Transcribed by Janeth Benjamin
At our core, WhereItzAt is dedicated to the stories that truly define us and our legacy as a people. So, when the opportunity presented itself to have a chat with the Empress of Reggae, The Honorable Marcia Griffiths, OD, we had to make it happen. Ms. Griffiths’ warmth was felt through the phone as our conversation traveled over the course of her career: through her accomplishments and purpose. Due to time constraints we had to cut our conversation short, but there is more to come from Ms. Griffiths in the near future.
Christopher Williams (CW): When you look back at where you have been, what you have done in the past fifty-eight years, what does that mean to you as an artist? Also, as a woman, as a black woman how does it feel to know that you’ve maintained such a widely respected and accomplished career in this business?
Marcia Griffiths (MG): I always give God thanks first for the talent he gave me and then to have preserved me over the years through this male-dominated business when I started, so I will continue to give Him thanks. The contributions that I have made throughout the journey in this business, I am thankful that in a male dominated business I could have inspired other women who are now in this business, and it is a wonderful feeling when I sit back and hear them mention my name in a lot of different interviews that I was their inspiration. I am truly thankful for that. That is one of my highlights along the journey, to make good contributions. It shows me that my work is not in vain, and I am inspiring other people, which is what I need to do. This is one of the reasons why I am so happy that God has blessed me with a talent to be in this business. As far back as I can remember being a little girl, I always said to myself, I wanted to be of service to mankind and that would maybe place me in a position to be maybe a nurse or a doctor, but I wasn’t cut out for that. It could not have been more perfect that I can touch souls throughout the universe, you know, which no doctor in the universe can do. So, God didn’t make a mistake. Music is the only route that we can take to unite the world. It’s our greatest weapon that we have today. There is nothing more powerful and forceful than the music. We just need to use it in a positive way so that we can send the right message to the world, to unite the world, to teach, to educate, to uplift. That is what music is all about. It wasn’t a mistake when God called upon the singers and players of instruments because we’re the ones who can, you know, reach out to the four corners and touch souls. So, it’s truly a blessing for me that I am a part of this experience. I just want to continue to touch souls and to feed souls with good, positive music. That’s what I am here for.
CW: When you think about the path that you took to become a singer, a performer, an artist, was that something that was always a part of you? You said you wanted to be of service right, that’s what you wanted to do, so how did singing become that? How did that become your choice?
MG: Well, it was ordained, because I didn’t have any vision of me being in this position today. I had no vision of being a singer as a profession or anything like that, but as I said God had a plan. When I used to sing earlier in the years when I started, I just knew that I loved to sing and I enjoyed singing, but I did not recognize or know the value and the worth of music until I really started working with Bob Marley and seeing how this man took his music so serious; It was frightening. I’ve never seen anything like that. His music was his life, nothing came before his music and then that is what opened my eyes. I realized that this thing is much deeper than just entertainment and it’s a responsibility that we have, that we must deliver. So that was when I took this music as a serious thing and it’s all about teaching. We are seeing Bob Marley’s message manifesting; even other performers like Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Barrington Levy, Beres Hammond and so many artists. I am doing my part as well, but each song tells a relatable different story. It is important to send positive messages, educate and uplift mankind.
CW: Your career began, at that time, when reggae music was just starting to bubble and flourish in Jamaica; soon after it became something that had an international impact. What was that like for you, you know, being part of sort of the birth of this new sound?
MG: I was taking everything for granted while it was happening. But I also enjoyed every genre of the music because I’ve seen them in the decade from the 60s to the 70s from Ska, Rock Steady up to now. Comparing things back then and now with the changes; Bob Marley said the music can just get bigger and bigger and bigger until it finds the right people. And I think that’s what has happened. Because when I go back to places that I went with Bob for the first time, for example, going to Japan – I tell myself that I would never go back there when I went the first time, because first of all it was so far and I was a little disappointed that the culture that I was looking for there, it was so, you know Americanized and ting. But when I returned there, being a part of the music, you know it takes you all over the world and I went back there, and I was pleasantly surprised that the seeds that were sown when we went there with Bob, these seeds were grown, beautifully blossomed and bearing so much fruit. Everyone was so conscious and aware of everything. They were talking different and living different. I went to Japan maybe two years ago, and I didn’t have to take a band there because I was backed by the Japanese; every member was Japanese, and I was surprised. They swat the music exactly like the record. When our people will take it for granted, not them. It is a beautiful thing that you know when Bob used to go around the world performing, sowing seeds everywhere; I never knew I could ever live to see they selling dreadlock wigs and all these things. But you know these are all things that manifest because of the seeds that were sown and it brings me to say that it is so important for this generation and the generations to come to know more about the foundation of the music. It didn’t just happen like this and these younger generations they come now and they are a part of the music and of course we know we have to pass the baton on and we embrace all the young talent, but they need to know the foundation and if it had not been a solid foundation that we built, it could not have been standing today. This is what they need to recognize, the foundation and who built it and they would come to show more appreciation and know that this is all about upliftment and not just entertainment. This is not hype or money or limelight. It’s deeper than that as I said earlier. Whoever is a part of it and who God blessed with a talent to be in it, they have to recognize that this is a responsibility, and they have to carry it in a positive way. So that’s all I try to do with this generation, to share whatever little I can, to tell them the direction so that they don’t fall in some of the holes that I experienced on my journey.
