Not sure if y’all missed this, but on April 9th, Obama paid the first presidential visit in 32 years to Jamaica, immediately visited the Bob Marley Museum, and opened his speech to a crowd of students at the University of the West Indies with a cloying patois, “Wah Gwan Jamaica?”. Leaving aside the politics of Obama’s attempt to divert trade from Venezuela, his role in the distribution of liquid natural gas, and, less seriously, his statement upon first setting foot at the museum— “Yes. This is it! Bob Marley”—Obama’s role-play might actually bring us into a deeper history of exchange between American music—particularly blues, gospel, and soul—and Caribbean, particularly Jamaican, sound.
For this second installment of Sister Soul, M.H. and I collaborated on an Afro-Caribbean “Ladies First,” mixing her choices, contemporary Soca and heavy Trinidadian dance beats, with the tunes I’ve pulled from across Africa (bless you, Awesome Tapes From Africa) and high-life Jamaica. It took a long-time ex-boyfriend’s reggae obsession to make me realize how innovative and heart-shaking ‘60’s and ‘70’s reggae stars were in their recreation of American soul and gospel music—see Phyllis Dillon’s “Picture on the Wall,” à la Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You”—and lots of these songs seem like they come straight from the Jamaican ether. Cum Nora Dean: “He’s got barbwire in his underpants.”
M.H. and I wanted this mix to be big and new, so it’s full of stuff that people still dance to: Destra Garcia’s 2013 hit, “Call My Name,” for one, or Patrice Roberts’ banger, “Do Wuh Yuh Want.” We’ve also got classics, Sister Nancy’s “Transfer Connection” and Patra’s “Queen of the Pack,” with the biting, lolling invective, “look how me cute and sexy like that,” that reminds me of The Breeders’ furious plea, “do you love me now?” This mix is full of African rhythms pulled by Awesome Tapes’ cassette collection, the comically bored “Jam It” and Congolese rhumba singer Mbilia Bel’s heavy-hitting 90’s R&B inflected Manzil Manzil, and rounds out Accran musician Jojo Abot’s “To Li” bass/falsetto dreamscape. Sister Soul lives!