Queen Ifrica (born Ventrice Morgan, March 25, 1975) is the daughter of the ska and rocksteady legend Derrick Morgan, but was raised by her mother and stepfather in a Rastafarian community in Montego Bay. She kick-started her career in the 90s having caught the attention of vocalist, producer and Rebel Salute festival founder Tony Rebel and is now one of Jamaica’s brightest stars. Angus Taylor spoke to her in the United States about her life and her mature sounding second album for VP, named after the place from which she hails.
It’s been a very successful time for female singers lately – are the ladies taking over?
(LAUGHS) I wouldn’t say taking over because I would not want to take over personally! I think there’s more recognition and I’m happy to be one of those sisters that can say, “I stood the ground” to make these little sisters have the courage and help encourage them along. The first time it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t as easy for women to be recognised. But I think that for anyone to be recognised, male or female, you have to have that determination, that focus as to what you really want, and then most naturally you’ll get the attention that you really want.
Tell us about your new album Montego Bay.
It’s going to be done for VP records. It’s going to have 12 or 13 tracks. It’s got a whole lot of message, there’s also fun, there’s a little about love from a relationship point of view. And it’s just Queen Ifrica presenting herself once more in the form of this beautiful project.
How do you feel it compares to your previous album Fyah Muma? Does it represent a progression?
Yes I would say so. Fyah Muma is very much loved and appreciated, henceforth the reasons for Montego Bay. Because that’s where Fyah Muma, Queen Ifrica is from you know? So it’s Fyah Muma from Montego Bay, so it’s like a continuation.
What was life like growing up in that part of Jamaica?
Well I was not raised in the resort area [of Montego Bay]. I was raised in somewhat of an outskirts community called Belmont. And it was up in the hills, among birds, so it wasn’t really an attraction. But we were all involved in the communities of Montego Bay. We were always in town. So we know where the attractions are and we know where the locals hang out and stuff like that. So we were very much educated as to the runnings of Montego.
And who were your favourite singers and deejays when growing up?
My favourite singers and deejays would have been… Tony Rebel, Garnet Silk, Anthony B, Luciano. Those cultural acts that were coming up in the nineties. And Capleton, Sizzla. Those early songs that they came out with were very much appreciated by the Rastafarian community that I was a part of. So it was natural to gravitate to these type of artists that were coming with a conscious message.
And what first inspired you to make music yourself?
I was chosen to do music. I must say so. I was always forced into doing it. Forced in the sense of my friends. [They] Would always encourage me to take it seriously because they recognised that I have a voice that sound beautiful when I sing you know? So they were always encouraging me. But it was when I met Tony Rebel at a stage show in Montego Bay that was commemorating the death of Garnett Silk. I went on stage and sang one of Garnett Silk’s songs and I was introduced after to Tony Rebel by one individual who was at the company at the time. And it was his telling me how much I reminded him of Garnett Silk that really brought it home to me because Garnett Silk was like my overall favourite artist when I heard him you know? To hear him speak that way, to compare me with Garnett and the whole energy. And he invited me to Flames and that’s where I’ve been ever since. So I found my niche you know?
Are you primarily a singer or deejay?
I was always known to be singing. Deejay came about as an accident really. Not a bad accident! (LAUGHS) No one died! But I did a song when Rebel did Just Friends. We did a version of it, myself and Lady G. And so it was when he took me to England for the first time and I was supposed to perform the song without Lady G that I ended up having to deejay Lady G’s part of the song. The response of the crowd was… overwhelming! Because they were so shocked when they heard me deejay. And that’s where the whole deejay thing was born. But most of the songs I recorded in the early stages for Flames and for other producers were singing songs. But both of them came naturally and so they have now become an item! (LAUGHS)
You chose to work with a variety of different producers this time. How did you decide which tracks to include?
It became based upon the energy that you get from the tracks themselves. We wanted to make sure that all the tracks were good to listen to and the rhythms makes a difference too. Because when you are writing and there’s a connection with the lyrics and the rhythm it makes it better to understand the song and to understand the rhythm itself as it tells a different message. All so that brings it to one you know? So it depends on the energy you are getting at that moment from the rhythms so when you put all these songs together you hear the sequence in which they come together: whether it’s the topics or the way the rhythms are flowing. It’s a contrast and when you get the contrast correct then the finished product is what you have there.
