By Stephen Cooper
Beaming with exuberance, Hempress Sativa levelled the playing field in music and performance.
Q: A July 3rd article published in the Gleaner [had] what I humbly thought was a paternalistic headline, “Female Artistes Encouraged to Do Their Best at Sumfest.” Because why wouldn’t they want to do their best anyway? Sumfest is of course the large reggae festival held annually each summer in Jamaica. The article went on to say that “in a line-up of predominately men” the five chosen female artists had “little room for error.” Now Hempress, I know you’ve performed at Sumfest before.
Hempress Sativa: Twice.
Q: And also, last year, in an interview with Magnetic magazine, you said you were fascinated by Lauryn Hill because she “showed that a female [artist] could hold her own in a jungle of testosterone.”
Hempress Sativa: Of course.
Q: So I want to ask you the same question I asked Sister Carol: In your opinion, what are some of the things that need to happen, steps that should be taken, [and] reforms that are needed for the reggae music business to provide fairer and more equal opportunities for women performers?
Hempress Sativa: Simple. Level the playing field. Make it equal where you don’t have such a high standard set for women, and such a low standard set for men. A man can go onstage and sing any amount of foolishness and everybody will support that; the minute a girl goes onstage and [sings] lyrics full of impactful words, they don’t take her serious. They only look upon a woman as some type of object. You can go onstage and expose yourself; they don’t take your music serious[ly]. So, it’s not necessarily for the woman to do anything.
The industry needs to take the veil from over their face and stop pretending like they’re not doing these types of things. All over the world it’s the same thing. Even me going to a show, I’m treated with the least amount of respect that they’d give a man.
Q: So, women need to stand up for themselves?
Hempress Sativa: They need to stand together. We need to stand together. We’re not less than anyone.
Q: And demand equal treatment?
Hempress Sativa: Of course. Not only us, but the people who are going to these events. [They also] need to be the ones to be vocal. Because they’re the ones that are buying the tickets, they’re the ones supporting the shows. So, they have a power also, to demand more female [performers] on the line-up[s].
Q: For sure, Hempress, and respect for that. There was a lot of coverage recently about Sumfest, and there was an article about marijuana, and [this] being the first year that they had various people who support dispensaries attend[ing] Sumfest; there was a symposium they [did] a day or two before the festival [began]. And I wanted to ask you [because] you’ve been an advocate for marijuana for a long time: What are some specific things the government of Jamaica should do to ensure that Rastas, persecuted and discriminated against for so long over herb can secure a bigger share of the profits now being reaped from marijuana?
Hempress Sativa: I think specifically for the Rastafari community, for example, the licenses that they’re issuing [are] hard to obtain. It’s too expensive. [And] there are too many requirements. Especially for the Rastafari community [that] has been persecuted, even incarcerated. You have Rastaman being abused for using the plant. I feel like if you can lock up these people, you can also expunge their records expediently. You can give them some type of incentives [and accommodations] for all the things they have been going through and [have] endured. They should be given the opportunity to have access to [a] license.
Q: It should be similar in some sense to reparations?
Hempress Sativa: Yes.
Q: Because [Rasta farmers] can’t compete in the same community with big corporations.
Hempress Sativa: The things that they’re asking for someone to run a farm should be more relaxed when it comes to the Rastafari community. Because we are the ones who have been telling people [for so long] all the wonderful medicines and uses of the [herb].
Q: And now Rastas should be the ones.
Hempress Sativa: We should be the ones to benefit before any other.
Q: Respect. Your [marijuana] advocacy has been grounded in your Rastafari background, and because of this, and because it plays a significant part [in] your music including your stage name; you’ve often been sought out and asked [for your] opinions about herb. When were you first introduced to smoking marijuana? And was it with your parents or with someone else?
