Online Reggae Magazine

Articles

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

Interview: Marcia Griffiths in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Marcia Griffiths in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Marcia Griffiths in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Comment

"Music is the greatest weapon that we have."

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview.

In part 2 of our interview with Marcia Griffiths, she talks about joining Bob Marley and the I Threes, and how she has stayed contemporary from the 70s with Sonia Pottinger to the modern era with Penthouse...

Marcia Griffiths-21

Let’s talk about the three Wailers – they would often be at Harry J when you were there.

They used to use that studio. Very often.

But you knew them much earlier than that.

I met them back in 1964. When I went to Studio One the very first day I saw Bob, Peter and Bunny. But Bunny was the only one I knew because Bunny and myself went to kindergarten school. He was a little ahead of me but we would hold hands and go to school. When going to Studio One as a young girl, and even Rita was there as well, the eyes that Bob would give us, me and Bunny, we'd better walk the straight and narrow! We weren't able to do anything that was not right. Because those eyes were always watching you as a young girl.

Bunny Wailer and myself went to kindergarten

So how did you go from recording with Harry J to join in the I Threes with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt?

Well, Bob and myself recorded that love song in Studio One, but they were recording at Harry J. I was doing some solo performances at a club in New Kingston and Mr Dodd invited Judy and sister Rita to come and sing some harmonies at Studio One. So we all met up there by a coincidence. But I wouldn't call it a coincidence any more. I think it was ordained by Almighty God because that was when we came together. We did the harmonies for Mr Dodd and I asked if they would come to the club and do some back up for me.

They were enthusiastic and they came. I did three nights there and on the third night we decided to do a little jam on the stage. The Sweet Inspirations were an American group that was popular in Jamaica then and those were the songs we were singing on stage. The audience loved it and everybody encouraged us to start a group. When the group started, that was the particular time that Bob and the Wailers were having a fall out. Right there and then. Whatever it was I don't know, but it was a serious fall out. And that was when Bob heard that we had a group and we sang together so he invited us to come in and do Natty Dread.

Another person who just got a posthumous JARIA award was Tata Ford who co-wrote Natty Dread and No Woman No Cry.

Yes, yes! Yes, for the little I know I don't think he was the sole writer of those songs.

Did he just write the words?

Some of it yes. Because I think Tata had a lot to do with that song.

How did the I Threes change the sound of the Wailers from your perspective? What did they bring?

For me is purity, and at that time we were just three innocent sisters with a talent, a God-given talent. And Bob, with no doubt where I am concerned, was truly sent by the Almighty God, so I think God put us together after the break up with the Wailers. So everything I know, it is directed from God himself, so the sound that we had was unique. And Bob just loved it. And of course we became his three little birds and he did everything to preserve us, to maintain everything that was happening and it was just a refreshing, all over again. The music was just refreshing with our sound.

Bob Marley was truly sent by the Almighty

There were some more difficult times coming for Bob later in the 70s with the whole exile thing.

Yes.

Is it true that you were supposed to be in the place where Bob was shot but you went to New York instead?

Yeah, and they were saying that I knew about the shooting! Poor me. All I knew was I had visions of things happening. I felt it. Why they say I knew about it was I was at the rehearsals every night and the one night the shooting took place I was missing. Because I just knew something was coming on. Because when I was in the rehearsal at night if I heard a stick break I would look because I was expecting something. I could feel it. It was in the atmosphere. Everything.

So I left the following day. I told him. And he paid me not to go. And I begged him not to do it. And I said "Bob, something serious is going to happen. Please don't do it". Plus Judy had a vision that she threw a stone after a big… we call them fowl here… chicken… and the stone hit three little birds. And the tripe was coming out. So I said "You know, that big fowl is Bob and the three little chickens, that is us". Because somebody got shot named Griffiths too that night. Rita said to me personally that she knew if I was there I would've gotten shot because I was always where Bob is.

So you just asked him not to go to that place that night?

Yes! Yes and he begged me not to go but I said "I have to go because I have a show". And he said "No tell them that the government says you cannot come" but I still felt the force. I guess God was in all the movements and the decisions we made.

Judy gave an incredible performance at the 12 Tribes Celebration last month...

Oh you were there? I was supposed to be there too. Not to perform but just to support.

She sang some Christian songs that had a Rasta interpretation and songs like Many Are Called Few Are Chosen. It felt like she was coming back to something. How regularly do you keep in touch?

