It’s often said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, as the big chill of winter gives way to the warmth of spring. This time last year, many of us felt as humble and helpless as lambs, with the surging coronavirus pandemic disrupting every aspect of our lives, and life-or-death lockdowns becoming the new normal. But in March 2021 we’re beginning to feel a little more lionish.
Lions are powerful creatures within reggae culture, representing pride, strength and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a symbol of the Rastafarian faith. While the lion is usually depicted as a male with his regal mane, the lioness is an equally awesome creature — shout-out to all the lionesses on the rise as we close out Women’s History Month. This month’s MSW strives to strike a balance in showcasing strong female and male artists. Like the song says, girls just wanna have fun. And wherever the girls go, the guys are sure to follow.
Moyann ft. Shenseea
It’s been three years since Moyann first broke onto the dancehall scene as a fresh-faced teenager, but she’s been on her musical journey for a lot longer than that. “This has always been a passion for me, from a tender age,” Moyann told me. “I’d always be singing in the mirror, visualizing myself as an artist, performing in front of my mom, my sister, my dad.” In 2018 the Montego Bay native borrowed her sister’s phone and recorded a video of herself spitting lyrics while playing a riddim on her own phone. Thankfully she didn’t overthink anything and DM’d the homemade demo to producer DJ Frass. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m just gonna send it and if it happens, it happens.’” Frass soon hit her back and the rest is history. “It has been great, honestly,” she says. “[T]hat was the first time I was ever going into a studio. Getting it right was a challenge, but it’s really a great experience.”
Songs like “Fren Dem Good” and “Bruck Pocket Man” featuring Teejay helped to cement Moyann’s name as a rising star. Her emergence has arrived at a great moment for female dancehall artists, with Koffee becoming both the youngest artist and the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2020. “I’m really happy for her,” Moyann says. “I definitely think the females in dancehall are doing extremely good. Artists like Koffee and Shenseea are opening the door for younger artists like myself. Everything starts from somewhere.”
Although the pandemic posed a challenge to artists of every genre, Moyann used social media to keep her fans engaged. “Social media actually helps a lot because you can just showcase your talent,” says Moyann, who’s looking forward to getting out there on the road in the not-too-distant future. “It’s good to take it one step at a time. You don’t want to be all over the place.”
Etana ft. Stonebwoy
Blessed with a powerful voice and a resilient spirit, Etana got her start in the music industry as a harmony singer for reggae star Richie Spice. She stepped out on her own well over a decade ago and has been representing for roots and culture fans ever since. Her 2018 album Reggae Forever was nominated for a Best Reggae Album Grammy, making her only the fourth female artist to receive that honor, and the first at that time since Sister Carol in 1997. But on her latest project, the roots daughter — whose name is Swahili for “Strong One” — explores more contemporary sounds, setting her uplifting messages to dancehall and Afrobeats rhythms. “Baby O” finds her collaborating with Vybz Kartel, and on “Proppa” she joins forces with Ghanaian superstar Stonebwoy.
Although the musical direction may be new, Etana’s creative chemistry with Stonebwoy is undeniable. The song unfolds like a dancefloor dialogue as Stonebwoy declares his desire. “I’m an African king in this place O,” he sings. “Jamaican girl you be my taste O.” Etana likes what she sees, but cautions him to step to her the right way. “You want me to hand it over,” she sings, “then come at me, come at me proppa.”
Andre Chavanie McCormack was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and raised in a single-parent household by his mother, who inspired his love and appreciation for women. Known to his fans as D’Yani, his music is a blend of dancehall, soul and global pop, drawing on influences as diverse as Michael Jackson, the Beatles, the Weeknd and Bob Marley — not to mention Aidonia and Mavado. Since linking with Downsound Entertainment, D’Yani has emerged as a powerful new voice on the Jamaican scene, with a look, sound and vision perfectly positioned for international success.
“Girl get your hair done, mani pedi and your face done,” D’Yani sings on “Birthday,” his latest release on Downsound’s Storm Trooper Riddim. “It’s your birthday, girl! Bruck out and have bare fun.” The song showcases D’Yani’s respect for women’s feelings, and the female touch goes deeper than you might suspect. “Birthday” was co-produced by CeCile, the dancehall star famous for collaborating with Sean Paul on his Grammy-winning multi-Platinum album Dutty Rock. (She also recently authored a children’s book titled My Hair Story, inspired by her daughter Nana.) CeCile collaborated with Kunley of Ward 21, Jay & Penny Bling, and Skatta Burrell to put the riddim together. “I’ve been doing production with Skatta for like 20 years,” says CeCile, who first worked with him on the Chiney Gal riddim. “D’Yani had been sitting around the studio, and I wrote the ‘Birthday’ song with him because a girl has a birthday every day.”
“We do all different types of music every day,” said Busy Signal the first time we met, when he took a break from a session at the legendary Penthouse Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. “While I’m in the studio, whatever comes to mind at the time — you know, whatever is happening around me — I feel like I wanna do a song about that. … We just make it make sense and catch it.”
Having made his name spitting lyrics on hardcore dancehall tracks like “Step Out” and “Full Clip,” Busy went on to expand his sound with sweet love songs like “One More Night” and “Night Shift.” The success of these tunes inspired his critically acclaimed Reggae Music Again album. “It’s way easier to do dancehall,” Busy told me. “You do reality stuff with reggae music or social commentary. Reggae is like soul.” While he’s always down to explore new creative directions, Busy remains clear about his intentions. As he pointed out on the song “Real Spenders,” “Dancehall a dancehall, hip-hop a hip-hop. No mix the two of them ’cause them no match.” When I asked him about that line, he explained that he loved both genres. “People try to confuse dancehall with hip-hop,” he said. “You could fuse it, but don’t confuse it.”
Badda General x ZJ Liquid
“As a selector from longtime, me always tout the girl dem and hype them inna dancehall,” ZJ Liquid told me a few years back. His breakout hit “Wifey Walk Out” spoke on real-life relationship drama, stirring controversy in the spirit of fun and launching him as a serious recording artist as well as an on-air personality and producer for his own H20 label.
“How it ah look fe the Easter?” Badda asks. “Bwoy this year nuh look good fe a cheater,” Liquid replies. “After nobody can get bun … the whole country lock down.” The line is a clever play on words — bun is a popular Easter treat in Jamaica, as well as slang for cheating on your partner (or “burn”).