The rhythms you use are a mix of one drop, Rasta drumming and dancehall styles. Do you feel happy with any style of track? Is there a favourite type of rhythm you like to work with?
There’s no particular favourite. I just did a combination with Bobby Sinclair from Europe. He’s a house musician. That’s beautiful because that’s a whole other genre of music right there. My thing is, the rhythm is what accommodates the message you’re trying to send. They both work together. So my focus is on the lyrics that go around these rhythms, not so much the rhythm. Because the rhythms is spirituality, likewise the words, so when you match it equally then you get something that’s overwhelming and beautiful. So the rhythms are what we need whatever rhythm it is, and then the lyrics we put around it is what makes the difference.
Now let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. You choose a very cultural track to be the first song on the album. Tribute To The Pitfour Nyabinghi Centre. Tell us about this decision.
Yes. Montego Bay is the title of the album, Montego Bay is where I grew up, and my Rastafarian roots is there. Nyabinghi Pitfour Centre is where all my knowledge of Rastafari grew you know? That’s the foundation. So I thought it would be fitting to do a tribute to that part of my life that is responsible for my consciousness.
In the song Montego Bay you talk about life in a place most non Jamaicans know as a beach paradise. What’s the most important thing people outside Jamaica should know about Montego Bay?
Montego Bay is the friendly city. It’s known that way because of the hospitality of the locals. The people who are in the craft markets. The people who are in the poorer communities. When you get to know these people then you understand that the separation is not necessary. Because it’s the tourists getting an opportunity getting an opportunity to mingle with the locals and understand their way of living. And also by spending with these people they are helping to increase growth in the communities. When you lock us away you are locking away opportunities from the people who really need it. And the people who can afford it, they just continue to get more while the ones that need it don’t get enough. So it’s just to say, give the tourists a chance to meet and greet with the locals and to support them also. And then you make your decision based on the reaction of everybody to that type of situation.
Lioness On The Rise is a very empowering tune. Lyrically and spiritually it reminds me of the Wailers’ Small Axe.
What was the inspiration behind that song?
It’s about women empowerment without being sexist. A lot of times we tend to empower woman by saying the day will come when woman will take over from men or woman will be equal to men. It’s more saying strength of self. It is a regular woman on an everyday quest of life. Acknowledging the fact that she can still contribute in another way to society. Not just by being an everyday mom but by giving back to her community in every little way she thinks possible that she can. Whatever it is, whether you a corporate, housewife, or outlaw. Whatever type of woman you find yourself to be there is strength in each and every individual and it’s about recognising that and moving towards it without saying that you are less or more than man per se, you know?
Another song where your principles come across is Keep It To Yourself, where you say you don’t want fish in your ital dish. Do you believe everyone should be vegetarian?
(BIG LAUGH) Because of the health implications and facts that come with it, it would be nice, you know? If you look around you see a lot of mercury and lead and all these things that are polluting the sea these days. But as I say, it is Haile Selassie that we worship so that religion is personal. At the end of the day, it’s what an individual wants to do for themselves… (PAUSES)
It’s up to the individual.
That’s right. And if you notice I tend to personalise a lot of my songs by using “me” and “I”. Because at the end of the day it begins with you the individual, what it is that YOU want. It’s not about dictating, it’s about sharing what I do with then hope that you understand. And if you don’t understand we could have a conversation.
In the song Calling Africa there is a recording of a call I’ve heard in Touareg/Kel Tamashek music. Can you tell me a bit about this sound?
When I was doing this song I had the rhythm first. And while I was listening to the rhythm I was hearing that kind of sound coming out of it so that’s how I wrote the song. When I was about to record the song I told [Tony] Rebel that I wanted to get the cry sound that I always hear people who have travelled to Africa associate with Africa. In Jamaica you have a sister called Andrea Williams who does a programme called Running African. And every morning when she comes on you will have that cry sound which is known as “the sound of the ancestors” to bring forth a message of strength and awareness. So I called Andrea Williams and told her that I wanted somebody who could do that cry sound as the intro of this particular song. She introduced me to a sister from Africa who came in from Ocho Rios and she came into the studio and actually did it. What you are hearing is not a sample, she did it live. And it was so beautiful to watch her go through that! It was such a wonderful thing to see her hold it in one breath! It was very nice because at the end of the day that’s what I really wanted.
