Online Reggae Magazine


Articles about reggae music, reviews, interviews, reports and more...

Interview: Brina

Interview: Brina

Interview: Brina

By on - Comment

"I never thought of myself as a background vocalist, I knew that I had the ability to lead"


Brina's path to music began in ways typical to many Jamaican singers - but her story soon took on a life and a direction all of its own. Born Subrina Ward, in Mandeville hospital, parish of Manchester, Jamaica, to a teacher mother and a taxi driver father, she was raised in a Christian home, and started singing in the Church of Christ, where her dad played guitar. In High School she and her sister formed a gospel duo, the Ward Sisters, performing with notable island gospel artists such as Papa San, Carlene Davis, and Chevelle Franklin.


Interested in the visual as well as the invisible arts Brina moved to Kingston to study at Edna Manley College where in 2007 she met her future husband, Scottish musician and producer Kieran C Murray. Their partnership would eventually take Brina on a spatial and spiritual journey far from her Jamaican Christian upbringing - relocating to London and embracing the Bahá'í faith.

In 2012 she released her eclectic debut album, 'Under One Sun' on Murray's Tribal Global label, featuring contributions from Ibo Cooper, Dean Fraser, Sly Dunbar, Toots Hibbert, and Jubba White from Dubtonic Kru. Angus Taylor met Brina and Kieran at London's popular Reggae In Da City night and accepted their invitation south of the river for an interview, where they bonded over good food, good company and the music of Miriam Makeba. Here is some of what was said.

How would you describe your upbringing?

My parents weren't very strict but they were trying their very best to make sure that my sister and I were brought up in the right way, which in their eyes being was brought up in the church. I would say that we were very sheltered - if we were going anywhere we would have been brought or been left in the care of a trusted family member or friend. Growing up was fun because I was able to get lost in the bushes. I would always be playing with the boys, I was a little bit of a tomboy, always climbing to the highest limb in the tree to pick the sweetest orange for my sister, just doing challenging stuff.

After singing in church did you do singing at school? Were you involved in any talent contests or anything like that?

Prep school music was not the most exciting for me because I used to have this music teacher, Miss Ashley. The songs she wanted us to sing as children, which were little classical pieces, were too high and I never enjoyed it.  When I got to high school I realised gospel music was something other young people could relate to. The music teachers were young themselves so they also brought the gospel music approach to music classes in high school, which was fun. So yes, I started to do competitions in high school, the national schools competitions, and I did win a few medals here and there (laughs).

When I got to high school I realised gospel music was something other young people could relate to

How did you enter the music business?

My sister and I started singing out together as the Ward Sisters putting regular gospel songs or hymns to a reggae vibe. We ended up doing background vocals and sharing a stage with Papa San, Carlene Davis, Chevelle Franklin. Ron Kenoly, this popular American artist, had come to Jamaica and we were on that show as well. We did a few bits here and there with DJ Nicholas. We were just budding as teenagers and wanting to find our own direction and purpose with music. We were seeing different musicians for example Courick Clarke, he's now playing keyboards for Tarrus Riley, and also Otty, he plays keyboards for Tarrus. Those guys, and Papa San and Carlene Davis, influenced the direction we wanted to take in terms of music.

Going to Edna Manley, you encountered even more musicians, right?

I ended up going to art school. I was thinking if I was going to do anything in the world of the arts it would have to be visual arts, where I'm making some money from it. My mum didn't think music was going to be the outlet, so I had to convince her that I was going to get a degree in art. But less than two years later I decided the call was too strong and too great, Even when I was supposed to be doing assignments I was doing background vocals for like Althea 'Di Chic' Hewitt, and running around trying to catch gigs where Jubba from Dubtonic Kru was playing at. I was meeting other musicians and singers, seeing them on stage and still yearning to actually be doing it as well.

When did you get tired of doing backing vocals?

BrinaI didn't really go to the big level with that. I did a few background vocals here and there, like a few shows for Cocoa Tea. I never thought of myself as a background vocalist, I knew that I had the ability to lead. Not that I feel I'm better than anybody else or that all the centre of attention should be on me, but I believe that what I had to say was only going to come from being out there as the lead singer, as an individual doing my own thing. I definitely know I wasn't cut out for the background vocals thing. It was enjoyable but when it got to the stage where the actual lead singer didn't want to rehearse, that just drove me off (laughs).

How did you meet Kieran?