We see each other. She lives right there. We are just four doors away. We talk every day. And I see her all the time. As a matter of fact we have a performance at Emancipation Park on March 8th. Coming up next week.

What did you think of her decision to step away from non-Christian music for a while?

I have no problem with it. I mean if God calls her to do whatever, she should obey and I see nothing wrong with that. We’re all believers in God. Religion is one of the things that I think destroyed this whole world but it's just one God, one creator, one father.

Could you just tell me about how you met the disc jockey Errol Thompson? [not Errol ET Thompson the engineer]

Errol Thompson. My children’s father. That was another moment in my life that I know God himself ordained - this whole meeting with Errol. I met him at, I think it was Harry J, because everything was happening at Harry J. It was the place to be. So that's where everyone hung out. We were there recording and Errol came. I met him there. And we just had eye contact. We knew that something was there because I remember when I met him he would always be teasing me for some reason or another.

But I saw something else in him. I saw a virtue in Errol. Even before we became close. He came here quite normal and sane and brilliant and a very bright person. One of the best disc jockeys Jamaica has ever had or heard. Until he started smoking herb. I don't think he was able to manage it and he started some strange behaviours. Causing people to disrespect him.

I say all of that now to say this - I remember being on tour with Bob and Bob asked me about Errol. Because he heard that we were driving around in Kingston and he wanted to know if it was true because of how he was behaving. And he was maybe expecting me to say "No that's a lie. Nothing like that" but I stood my ground and I said "Yes, I love him and I find virtue in him - it's like two hearts beating like one". And Bob, his mouth was wide open. Because he knew me as a person who would speak. No matter how bad it is I will tell it as it is - the truth. So he was very surprised when he heard me admit and confess that I really had a relationship with him. And he was a blessing. He was a blessing.

Marcia Griffiths-211

Is it true that he co-produced Prince Lincoln and the Rasses’ album Humanity as well as some of your music?

Yes. He was very talented, he loved the music. Really loved the music. He was very soulful. And we did quite a few songs together that he produced. Quite a few. Wish I Could Express. And there is a song that I Threes does (sings) "All I want to do is just sing sing sing sing sing unto the world". He wrote and produced that song. It's on the I Threes album.

How did you meet Sonia Pottinger and start recording for her? You are both pioneers in the business.

I knew Miss P… I don't know how I eventually ended up with her but she managed to convince me. She was a person who was very convincing when she spoke. And of course, she'd always speak about God. And I would believe what she was saying and as another woman I felt very comfortable with her. Yes. I felt comfortable. And she used to do gospel. All those nice gospel songs that we loved were Miss P. Judy was also recording for her as well. I thought she was a very nice person.

You recorded two great albums for her.

Two albums. Yes, Naturally and Steppin’.

And you also revisited some songs from previous times.

Yes!

This is something that has been a theme of your career. Revisiting material and updating it to keep it current. Looking back and taking a step forward.

Yes. Yes. Those songs are considered today as classics. Even the album called Naturally, it's a household piece - all of the songs, Dreamland, Survival, Steppin’ Out Of Babylon. I did another version of Stepping at Penthouse with Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Cobra, Tony Rebel - very interesting.

But these are songs that I can always cover and do a remix from them because they are songs that will live forever. Long-lasting songs. The songs we did in Studio One and the songs I'm talking about. All the good ingredients went into the songs and that's the reason why I think the songs will live and will always be classified as golden oldies. The songs today will never have that kind of longevity and last. They are mostly disposable. But these songs, all the love and the purity and honesty - good ingredients went into those songs. Love. We’d never think about money. We just wanted to give our hearts in the songs.

We'd never think about money. We just wanted to give our hearts in the songs

So did you leave Harry J and go to Miss P? Did you have to make a decision like you did with Coxsone and Mr Huber?

No. I never left Harry J because I would always revisit and do songs. It was more of a free relationship. You know like a freelance? I could go back to Harry. We were friends until he died.

What do you think of Etana's cover of Steppin’ out of Babylon?

Oh! Lovely. I did it with her on stage, the both of us. I think that was so nice of her.

Obviously, it must have been a sad time when the world lost Bob Marley. How did that affect you personally and career-wise?

Oh, very, very bad. Up until this day I don't think I'll ever overcome that. There are a few losses that I have had like that and I will never ever recover from it. Because with Bob - oh my Lord! When I met and knew Bob - I have never known anyone in my life like Bob. This man was truly sent from the Almighty. He was different from everyone that I know. If you saw Bob Marley in the busiest airports and you didn't know who that man was - you would have to stop and look twice and wonder who this guy is. He just stood out.