You’ve also chosen to include your big hit Daddy, which is about incest. Are you pleased with the impact the song has had?
I am definitely pleased at the impact for many reasons. And most important is the fact that many people, especially young, helpless people whom would not normally have the courage to say to somebody that this is happening to them have now gotten that chance and acted upon it. And that is enough for me. I wrote the song specifically because I knew the reaction I would get. And therefore there is no incite of violence in it. There’s no implications of anyone in particular. I’m just saying it like it is, the way it happens, and when I was writing it, the mother or the father who knew they had done stuff like this, I wanted them to have a reality check. When they heard it I wanted them to have a shock of conscience, of something going through their bodies. I’ve heard stories of it actually taking place and I’ve seen it in action for myself personally in the form of an individual that is around us that we are aware of that does that kind of stuff. And in the society that we are in it’s hard to say because people are afraid that they might want to come and kill you or might try to harm you if they know that you talked. And so these are some of the reasons [why] this individual, when he heard it for the first time, he came back and when we saw him the following day his eyes were so swollen from crying. We could see that he was crying all night. And nobody said anything to him. He had just heard the song. Those are physical ways in which the song has done its work and it is still doing its work. And I am so happy that I took it upon myself to become that martyr to bring that to light for the many who did not think it would be happening any time soon.
And was it a specific case of abuse or many cases that inspired the song?
It was many cases and also specifical cases of people that we know close to us who have experienced [it]. We know people who have committed suicide. Growing up carrying around this thing and they couldn’t carry it any more. They’ve gone through school, university, graduated and just committed suicide you know? To me there has to be more that’s done to help these kind of people because it really does affect psychologically a lot of their brains and the way they do stuff. My thing is, looking into society it’s as though we blame young people for behaving the way they behave but we don’t really look at what is causing them to behave in these kind of ways. And so it’s unfair to point a finger at a child who might be going through abuse in her surroundings or his surroundings. So my thing is to look at the thing that is causing the problem as opposed to pointing at the problem, each time we get a chance.
You have also voiced old on old roots rhythms like Movie Star and Satta. How important is it to keep a link with the past?
It’s very important because it’s what determines how the present play out itself you know? As we are in the present now, we are creating a past and so we have to be conscious of how go about our everyday life and how we appreciate what was there before. You’ve [not?] got a lot of that anymore in the industry where young artists like myself really appreciate what their elders did and the love they put in too. Because the reason why these rhythms can’t go away is because of the love that was placed in them. You’ve got a lot people giving of themselves when these rhythms were being built and so it carries on to now. I am actually privileged to be one of those kind of artists who gets to lend my voice to those kind of rhythms that I know was done for the real love of the music. So it’s definitely a pleasure.
You’ve probably been asked about this many times but do you hear any similarity between your own music and that of your father?
Yes I think so. He is very strong in his vocals and he has done a little prerogative music in his taste too, in some of the lyrics he has done. I definitely see he can sing and he can deejay. He can a do kind of like a point thing with his voice also. So I guess I draw a lot from that.
Who out of family friends and mentors has been the biggest inspiration in your music career?
In my family I’d definitely say it has to be my mom. She’s passionate about music. When you hear her sing so beautifully it’s not funny. And it’s like when she sees me now she sees herself when she was coming up in music. And from time to time I invite her on stage to sing because she loves to do that. So she is the greatest inspiration where music is concerned.
What advice do you have for any of your fans who wants to follow your path into music?
Be very self-conscious. Be aware. Know why you want to come into it. The talent that you get is a gift from the almighty and what you do with it is your gift back to him. So make up your mind as to what you want. Do you want to have morals or do you want to have a lot of money? Because you can have morals and a lot of money, it depends on how you go about it. But if you have a lot of money and no morals then something is wrong there. So you have to think hard, figure out your surroundings. The people that have your interests, who are not about hustling, who are there to show you the ins and outs, the ups and downs, all the obstacles you have to face, making you realise immediately that it is not a bed of roses. It’s hard work. It’s dedication. It’s what you put in and get out. It’s not a quick fix. You have to be willing to go all the way.
Interview by Angus Taylor