I went up to him at Edna Manley open air cafeteria because I thought he was a foreign student. He told me he was lecturing in bass guitar. I was thinking to myself "What is this white man doing in Jamaica lecturing about bass to our Jamaican young people?" That was January 2007. We became friends later on in the year, maybe May or June. He had given me some tracks to listen to but I didn't want to tell him that I don't like writing something to a rhythm that was already fabricated somewhere else when I wasn't there or part of the creativity. I think that's where the birth of the album came - once I did say to him that I didn't really want to be singing on these rhythms. I want to be writing songs and then the rhythms or the tracks come after or it develops along the way. I realised that we both had a similar vision.

How long has this album been in the making?

We really started writing together in 2008, and after a while we decided on putting together a package that would really bring the message that we wanted to transmit to people. When we got down to it in 2009 we built a little studio in our one bedroom flat in Kingston (laughs). It was sort of like the bathroom, it was a little cut-out before you go round the corner to the shower. We had some heavy blankets and stuff to help with the sound deadening and the acoustics of everything.

I don't like writing something to a rhythm that was already fabricated somewhere else when I wasn't there or part of the creativity

There's an extraordinary line-up of guests for a debut album. Can you give me an overview of how all these people got involved?

Jubba is like my big brother. So it was a definite from the get-go that he would be a part of it. Then Mr Cooper, who was my lecturer, also expressed an interest in assisting us and you would never say no to that! He's one of the coolest out there in terms of the myriad of knowledge that he has and also his style and approach to every genre of music. I don't even remember how we decided we were going to ask Sly. We'd never met him before so we just stepped out in faith to the studio. I feel because Kieran looked like a foreigner it gave us the edge for us to get in there! (laughs) I remember when he came upstairs and we told him about the project we were working on and we didn't even have to go in depth. I was just so nervous and his humble and gentle response was "Of course, yes" with this soft-toned voice. Then Toots now, Garfield McDonald, the engineer said that Toots' daughter Leba was going to be recording at Anchor so we decided to ask Leba if it was something that her dad would be interested in. We gave her the song Lucky Dube song Guns & Roses. We didn't even quite know where he was going to sing or what parts he was going to sing because it was already finished and we were just going to put it out there. I don't even know if he listened to it because when we came back to the studio to record he was saying to me that he didn't want to sing my song because it was my song, he just wanted to do some guest vocals. He wasn't even well on the day as well, but I know he put out all that he could.

And Dean Fraser was through your friends who worked with Tarrus?

Oh! We didn't even talk about Dean Fraser! Man, we just exchanged numbers in Jamaica. We went down to Grafton. Kieran had written out the parts. That's how Dean introduced us to Nambo Robinson as well. And I remember seeing Dwight Richards on TV when I was growing up and in Kingston at different little festivals and shows. But these people are some of the most genuine and humble you can find. I think that's one of the reasons for the conglomeration and how the album has turned out. They are popular because of the contributions and the approach that they've had to music, but they're not like far up on a tree where you can never get to that limb. They don't portray themselves that way.

Speaking of Sly, to me there's a Peter Tosh feel to the album, particularly the album Equal Rights which Sly played on. It's that percussive wah wah guitar. Are you fans of Peter Tosh?

Brina - Under One SunWhen I listen to Peter Tosh I feel like I want to do something outrageous. I just want to be bad. There is a thing is Christian faith where people say "What would Jesus do?" and I often think "What would Bob Marley or Peter Tosh do in this situation?" As a female artist in a genre dominated by men, I'm looking towards Peter Tosh for a little bit of an escapism, for a rebel attitude towards music and also for more strength and depth. That's where I get my inspiration, and I really do love his music. They were as honest as they could be through music. I remember for some of the deep rooted stuff on the album with Jubba and Sly when it was time to record they would always be reassuring and say "Just do it how you feel, just sing it how you feel like and carry us in this direction".

It's clear you listen to a lot of music - from US soul to African music. What other things inspire you?

It might sound funny, but my inspiration for music was for me going to Nine-Nights in Jamaica. The night before the funeral, there's a table where they used to put the rum and whatever they want to dress up the table with, it's the central, focal point of the set up, and my grandfather would always be at the table holding onto the pole that would be supporting the tarpaulin. As a young child I would just watch him and I used to hear his voice above everyone else, even if he wasn't singing the words. I remember in the pitch black night that that would be some of the times that I could just let loose and open my mouth and just sing. Despite the influence of seeing people from North America or even Africa on TV or hearing their music on the radio, in terms of that depth of feeling that you feel when music connects with you and you have the goosebumps, that's where it's coming from for me, from the drums that they use at the Nine-Night and the Kumina sessions, that's me. It makes no sense trying to pretty it up.

