Jojo Mac still wants her TasteeMonday, October 25, 2021
BY BRIAN BONITTO
IN May 1982 singer Joan “Jojo Mac” McKenzie was living her dream. The 16-year-old won the popular Tastee Talent Concert with her original song, titled Am I In Love?
“It was a great feeling. I had written that song at 13 years old. I was the first person to win the competition with an original song... The song was from a 13-year-old's perspective,” she told the Jamaica Observer from her Philadelphia home yesterday.
The Dunoon Park Technical High School student walked away with a cash prize, two LPs, and three 45 records.
For the biggest part of her prize package, she would record a song at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong studio.
“I was directed to go to Hope Road and see a gentleman named Sangie Davis... I remember going up to Tuff Gong dressed in my white pants and speaking to Mr Davis... I was excited. But it just never happened. As a young girl, this was devastating to me,” said McKenzie.
“We never got around to which song I was going to record or anything like that,” she continued.
Davis, a veteran songwriter and confidant of Marley, was instrumental at Tuff Gong. He and Marley co-wrote Wake Up And Live, from Survival, Marley's 1979 album. Davis is also credited as writer of Make Ends Meet by Dennis Brown; Starvation on The Land, and Young One Like Me by Nadine Sutherland; Sophia George's Girlie Girlie; and Tinga Stewart's Festival winner, No Wey No Better Dan Yard.
Several efforts by the Observer to speak with him were unsuccessful.
Thirty-nine-years after, McKenzie still rues the missed opportunity.
“It was unfair what happened to me. Now that I look back at it and see everybody who did something positive with 'Tastee' have a career that's flourishing or flourished... I feel like a 'B-lister', like I'm not one of the superstars. I was in that lane that everybody started out before being a superstar, you know Beenie Man, Yellowman, Nadine, so I feel I was shifted over to the B lane,” she said.
“I feel like something was taken from me. I feel cheated. The opportunity should still be open to me.”
McKenzie said after migrating to the United States in January 1983, she continued chasing her musical dreams.
“I wanted to continue singing so I put an advert in the Washington Post newspaper looking for members to form a band. So that's what I did. I auditioned people in my mother's apartment. We put a band together, Renaissance, and that's how I started singing in the US. At that time, I called myself Goldie. We did some hotel gigs,” she recalled.
McKenzie returned to Jamaica in 2001 to work with pioneer record producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, who released two singles for her on his Studio One label.
“I worked with him for eight months and did 22 songs. He was in the process of putting out an album for me when he passed. This too was an unfortunate situation for my career,” she said.
Dodd died in May 2004. He was 72.
McKenzie is from Kellits district in Clarendon. Her first album, Hard And Soft, was produced by Duckie Simpson of Black Uhuru, with whom she toured for two years.
She also worked with Lloyd Dennis of Pickout Records in the United Kingdom, who guided her on a cover of Joy White's roots anthem, Dread Out Deh. Released in 2015, that song is one of her most successful.
“In 2017 my cover of Roland Burrell's Stormy Night went to number two of the iTunes all-genre chart. At the time, Sean Paul and I were the only two Jamaicans on the chart. There was Jay Z, Beyonce, you name them,” she said.
McKenzie has also written two books, Secrets: Mixed Up Moods and Deadly Attitudes (2015); and Secrets: Unmasked (2021).
She had words of advice for up-and-coming acts.
“Music is such a wonderful thing. Know your worth and don't lower your standards.”