To kick off our inaugural Blast From the Past spot, I’m cheating a little by picking not one, but two acts, because I can’t think about one without the other. Back in the day when my little flat looking like it was being slowly eaten by a large record-shaped vinyl monster, I discovered the Dynamite compilations. Made up mostly of reggae and its spin-offs, they were also home to various ska, dub, rocksteady, breaks and soul classics. Genre golden boys Barrington Levy, King Tubby, Toots and the Maytal, the Upsetters and Lee Scratch Perry all featured, but crucially they gave a platform to some of reggae’s most influential women, from Sister Charmaine to Marcia Aiken and Phyllis Dillon (who along with Marlena Shaw recorded the seminal ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ *) and switched me on to some of the original reggae queens.
A fuzzy memory of seeing the booty-shaking Top of the Pops turn by a teenage Althea & Donna resurrected itself (check out Donna’s awesome ‘fro!). I was part confounded, part charmed by the lyrics to ‘Uptown Top Rankin’’, and these ladies were ridiculousy young at the time (Kate Bush was the same age that year when she hit no. 1 with ‘Wuthering Heights’). By coincidence, A&T popped up on 300% Dynamite, where I first discovered Sister Nancy. Her track ‘Bam Bam’ (listen here:*) became the standout on the compilation; the song I lifted the needle back on to over and over again. Tracking down her other work has been tricky, but I have a fuzzy tape of her 1982 album One Two somewhere. ‘Bam Bam’ is on there, and as much as I love the name, it can’t beat the sassily-titled ‘Only Woman Dj With Degree’.
Live footage of Sister Nancy at a dancehall in 1996:
* I used youtube clips to avoid anyone having to download stuff.