people I recorded with didn't pay me, so I didn't even know money was involved. It was an offering. It was a gift. You know when you just start out you want to hear yourself on the radio and you are eager to share the stage with others. So my advice is to be original, write your own songs because when you write your own songs, they are coming from your feelings or emotions. It's called show business, but it is not a show. It's giving from the heart, so then you can't go wrong. Don't make music with the dollar sign at heart,” Mowatt said.

A devout Christian, Mowatt was made an Officer of the Order of Distinction in 1999 by the Jamaica government for services to music. She was also honoured by the JaRIA in 2011 for her contribution to the country's music industry.

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