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 Top: (L) Janet Kay & (R) Kofi

Bottom:L-R Sandra Cross, producer Donald Harper , Carroll Thompson—-

A documentary about the woman’s role in British reggae is expected to be released in early 2016.

Women in Reggae is the title of the project being produced by Trelawny-born Donald Harper, who has worked in the music industry since 1990.

The 52-year-old Harper is an associate tutor at the University of Leicester. Women in Reggae is part of a thesis for his PhD.

It focuses on first-generation British singers such as Janet Kay, Sandra Cross, Carroll Thompson and Kofi who made a mark during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

“Interestingly, my first inclination was to develop a documentary project around females in reggae in general, regardless of territory. As you can imagine, this would be a massive undertaking,” Harper told the Sunday Observer. “So, logistically speaking, since I am now based in the United Kingdom, it seemed much more feasible to focus on the UK for now.”

Women in Reggae will look at the personal and professional lives of these performers, most of whom are unknown to the current generation of black British youth.

Kay, for example, had a massive hit in 1978 with Silly Games, one of the songs that heralded a new sound called lovers rock. It reached number two on the British national chart.

Cross, Thompson and Kofi are all exponents of lovers rock, which thrived in the UK throughout the 1980s on the strength of acts like Maxi Priest, Peter Hunningale and Vivian Jones.

Millie Small is widely acknowledged as the pioneer West Indian female singer in the UK through her 1964 million seller, My Boy Lollipop. Her predecessors have never had that form of national attention.


“Singers like Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson are still actively performing on the circuit. But, from what I have observed, they tend to be booked for events catering to more mature audiences,” Harper noted.

He added that, “On another level, there might be more of a connection with the songs. If you take Janet Kay’s Silly Games, one could consider that a musical anthem in the sense that the song can still be played in a nightclub today and it would trigger a choir-like sing-a-long with folks of all ages participating. Having said all of that, it is important to note that a primary objective in undertaking this film project is to educate and to build awareness among the public in general. In other words, we hope it will resonate with everyone despite race or ethnic origins.”

Harper, who attended Calabar High School, migrated to the United States at age 15. In 1990, he formed Jamstar Productions, which has organised shows and tours of the US, Africa, Europe and the Bahamas for a number of artistes including Sean Paul, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Diana King, The Skatalites, Cutty Ranks and Patra.

–By Howard Campbell

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