It was one of those sultry summer evenings when we met some members of AbaKush, the predominantly female reggae band from South London. It was actually Denise Davis aka Jena, one of the three lead vocalists, with whom we talked about a lot of things, but the main topic, of course, was reggae music. At a certain point Jena told us that people like herself and Nicky Ezer of London based "Culture Promotions" were thinking about starting a kind of concept with the main intention to let some sistren in reggae music join forces, however without giving up their own musical activities. Due to the fact that the "marriage" between reggae and women isn't exactly a natural one, the sistren definitely have to do it for themselves. Everything was still premature, but the seed was sown.

The above decribed happening took place in the backstage area during "Reggae 1999" in Geel, Belgium, after Abakush had delivered a very impressive set which made them win the hearts of many roots reggae fans. At the same festival, almost at the same location, but now a year later, the seed was sprouted. "Sista", comprising Akabu, Jayzik, Trilla Jenna, Abakush and Aisha, opened the main programme of "Reggae 2000". Most of the artists involved in the "Sista" project have been active in reggae music for quite a long time.

Refering to the term "girlpower" - which was widely utilized when the UK vocal group Spice Girls had become very successful in the pop charts - AbaKush's Jena states that they can be regarded as "the original girlpower". Formed in 1981 they were the first predominantly female reggae band that emerged in the UK. The present line-up of Abakush was completed in 1983 just prior to their first recording session. Also Akabu, an accomplished, seriously underrated all-women band and roots daughter Aisha started their musical career in the eighties. Aisha is probably the one artist whose name is familiar to a wide audience as she has released some rather successful and critical acclaimed roots tunes during her musical career.

Simple poet Jayzik and the Queen of UK Dancehall music Trilla Jenna made their entrance in the nineties. The latter first came to surface when she teamed up with Neil Fraser aka the Mad Professor with whom she recorded her much promising debut album "Thrill Dem With It" in 1992. However, in the following years little was heard of Trilla Jena, although she continued to do studio work. It took her some 6 years to attract attention again, this time with the well received UK Channel 4 movie, "Babymother". Trilla Jenna not only was involved as a songwriter, but also did lead vocals for the main soundtrack of this film, which is actually a musical about a female MC. Through her work for the soundtrack she met Super Flex and Richie Dan, two members of the London based Status Crew, the British answer to such Jamaican counterparts as Monster Shack Crew, Dutty Cup Crew, Innocent Crew and Scare Dem Crew. They got Trilla Jena involved in the Status Crew project and introduced her during live performances as "Status Sister". The association was short-lived due to Richie Dan concentrating on other musical directions when he proved very successful at the UK Garage scene.

Then came the "Sista" project. Their first performance in front of a live audience was in early March 2000, when "Sista" did a three hour lasting showcase at "Dingwalls", a live venue in Camden Town, London. The show was actually an event to celebrate International Women’s Day, which brought artists as well as audience a great, feel-good evening. Next came festivals like SummerJam in Germany, the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Essential Festival in Brighton, UK, and Reggae 2000 in Belgium. They also appeared on stage at the Lambeth Country Show in London and at the Oldham Cultural Festival in Manchester, UK. The next step will be the release of a "live" album of their concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and also studio work is scheduled for the near future.

In the meantime Trilla Jenna will be the stand-in for the pregnant lead vocalist of Zion Train, when they will be performing alongside Mad Professor and Lee Scratch Perry at the Forum in London. Furthermore she has planned to do some personal work in the studio, as she is always trying to stretch her style in her never ending search for musical development.

Numbering in total 14, these "women in reggae" took the stage and delivered a fully satisfying and very enjoyable performance. It was the tight musical backing provided by Zion on drums, Chris and Valerie on guitar, Diane on bass, Caroline on keyboards and Pepsi on percussion, and the great vocal deliveries of the singers from AbaKush and Akabu, and also Aisha and Trilla Jenna, that kept most of the people in the audience involved till the very end. The set, which lasted approximately 90 minutes, featured tunes like Sister Aisha's late eighties hit "Prophecy", "What A Race" and her sound system favourite, the heavy roots tune "Creator", AbaKush's sublime "Marcus Garvey", "Mommy Don't Cry", the excellent "Mistry" and a thrilling rendition of "Payaka", Pepsi's "Whe You Did Deh?", Akabu's awesome "No Crack", "Sweet Inspiration" and "The World". Furthermore singjay Trilla Jenna performed the wicked "Schizophrenic" from her "Thrill Dem With It" album, "Hot You Know!" and "Ghetto Youth", Jayzik delivered "Greetings/No Hello", "Cashless" and "Imagine", while all sistren were on stage for "Conquering Lion", a fine interpretation of Bunny Wailer's "Dreamland" and Bob Marley's "Thank You Lord". Besides the fact that all artists and musicians fully showcased their skills, talent and musical experience, it was the vibe of strength and unity that also made a serious impact. The women of "Sista" form a truly unique and inspiring collective, setting an example in a musical world which is often ruled by big egos. So, Respect is due!!
Writers: Teacher & Mr. T. ~ Photos: Teacher

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