Five leading female figures from the history of Sound System culture
From Jamaica to Panama, here are some of the leading figures in the history of global Sound System culture.
With the whitewashing of musical histories comes the ever-growing importance of recognising the leading figures and marginalised stories of evolving scenes across the globe.
As important as they are, even these retellings must be scrutinised with an intensely critical lens which will in turn reveal flaws of a different nature. As is any historical recounting, the mapping of musical history is steeped in relations of power and exclusion, the politics of representation and marginalisation.
As Latinx interdisciplinary artist Ana María Romano Gómez discusses in this article by CTM Festival about Latin American Women in Early Electronic Music, narratives which spotlight marginalised individuals can reinforce exclusionary infrastructures. This is because the vital dots aren’t connected: between scenes, networks and communities.
“If I don’t know who my compañeras are, then it’s me against the world. When we assume a persona as genius, we are silencing the context around them.”
Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, this piece is a (by no means comprehensive) celebration of some incredible female-identifying figures in the evolution of Sound System culture across the globe. In an attempt to connect the dots somewhat, it is inclusive of Sound System culture in its myriad forms, unfolding in the context of diverse cultures and musical practices. We encourage you to delve in / take a listen to some of the incredible contributions from women around the world and celebrate their achievements in a male dominated genre and – in many cases – undervaluation.
We whole-heartedly wish all of our amazing women, trans, non-binary and female-identifying readers a happy International Women’s Day and hope you can find a role model in one of these wonderful figures!
Anita ‘Margarita’ Mahfood
Before her life was tragically cut short by abusive partner and musical collaborator, Don Drummond, Jamaican-Honduran Rhumba dancer Anita ‘Margarita’ Mahfood used her dancing to bridge the gaps between social classes. When booked to perform for impresario Vere Johns, she insisted to be accompanied by Count Ossie and his African Drummers and in doing so established cultural synergy between Rastafarians and ‘elites’. She is therefore credited with the introduction of Nyabinghi drumming to Jamaican recorded music and thus its increased popularisation.
To hear more about Mahfood, take a listen to ‘The Strangeness of Dub‘ – a podcast by writer, Edward George.
La Atrevida AKA Rude Girl
Panama’s La Atrevida (loosely translating from Spanish to Rude Girl) mostly operated in the years preceding the coining of the ‘Reggaeton’ term. For this reason often overlooked in the genre’s historical tracing, she nonetheless occupied a central role in its development through her contribution to the influential Dancehall Reggaespanol compilation of 1991 and was the first woman to do dancehall in Spanish.
Hear more about the evolution of Reggaeton by listening to the LOUD podcast on Spotify.
Throughout her illustrious career, Jamaican dancehall, reggae and dub MC, Annette Henry A.K.A. Warrior Queen has been a serious force in the bridging of reggae and electronic genres. An incredibly prolific and protean vocalist, she has collaborated with the likes of The Bug, Skream, Schlachtofbronx, Sunship and many more.
Dubplate Pearl and Mellotone Sound System
A roots reggae and dub DJ from south east London, Pearl Boatswain A.K.A. Dubplate Pearl is very vocal when it comes to the obstacles she had to overcome in order to fulfil her passion for sound system culture at the beginnings of her career as a selector. Watch her discuss these obstacles in detail here.
Marilyn Dennis A.K.A. Lady Banton and Julie Henry A.K.A. DJ Night Nurse run Mellotone Sound System – Notting Hill Carnival’s first all-female system – a big move in what is a hyper-masculine sphere. Catch one of their performances below.