Each January thousands of reggae fans congregate in St. Ann, Jamaica for Rebel Salute, a two-day concert featuring over 50 artists encompassing the island’s indigenous genres, including ska, rocksteady, dancehall and especially roots reggae. Held on Jan. 13-14 at Grizzly’s Plantation Cove, in close proximity to St. Ann’s popular tourist hub Ocho Rios, Rebel Salute was founded in 1994 by sing-jay Patrick “Tony Rebel” Barrett as a celebration of his Jan. 15 birthday and his Rastafarian way of life: in accordance with Rastafarian tenets, Rebel Salute prohibits the sale of meat and alcohol, while marijuana, considered a sacramental herb among Rastafari, has been openly smoked and sold there, long before the Jamaican government decriminalized ganja in February 2015.
Rebel is known for imparting uplifting lyrical content on such hits as “Sweet Jamaica,” the island’s unofficial national anthem, and his classic 1993 album Vibes of the Times (Chaos/Columbia). He has mentored several popular reggae artists including the late, beloved singer Garnet Silk who appeared on the inaugural Rebel Salute and died in a home accident in December 1994 at just 27. At a December 1998 concert honoring Silk, Rebel was so impressed with the performance by fledgling sing-jay Queen Ifrica he offered to help cultivate her vocal/performance skills through his Kingston based Flames Productions.
Since 1999 Queen Ifrica (born Ventrice Morgan, the daughter of legendary singer Derrick Morgan who, at 76, delivered a warmly received set of ska and rocksteady favorites at Rebel Salute 2017) has annually performed on Rebel Salute and developed into one of reggae’s most compelling and outspoken artists. The regally attired Queen, whose ability to lyrically torch societal ills has earned her the affectionate moniker Fyah Muma, ruled the 2017 Rebel Salute stage. Vacillating between melodic sung vocals and tough-edged chanted rhymes she delivered topical hits including “Daddy,” which rails against incest/child abuse and her signature anthem of female empowerment “Lioness On The Rise.” She also introduced songs from Climb, her second album for reggae independent VP Records (due on March 3) and concluded her blistering set with the video premiere of Climb‘s first single, “Trueversation” featuring Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. Directed by Antwan Smith and shot in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District in November 2016, watch the “Trueversation” video exclusively below.
“Trueversation,” produced by Rickman “Jamplified” Warren (digitally released on Jan. 13) signifies an authentic male/female dialogue; Marley, renown for his nimble delivery of complex lyrics is Queen’s ideal partner in this patois chanted/hip-hop flavored verbal exchange. “I wrote the song then asked Gong to be a part of it,” Queen Ifrica told Billboard at Flames Productions’ Kingston’s offices. “He has a humble personality and is easy to work with; we recorded the track in Stephen Marley’s Lion’s Den studio in Miami over a year ago but had to wait for my album to release it. When we were finally ready to do the video, Gong didn’t hesitate; we had to work around his schedule but we got it done.”
The comfortable, mutually respectful working relationship between Derrick Morgan’s daughter and Bob Marley’s youngest son is rooted in the earliest days of Jamaica’s recording industry. In 1962 Morgan, working alongside Jimmy Cliff as an A&R for Beverley’s Records, auditioned a teenaged Bob Marley and encouraged Beverley’s owner Leslie Kong to record the hopeful artist. That recommendation resulted in the future icon’s initial singles “One Cup of Coffee,” “Terror” and “Judge Not,” which had little impact at the time of their release, but 55 years on, are sought after collectors’ items.
“Derrick Morgan gave Bob Marley his first recording opportunity and now the next generation has come together, so the Queen Ifrica/Jr. Gong collaboration has great significance,” observes Tony Rebel. “Jr. Gong is very popular so his fans will tune into Queen Ifrica now, but Queen has her following too so working together has reciprocal benefits for both.” The “Trueversation” video garnered an enthusiastic reception from the audience of approximately 10,000 on Rebel Salute’s Saturday night finale; only Marley joining Queen Ifrica onstage to perform the song could have generated more excitement. “We really wanted Gong to be there (Marley headlined Rebel Salute 2014) but he wasn’t available,” Queen Ifrica explained, “but we are looking forward to performing the song together at events later in the year.”