Music News

Her Imperial Majesty

Watching reggae's newest female star, Queen Ifrica, liven up a crowd sends a jolt through the body and spirit. During a recent stage show two weeks ago in Nassau, Bahamas, Ifrica performed as part of the heralded Millennium Countdown concert series; she was the lone woman artist on the bill. Around 2 a.m., an audience of at least 2,000 was cheering like crazy, not for her but for the smattering of dancehall artists coming to the stage, spitting braggadocious lyrics about nothing of importance. Mind-numbing music isn't always bad, but standing in the crowd, I couldn't help wonder how a conscious Rastafarian woman could raise the energy level even higher than it already was, considering her music has a considerably more serious message.

Surprisingly, when Ifrica hits the stage and starts delving into powerful hits like "Keep It to Yourself" and "Rasta Nuh Chat Rasta," the crowd goes mad. Somehow, the songs appeal to one's higher sense while at the same time making you want to jump, dance, and shout like you're at a church revival. Airhorns start blaring, fans are yelling, and Ifrica, who is now bouncing around the stage barefoot, sports the biggest smile of anyone in sight.

While she's been working on building her name throughout Jamaica for the past ten years, Ifrica (born Ventrice Morgan) is just now starting to gain an international following. Her debut album, Feed the Children, released last year, was met with critical acclaim, and she's just inked a deal with VP Records. She sings with the pro-African fervor of early Sister Souljah or Queen Latifah, and she often sounds like Sizzla or Capleton on the Rasta angle but with a female touch. A part of the buzz attached to her was built around her controversial single "Daddy," which tackled incest and molestation head-on unlike anything to ever hit reggae. Because of its powerful lyrics, it was nearly banned on Jamaican radio. But at 33, Ifrica still doesn't shy away from speaking truth to society's ills and looks forward to more of the same on her next album, Montego Bay, due out in February.

New Times recently caught up with Ifrica, first in Nassau and a few days later via phone, and she was gracious on both occasions.

New Times: I noticed during your last performance that you weren't wearing shoes. Do you always do that?

Queen Ifrica: It's a trademark of mine. I might show up to a venue wearing the baddest, sexiest pumps a woman could ask for, but as soon as my name is called, I just kick them off and hit the stage ready to go. I've always been that way. I can't perform in shoes because I don't feel grounded.

Your upcoming album is called Montego Bay. What made you want to use that title?

Well, that's where I was raised. I have the connection there. It's a beautiful parish. I know tourists go there and have a good time and all, but I don't think a lot of people pay attention to the local section. The parish is a bit neglected, so I think it was fitting for me, growing up there, to dedicate the album to the parish itself.

Is the message on Montego Bay going to differ from the songs that you've been recording previously?

As usual, my message don't change. My music is about self-development and self-empowerment. I say it with so much strength and conviction that it could never change. Last night in my living room, I witnessed on television the chance for black people to finally be recognized properly with [Barack] Obama getting elected president of America. [Likewise] my music is all about showing that you can do whatever you want to do as an individual if you're true to yourself.

How did you personally interpret Obama's election last night here in the States?

I saw black people saying to the world that aggression is not a part of us. It's a reaction to what's been given to us. Over time, we have learned to be diplomatic in our approach to our defense. I think Obama realized and studied the mistakes that his ancestors made, and he decided not to head to the streets with violence and aggression but rather with education and diplomacy. He played the fool to catch the wise. And it all happened violence free.

That's a good point. Do you worry about his safety now that he has been elected?

I don't even think he worries about it, so no. He stood before 200,000 people last night without any security guards [in Chicago] saying, shoot me if you want, but I am not here to divide. I am here on behalf of the people who are downpressed and downtrodden.

You make a lot of your music for the downtrodden as well. One song in particular, "Daddy," speaks up for those who suffer quietly from molestation and incest.

I'm singing this song because there are many people who are suffering from this. Personally, in music, I don't worry about what society will say about what I'm doing wrong. Because if the people agree with me, then I'm OK, because we are supposed to be the voice of the voiceless. That's what I try to do.

What were your reactions when groups started calling for the song to be banned?

The very first day the song came out, I was on every radio station on the island. That was great. What saddened me, though, was that a lot of the ones who interviewed me just wanted to know if I had that experience happen to me in my life. The way I did the song, I said, "Daddy, don't touch me there/I'm gonna tell on you one day, I swear/Can't you see I'm scared/You're supposed to be my father." I did it to awaken the victims who have been suffering through this, so they could have a song to sing. There were people who called from all corners of the island saying they were willing to come to Kingston and help me fight if the song got banned. That gave me so much strength.

Where does that consciousness come from in your music?

I was raised in a Rastafarian environment as a child amongst elders. Growing up in that environment, it makes it much easier to express yourself and speak the truth. So what you hear in my music is actually me as an individual on an everyday basis. That's how I reason and see reality.

Are you excited to come and play a show in Miami?

Trust me, I am so looking forward to coming to Miami. Miami is like going from downtown Kingston to uptown Kingston. It's like being at a stage show in front of the whole Caribbean. You have to be ready to please or the crowd will just look at you crazy.

Well, thanks for taking the time to chat.

Oh, one last thing. Tell the people and the men up there who send guns and ammunition to Jamaica from Florida that we need some shoes and clothes and food in those barrels right now! We need shoes in the garrisons. We know family members who want to avenge the death of their loved ones often send for guns from Florida. We're saying that education is the best defense. So tell them to send books instead.

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Jonathan Cunningham