CW: Today, there is no country you can visit that Reggae music is not known. How does that make you feel?
MG: All the corners of the world reggae music is known and loved. Reggae music is the heartbeat of the people; it’s a music that you can never hear and sit still. Music in general is so infectious. As the baby is born, the baby can move. They have soul, they can move to any music and any rhythm they hear and as soon as the song is released, once they can talk, they learn that song. I often say that they should put the lessons in schools through music because the children, from two or three, they catch on to every song that they love. They just want to keep hearing it over and over and they learn it and can sing it from beginning to end. Music is life and everything that is positive to unite for a better world. I saw where the music released Nelson Mandela from prison. Everyone just started doing songs for the release of Nelson and that word, sound and power went out into the atmosphere, and it took unto itself flesh and it manifested. It’s the greatest weapon we have, there’s nothing more powerful than music.
CW: Ms. Marcia, you are being celebrated even more because not only have you been in the business for fifty-eight years, but you have made history as having the highest selling single by a female reggae singer of all times with the hit “Electric Boogie”. Did you think that this would have taken off the way that it did?
MG: It was first recorded in ‘83 with a rhythm box that I had. We took all the different parts on a cassette; Bunny Wailer took it to Portland and came back the following day. Everything was just so spontaneous, and I knew that to put all of this positive energy into a song that the reward would have been great. So, I never had any vision that it would turn out like this. When it was released in ‘83, it went to the number one spot by Christmas, and they were doing a different dance to it in Jamaica. Then in ‘89 while I was on the west coast on the Sunsplash tour, that was when some guys in Washington D.C., put this dance to it, because it was being played on KISS FM. So, by the time the tour got there, I had to learn the dance and perform the song. I was shocked and overwhelmed when I saw the whole place doing this dance. So, what we had to do, I was trying to find Bunny Wailer to tell him that the song was a big hit, but he was nowhere to be found. We got in touch with Chris Blackwell, and he got in touch with the company, because he is the one that had the single and he wasn’t promoting it because he said big companies don’t promote singles. He wanted the entire album, which Bunny did not give to him. The album was there, but it was not given to him. He just got the single and he refused to promote it, so it went off its own strength. So, when Chris checked it out at Island Records, it was selling rapidly. When we finally found Bunny, in Jamaica, before I re-recorded in ’89, I came to Jamaica, looking for Bunny and I was going down South Ave., saw his car, went in there; I was driving with Copeland Forbes and when we went there, we saw Bunny doing a video to the song. I can’t tell you how shocked I was. He had already re-recorded the song for himself and was now doing the video. I was speechless. I didn’t know where I was standing. I was looking for him for us to do the video together, because he was a part of the song. When I called Chris and I told him, Chris said let’s go in the studio and just re-record it. We went to Miami, and we went to the studio, where The Three Jerks, who worked with the Miami Sound Machine, the Gloria Estefan band recorded and we did the single right away before we completed the album, and we released it and it went on the billboard charts. We ended up doing the entire “Electric Boogie” album because that’s the only way that they were going to promote it if there was an album. It has become the longest living song and dance and outlived all the new dances that came about. The Electric Slide has outlived all of these dances. And like you said, all of the weddings are never complete without doing the Electric Slide.
CW: This accomplishment has cemented you in the annals of reggae music history. Are you working with other artists, mentoring them or guiding them in the industry?
MG: Yeah, quite a lot. Quite a lot of different artists, especially the female artists. I work a lot with female artists. Even if it’s not done publicly, I am working behind the scenes communicating with them about different things. Even though women refer to me as their inspiration and a role model or their influence, it is amazing how somebody like I-Wayne, a male artist, to hear him say how much I inspired him it is so overwhelming for me. When I meet up with the young female artists, I share a lot with them, my experience and give them advice as to how they should go about many, many things in the music. I am not just sitting here and keeping everything to myself, because I love young talent and I love the energy from the youth. So, you know, that is something that I embrace, so I will always do whatever I can do to impart the right thing.
CW: When can people expect to see you?
MG: I have an itinerary from April 2022 all the way to December. I’ll be in London and I think Jamaica is going to be celebrating their 60th Independence, so there is a lot of things planned. I’m supposed to be in Nigeria for some time. I will release a copy of my itinerary later.
We could have spent countless hours in conversation with the amazing trailblazer, outstanding artist and veteran Ms. Marcia Griffiths, but all good things must come to an end, or at least a pause. In the meantime, check out this legend on streaming platforms and visit her website www.marciagriffiths.net or follow her on Instagram at marciagriffiths_queenofreggae to stay connected with her work.