He spoke different from everybody. He did everything different. Even if he was going to give us an idea for harmonies it would never be “Ooh” or “Aah”. Which is what everyday groups sing. It was something unusual. Quite different. You know, this man was so musical. One of the reasons why I made a turn in my career to make sure I am sending positive messages to people, to teach educate and uplift, was because of Bob. When I saw how seriously this man took his music, I had never seen anything like that. It was his life. Nothing came before his music. He never cared about money. Nothing. His music and the people with the most important things in his life. Nothing else mattered.

Can you tell me about how, in the early 80s you bought a keyboard in Toronto and you showed it to Bunny Wailer...

(Laughs)

And your hit Electric Boogie was born?

It was I Threes. We performed in Toronto. Never got paid and all we ended up with was $700 Canadian each. And I had my $700 and I went downtown walking and I stopped in this store and I saw this rhythm box. It was a keyboard and it had every single sound and every beat. The repeater, there was a wire and everything on it.

And Bunny and I being so close from a long time, he’d always visit, bring the best fruits and vegetables from his farm in Portland. So I showed him the rhythm box and the different sounds and he just fell in love with that rhythm box too! (Laughs) He recorded the repeater sound - the piano “Dinganinganinganing!” He took it to Portland, came back the following day with the song! Everything was so spontaneous. We didn't sit on it. When we went to the studio Robbie Shakespeare overdubbed the bass, Sly did the drum pattern. I just went in and voiced the song, Bunny taught me the song, Electric Boogie. And it was released in December ’82. Straight to the number one spot.

Then Chris Blackwell heard the song and of course, Chris Blackwell is one of the persons who can identify an artist if he is going to be big and a hit song. He came down and he was interested in that song and said "I want that song. I love that song." But it was an entire album that we ended up doing. Bunny and myself. And it is still sitting there up until this day. Because that's what Chris Blackwell wanted. The whole album. He said big companies don't release singles - they want the album. But he did nothing with it.

So it went off its own strength to be a big hit in Amsterdam, the Bahamas, but it was not until 1989 when this group of guys in Washington DC heard this song then just put this dance to the song. The Electric Slide. It was summertime because I was on tour, Sunsplash tour, and by the time the tour reached Washington DC, I was forced to learn the dance and to perform it on stage! It was the biggest thing.

A lot of people think that digital music started in 1985 with the Sleng Teng.

Oh no.

People who were involved in Bob Marley’s organisation like Tyrone Downie…

Right, right.

And Familyman.

Right, right! Exactly!

were experimenting with the digital thing.

Exactly. Bob was a person who loved to experiment with music, you know? And having Tyrone as a young talented keyboard player, and Familyman, oh my God, Bob just loved Fams. I remember he moved Fams into Hope Road because if he got an inspiration no matter what time of the night, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, any time, he would call in Fams and something big would come out of it. So they would experiment with different sounds and different things on the keyboard and Bob would be inspired and say "Yeah, I love that". From a long time, Bob always loved to experiment with sounds. Different sounds. Even before, as you say, before this whole Sleng Teng he was always doing things like that.

Bob had some digital drums on some of his songs.

Yes.

But he didn't have a full digital rhythm on his albums.

Right, because you know what? No matter what, he loved the manual, the actual drums to play and the bass to play. Because with a man like Familyman - he would never trade Fams for a machine.

So tell me about how you joined the Penthouse team?

Marcia Griffiths-22Sly Dunbar called me and told me he knew someone who was interested in doing a song with me and of course it was Donovan Germain. And he turned me on to Germain, gave me his number and Germain called me and said he would love to record a song with me. Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere.

We went in the studio and recorded that song and, would you believe me, it was climbing the charts in England when Fleetwood Mac released theirs! (Laugh) And everything just crashed right there! And that's how we started out with Germain and the whole Penthouse. But that experience - wow! I had a string of hit songs with Penthouse in the 90s. Doing collaborations with people like Buju, Beres Hammond, Tony Rebel, Cutty Ranks - just name them. Very nice.

Again, Penthouse was a team where different people had their role. Like you were saying about Studio One.

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

And likewise, Germain has a similar reputation to Coxsone for hearing a cover song and saying “That's going to be a hit - let's do it over”.