Hempress Sativa: [When] I [was] a little girl my parents used to steam the stalk of the marijuana plant in coconut milk. And [they’d] give us that as tea. [And] [s]ince I [was] a likkle baby I’ve never had any illness. I’ve never had any sickness. I’ve never once had a mental breakdown. And I can’t say this goes for everybody, but I’m telling you about me. My parents being Rasta, a lot of people will judge them, but that’s fi their opinion, they’re entitled to judge whoever they want to, but me, knowing the fullness of what the plant has done for me since I was a little girl . . . And since I was a little girl, my parents used to give me a draw of a marijuana spliff. Yeah.
Q: Do you remember how old you were?
Hempress Sativa: Ten. I used to see dem [and say,] “give me draw,” [and] they’d give me a draw. I first burn a spliff for myself, a whole entire spliff, at the age of 17. And I did that with my mother. And she said to me, “You see, you have people who don’t understand the importance of marijuana. And they mix it with all these things because they want to get a false high.” She said, “Never go out and smoke with anyone. If you want to smoke, come and [see] your mother and have [a] reasoning.” That’s how I used to smoke herb, with my mother. She’s the first person that I actually sat and rolled a spliff with. And we burned a spliff and reasoned about His Imperial Majesty.
Q: As a mother, have you given a lot of thought to the way you’re going to introduce your son to smoking herb, and do you have an opinion about how old a child should be.
Hempress Sativa: I don’t smoke herb with my child. My child [doesn’t] even mind that I smoke. I don’t want to give him the impression that because my parents did [it was] easier for me, [because] we [were] growing up in different times. Different types of herbs being grown now. I don’t want to make [a] mistake and jeopardize my son’s future. Just because of my opinion. I wouldn’t give [herb] to my child. People mentally develop different now.
Back in the days it was more of a spiritual thing. The herb was more organic then. There wasn’t so many fertilizers, so many chemicals. You used to get the purest form of the herb. So, you got the purest vibration out of the herb. It’s different now. There are many different strains of herb. Many hybrids. You have to know what you are getting into. And my son, he is here in America. So, I don’t want him to get involved in so many different types of herbs. You have so many false, synthetic herbs. You have to be very careful.
Q: You were part of a documentary celebrating and talking about herb with Bushman and Jah9 not too long ago. And in that documentary, Jah9 talked for some time about how once she began smoking herb out of a steam chalice, she began steaming exclusively; she said she won’t smoke herb any other way. How do you prefer to smoke herb, and especially for Americans and non-Rasta readers, can you explain or describe how smoking out of a [steam] chalice compares to a different way of smoking?
Hempress Sativa: This is what I want people to understand: don’t get too caught up in what you a-see artists a-do. Because not everyone is doing it the right way. I see people steaming herbs, and steaming herbs requires you to have either coconut or calabash or a bamboo bottom.
You’re supposed to put a certain amount of water in it to engage the herb. [And] there’s a gauge that separates the herb from the coal that is on top. So, when they draw the heat from the coal, it opens up the trichomes in the herbs. So, you better get to the root of it by finding the elders who can really show you the fullness. Because what I realized with the steam chalice, [in] my opinion, many people are using it incorrectly. Because if you’re steaming the herbs there’s no way, you’re supposed to be burning the herb and getting any level of smoke out of it. And the herb is being charred. So, people have to be very careful. People just want to say they are steaming the herbs. They have to be doing it the right way for me to take them serious.
Q: If you do [steam] the right way, and you have all the proper equipment, is that the superior way to smoke?
Hempress Sativa: That is one of the most superior ways to smoke.
Q: In your song “Skin Teeth” – a dope riff on Horace Andy’s “See A Man’s Face” that you sang tonight, about backstabbers, fake people, and fake friends, you sing “steam chalice and post for the Instagram post.”
Hempress Sativa: Uh-huh.
Q: Which made me think that similar to fake Rastas, who nonetheless grow dreadlocks and claim they are about Rasta and “one love,” that there are some people who will in the same way, adopt the steam chalice and use that image superficially or falsely, to claim a Rasta identity.
