Brown Girl in the Ring: Margarita and Malungu

By Miller, Herbie | Caribbean Quarterly, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Brown Girl in the Ring: Margarita and Malungu


Miller, Herbie, Caribbean Quarterly


What jungle tree have you slept under,

Midnight dancer of the jazzy hour?

What great forest has hung its perfume

Like a sweet veil about your bower?

What jungle tree have you slept under,

Night-dark girl of the swaying hips?

What star-white moon has been your mother?

To what clan boy have you offered your lips?

Langston Hughes1

My dream last night was that I was a bird, a hoopoe

Engaged in intimate thscourse with you, my Sulayman...

But civilization with its mores and conventions

have blighted our growth...

Afua Cooper

The excerpts from both these poems capture the intense but fractious passion shared between trombonist Don Drummond and his love partner, the rumba dancer, Anita Mahfood, recognized by her stage name, "Margarita." While Drummond is very well known and highly regarded throughout the world of Jamaican music, Margarita is best remembered within that same world because of her association with him.

In any thscussion of the male dominated narrative about the development of Jamaican popular music, this phallocentric thscourse must be supplemented by feminist theory to facilitate a gender-balanced narrative to emerge. In regard to ska, women singers played a vital role, though in the estimation of some observers, a secondary one. In the early days of ska, the late 1950s and early 1960s, women or "girl singers" performed in duet settings with male vocalists. Most notable among these boy-girl duets were Keith and Enid, Dotty and Bonny, Derrick and Patsy, Stranger and Patsy, Roy and Yvonne, Roy and Millie, Jackie and Doreen, and in the pop soul vein, Tony Gregory and Marcia Griffith. By the time ska was firmly established, female artists were increasingly integrated into groups. Beverley Kelso and Cherry Green shared duties in the earliest ethtion of the Wailers with Junior Brathwaite, Bob Marley, Bunny Livingstone and Peter Tosh. Rita Marley of the Soulettes would later be drafted into the group replacing the former two. Of all the females featured at the time, Hortense Ellis (Alton's sister) emerges as the best vocal talent in the estimation of most who heard her. However, it was Millicent Small, the singer known as Mille who also performed in duet settings that broke through and introduced popular Jamaican music to the international mainstream. Her 1964 cover version of the American group Barbie and Gay 1957 hit "My Boy Lollipop " peaked at number one on the British charts and number two in the United States of America thus becoming the first hit by a Jamaican on either side of the Atlantic.

Businesswomen played an important role in establishing the Jamaican music industry also. The lone female producer Sonia Pottinger, whose role in the industry recently received an in-depth study (Walker 2005), was responsible for establishing the careers of many artists incluthng, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffith, two of reggae's pre-eminent female soloists. Other women contributed to the music's growth as well. For example Norma Dodd, Sheila Lee, and Pat Chin, were towers of strength that laid the foundation for the success of recorthng stuthos, thstributing and publishing companies identified with the male half at the head of these "family run" businesses. In fact, all three have continued to play crucial roles in the international recognition of Jamaican music. Chin's (Miss Pat) VP Records has become the largest thstributor of reggae and related music in North America. Mrs. Dodd continues to operate Stutho One faculties following the untimely death in 2004 of her husband Clement "Sir Coxone" Dodd, and Sheila Lee plays an integral role in the affairs of Dynamic Sounds and Sheila Music the publishing arm of the company she oversees with her husband the bandleader and businessman Byron Lee. And as some close to the industry recall, Jean Benson, the Canathan wife of the head of Record Specialists, was a very active woman who literally ran the place. …

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