I often think "What would Bob Marley or Peter Tosh do in this situation?"

Tell me about your spiritual beliefs and your involvement with the Bahá'í faith, when it came to you and its influence in your life.

As much as Bob Marley sang about Rastafari and Selassie-I, I feel that my purpose and the reason that I'm doing music is, whether in a subtle or grand way, heralding the actual cause of the Bahá'í faith, which simply put is about oneness and equality. When you grow up in a church when you meet someone you like the next question you're going to ask them is "Do you go to church?" because that will confirm that the person that you've met is someone safe. When I met Kieran I was already searching for something, that there had to be more to life than church every Sunday and praying to Jesus. When Kieran told me he was fasting I was like "Woah, he's a Christian too?" When he explained to me that it was a Bahá'í fast and what the fast was about it just blew my mind. I did my own research finding a quotation that said "So powerful is the light of unity, that it may envelop [illuminate] the whole earth". There was nowhere in the Bible that I'd seen that and I wanted to know more.

What has what you learned given you?

With the Bahá'í faith that what we're doing here in this world is to prepare us for the next life. There is life after death but there is truth in what we can do in making our lives here on earth a better place - recognising the simple truth of equality between the sexes, and no division between what we call different races. We believe all religions are coming from the same source, which is God. At different stages mankind has been given different prophets who have brought different messages and different doses of medicine to get us to the next stage. From Moses to Mohammed to Buddha to Krishna, Zoroaster and Christ, and Baha'u'llah for the Bahá'í faith. Education is important in the Bahá'í faith, we see education as the outlet for people being enlightened, to be making informed decisions. Delivering true justice instead of the bogus attitudes that now exist in society; we don't get involved in politics and all that negativity. There are some simple truths that, if people are able to actually dig further, they can see these things: Christians won't have to hate Muslims and Muslims won't have to hate Christians; and that not everything that doesn't say "Jesus" is wrong.

Why is it that there are still fewer successful female roots reggae artists in a music that speaks of equality and justice?

I think that the fact that women have to take time out to go and have babies may affect the lifespan of a female reggae artist. I also believe that because reggae music one of the only avenues for Jamaican men to exercise their manhood they protect it so much. I have heard some men say that if a woman starts to become very masculine or aggressive on stage or in the style of music that she does, they don't really feel it. But look at Marcia Griffiths, she's lasted and she's been a mother to many people. I think for a female to last for such a long time amongst men, for a rose to be amongst thorns, that you have to stake your claim, earn the respect that you deserve and at some point demand it as well. I don't know her personally but I've grown up listening to her music and I've not seen or heard anything in a magazine or on TV or in an interview or from any other musicians who've participated or played on a stage with Marcia, that's negative about her. For some of the women who've maybe not lasted as long, they've gone through with quite a lot of baggage and it's the baggage that's kept them back. As I said to Kieran, I should be running off the stage to give birth and coming back to the show. Like Miriam Makeba, heart attack off the stage, that's what I want. If anything has to disrupt music for me it's going to be at the point of leaving the stage.

Because reggae music is one of the only avenues for Jamaican men to exercise their manhood they protect it so much

That would be a good place to end, but let's talk about Miriam Makeba for a while instead!

When people hear me say it they probably think "Oh, you're just childish" but a movie such as Sarafina! influenced my love for South Africa because of the struggles that people were going through. There's no reason why you wouldn't want to look to such a place for enlightenment and positivity. The music, like Miriam and Hugh Masekela, it just blows me away. It's another part of soulful music and true and honest expression. Their music was coming out of a struggle, just like Bob Marley's music was coming out of a struggle for an identity, for setting free those who were oppressed. South African music is like that - it's full of the wailing souls of those who have gone on giving strength to those who are in our reality to be able to sing and express themselves. When I hear Miriam sing, even though she went into doing jazz, calypso, stuff from Harry Belafonte and certain traditional pieces, she still put her own self into it. I know if I get up on the stage and I'm doing material from another artist or writer, I am definitely going to put myself into it. Once you've got this honesty about you people will always be able to relate to it.

Share it!

Send to Kindle
Create an alert

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

Recently addedView all

Var - Poor and Needy
27 Sep
Mortimer - Lightning
11 Aug

© 2007-2024 United Reggae. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Read about copyright

Terms of use | About us | Contact us | Authors | Newsletter | A-Z

United Reggae is a free and independant magazine promoting reggae music and message since 2007. Support us!

Partners: Jammin Reggae Archives | Jamaican Raw Sessions | Vallèia - Lunch & Fresh food | Relier un livre | One One One Wear