Hempress Sativa: Not necessarily. What I was making a reference to is a person and a friend; a friendship. Because [you have] many people who you steam chalice with. You have many people who you sit down, and you break bread with. Who you’re driving in your car together with and you’re having all these conversations with. Just [about] regular life and your family. You invest so much time in a friendship. And then at the end of the day it amounts to naught because they have no good intent for you. So that is what we’re talking about. These people who post on Instagram [etcetera] and you call them your “friends”; these are the people you have to be very careful of.
Q: Right. They might be using you.
Hempress Sativa: Exactly.
Q: In [your song] “Rock It Ina Dance” and even more so in “Natty Dread,” your [sizzling] collaboration with Ranking Joe, you sing about wearing “Clark” boots and “dressing well-clean.” Now I’ve heard Protoje and other Rasta artists promote Clarks in their music before and honestly, if I imagined an army of Rastas, they’d all be wearing Clarks. But when, [and] how, [and why] did Clark boots become an essential component of a Rastaman or Rasta-woman’s footwear?
Hempress Sativa: Clark boots [are] not necessarily what Rastas are wearing, but that comes from the dancehall culture. From way back in the days. Man a-toast. Man [have] a nice pants-length, an “Arrow” shirt, and Clarks boots, looking very clean and dapper. So that is where it comes from. It’s a cultural expression of Jamaican people.
Hempress Sativa: Because we like to look clean, we like to look well-nice.
Q: Dressed up for the dancehall?
Hempress Sativa: For the dancehall. Because it was a way of expressing yourself. Showing your own style. You have some who used to wear the diamond socks, so everyone expressed themselves through dem fashion.
Q: And when you come onstage, you’re always dressed to the nines.
Hempress Sativa: Well it’s important to me, you know? Because I want to make people know how important Africa is on a daily basis for me. So, I like to wear the African garments fi make the black people know, we’re special too. We need to remember our heritage, our culture, where we’re coming from.
Q: Hempress, there was an editorial recently in the Gleaner called “Hair Today.” It [commended] California for passing a new law that bans discrimination against black people who wear their hair naturally in braids, locks, afros, and other hairstyles. The editorial ended [by noting] “from time to time, the issue has surfaced in Jamaica, particularly in schools where administrators have frowned on dreadlocks as a form of improper grooming.” As a Rasta woman and mother living in Jamaica, how widespread or rampant does discrimination against Rastas, at schools, in the workplace, out in public, in the government still occur in Jamaica?
Hempress Sativa: It still occurs, especially in schools. So, for example, I wanted to get my son into a school in Jamaica. And one of the first things I had to ask them was whether they would accept him with [his] locks. Because I’ve taken my son to schools already and they’ve basically denied him; he met all the criteria, but because of his hair [they said] it would have been a problem. And when they gave a reason, it made no sense.
Q: That’s terrible.
Hempress Sativa: They said they wanted to differentiate the boys from the girls. I said that is so stupid. Because hair shouldn’t be what differentiates anybody. Hair is something natural growing from your body.
Q: Will the school system do anything if you were to go and complain?
Hempress Sativa: When you complain to the ministry of education they do nothing. Especially when it’s a private school.
Q: What should the government and good conscientious people of Jamaica do to stamp out discrimination that still lingers against Rastas in Jamaica?
Hempress Sativa: The government needs to put legislation and laws in place that protects Rastafari people and Rastafari culture. That’s something they can do. Also, the people after going so long inna Jamaica knowing all the things that Rastafari has [stood] for need to [have] the initiative to speak up.
Because when you look, Rasta culture brings all the tourists [to] Jamaica. Rasta culture bleeds out inna reggae music that everybody loves so much. And Rasta culture help[ed] to bring out the culture of dancehall where all these people gravitate to.
So, in essence, Rastafari people should be protected.
Related: Part 1