(Laughs) Yes! Very much, because I remember Germain had to pay quite a bit to Coxsone for some of his rhythms that he covered! (Laughs) Yes, even songs like the Answer rhythm that I did, I Shall Sing, all of those songs are Penthouse. Beres Hammond today, most of his hit songs are from Studio One rhythms. So Germain did quite a few covers. Nanny Goat!

And you did Bob Andy's Fire Burning.

Fire Burning, yeah.

So again, you were taking a step forward but also looking back.

Yes, exactly. That was something else - because you know what was so humorous about this Fire Burning? I remember when Fire Burning became a big hit, number one everywhere for me doing the cover version of Bob Andy song! Bob Andy was on stage doing his song and this guy was in the audience saying "Where this guy come from? Doing everybody else's songs! Marcia Griffiths! Barrington Levy Too Experienced! What happened to his songs?" Not knowing that all the songs are Bob Andy's original songs! (Laughs) But this is music that, believe me, you can always do something with and something comes out of it.

You already mentioned that you performed with a lot of the top deejays during that time. A lot of people who have been in the business for as long as you have wouldn't have done that. Their ears would have closed off to that music and they would've said "This is not my generation. It's too rude. Not enough melody. Too much patois" and so on.

You're right.

But you already mentioned that you like to stay around the younger musicians.

There is no energy like the youth energy. And I find when I work with them they are always asking me to do things with them! Saying "Boy, sister Marcia, it's an honour for me to do this". And you know? I love it. I find that I love working with these young people, so I continue to do it. Up until this day when I celebrated my 50th anniversary four years ago I did 50 collaborations and I'm talking about almost everyone in the business. Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Etana, every single one. Collaborations. And all the deejays of course.

There is no energy like the youth energy

Let's talk about your 2012 hit song with Busy Signal, Automatic.

Automatic. Boy, that song. You know we have never performed that song? Not once. That song was written by Alaine for me. She told me that she had a song for me and she came to the house and played it for me and I loved it. I asked her if she could find the time to come down to Penthouse and be part of the whole recording so she would know exactly what she would like to hear. And the recording came out beautiful because out of that rhythm came Queen Ifrica… that song called? (Sings) "Call me by my name…"

Lioness On The Rise.

Lioness On The Rise. And quite a few other hit songs from that rhythm. But it's my original rhythm because that particular song, the rhythm was given to Tony Rebel and Tony Rebel had no idea that it was my song. And he wrote the Lioness On The Rise for me on the rhythm. (Laughs)

We talked about how Jackie Mittoo was the main supervisor at Studio One. Germain had people like Dave Kelly, but how involved is he in the studio process?

Well, he is more involved as a producer than Coxsone was. Because you have executive producers who provide the facilities and pay for the production and then you have the producer who actually tells you what they want to hear and gives you an idea. Like Bunny Wailer, as Chris Blackwell says, he is one of the best producers he has known. He knows what he wants in every instrument that is played. He is a producer. Well Germain now, I would say he is more active in the production that Mr Dodd was. Because he is right there and he knows what he wants and he would like to hear the bass man playing, the drum pattern. Because if the drummer is playing something and he doesn't feel that is what he wants to hear, he will explain it.

You've covered Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba. How special to you are those two artists and female pioneers in their own fields?

You know so much about what's going on! (Laughs) Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba - two of the greatest women. I love and adore these women. As to Miriam - oh my Lord! I love her so much. I worked with her twice. And she was a fantastic performer and such a wonderful person. Well, Nina Simone was always on about how much we owe her! She saw Bob Andy and she said "You owe me some money!" (Laughs)

When you sing on stage you don't just sing your own songs. You sing a lot of cover versions by other artists.

Oh yes! Anything that's current and is happening, that's me.

Marcia Griffiths-23

Also you sing songs by your peers. Songs by Millie Small, Rita Marley, it seems like you're always making it a communal experience on the stage.

Yes, yes! I think that might be one of the secrets to my longevity. Because most of these entertainers, I pray that they will do even half the time that I have seen in the business. Because this is my 54th year in the business. Thank God I am still performing with all the other young singers and I've managed to cut across the age barrier which is the greatest thing for me.

You and Bob Andy appeared together in London in 2012 at the Respect Jamaica 50 concert celebrating five decades since independence. That was an incredible moment for people in England.

Yes, for me too.

Tell me what it's like to unite with Bob on stage and sing.

Oh my Lord. It's the greatest feeling. It brings back so much memory. And there is something that is different from everybody else that I do collaborations with. I don't know if it's because of the relationship we have had but he is the comfort zone - performing with him. Working with him is a different vibe. I feel so comfortable. I feel like he brings out a lot more out of me than other people do.

How is Bob at the moment? In 2012 when he performed he had been unwell but he was feeling better.

He is still not well. Today he is good, tomorrow he is.. you know? We speak every day, and he tells you every day that this is the last day for him and he's not going to see me next week. And I said "You're going to live so long you won’t believe it." Even this week he said the same thing to me that he doesn't think he's going to last until next week. And I said "How many years have you been telling me this?" I love him and I know that his work is not done.

In the last few years they seem to be a lot more powerful female Jamaican artists devoted to conscious lyrics. What do you think of them?

Well, I am not one of the persons who likes to blow my own horn, but I am thankful. It's only because of all the other female singers, they all speak in their interviews and tell the media that I have been their inspiration. I am the one who inspired them. So I think I have a lot to do with the male dominated thing that we experienced when I started - compared to today. I think it's almost 50-50. Honestly. But I am thankful that I could've inspired all these people… I was surprised to hear sister Judy say the same thing.

What do you think about the way society is changing in general? Women are outperforming men in school and in the job market in lots of parts of the world. But there have been some upsetting things on the news suggesting there is still some way to go in terms of society being truly equal.

You know, I believe the answer to all of this - music is the greatest weapon that we have. On Earth. No nuclear, nothing, is as powerful. I see the way the music released Nelson Mandela from prison and many other things I could talk about. If we as singers are sending out the message every day. I hear Beres Hammond saying the same thing. Every day we get up and we send messages to teach and educate and uplift and to touch souls. But it's falling on deaf ears. Because if they were listening to the message in the music, a lot of crimes and violence and everything that we are experiencing now, the killing of the young girls, [wouldn’t happen] you know? We are not learning.

It's the same reason why I was told when I went to the prison, that they have a concert every end of month. They say the music does keep down the crime in the prison. They are there and they can see their favourite artists coming and performing for them. It does a great deal. So the music is all we have and that is all we can depend on. It's just unfortunate that it is falling on deaf ears. This is our only weapon and this is our only contribution that I personally can make because I by myself couldn't change it. We have to come together.

What do you think of feminism as a concept?

Well, the Bible tells us in this time the woman shall surpass the man. And it's only because, I heard Sister Carol made a statement and it was so true, that you see a lot of the men disappoint us. We were always looking up to the men for the guidance and everything else. But they fall short from a lot of things and that's the reason why I think the Bible says the woman shall surpass the man in this time. Not because we want to wear the trousers and be a man. It's because they are taking too much for granted, so women coming together now for a cause, it is ordained. It's prophecy being fulfilled today. It is something that we cannot avoid. We must embrace it - women are flying aeroplanes today.

Can we just talk about some of the awards that you have been given over the years? You've had so many but which touched you the most and made you feel the most valued? You received the Order of Distinction in 2014.

That is not easy. Because I have had so many different awards for different reasons and different purposes. But I have had two awards from the government of Jamaica and I am thankful to God because he preserved me - and to the fans that support me over the years. I am truly thankful to them. I have a Musgrave award and some of them I don't have anywhere to put them. But every single one I do love and appreciate. I must have to say that I cannot pick out one particular one.

I love to be unique or one-of-a-kind

Final question. Your stage outfits are as striking as your music. Where do you get your unique sense of style from?

(Laughs) You know, it is something that is in-born. My grandmother was a dressmaker. She was a seamstress and I would take the materials she had and I was like skinny, 99lbs, and I would drape them on my body and do different things. So even from that young age from seven or eight years old I discovered that there was something within me. I like to adorn myself elegant, not too crowded, but just royal. And I would hate to be on stage and I look in the audience and I see somebody wearing the same clothes I have on! So I tried to create my own styles. My fashions. I love to be unique or one-of-a-kind.

Share it!

Send to Kindle
Create an alert

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

Recently addedView all

Video
MrSM - Dominé
19 Oct

© 2007-2017 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: All Sides Pictures | Biodiv'Ecrins | GeoNature | Jammin Reggae Archives | DAVIBE Jamaica | Jamaican Raw Sessions | Reggaenet.pl | Le moulin des frènes | Le portrait de Doudou | La Face B MJC Briançon | One One One Wear