An art form pre-dominated by males, reggae nonetheless boasts a cadre of influential “oman” (women). These female singers have benefited from the efforts of historic Jamaican figures such as the rebel leader, nanny, who freed herself from slavery and led other Maroons into battles against British enslavers forcing a treaty that granted her and her followers territorial autonomy.
Una Marson, writer and social visionary of the 1920s-1930s provides a modern example of Jamaica's journey into female and racial identity, as does Louise Bennett (from the 1930s onward). The latter remains the matriarch of Jamaican identity, language, folklore, song and national pride, reggae’s female performers learned from such matriarchs to express their independence, confidence, craft and artistic prowess, to portray the dignity of the Jamaican woman, speak for the children, express love for the men and support for the sisters. Singers liked Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffith and Rita Marley continue to shaped he culture and identity of Jamaicans as they sing about universal freedom.
Jamaican female artists use feminine beauty in their album cover designs as a sales mechanism, yet still distance themselves from the overt display of sexuality common among most pop songstresses. The Jamaican women featured in Equal Rights: reggae and Social Change consciously present themselves as Black Woman with a culturally elevated sense of dignity.
Judy Mowatt’s Black Woman (1979) is a reggae classic. Music, lyrics and visuals announce the presence of a socially aware, accomplished artist whose judicious production skills, seductively nuanced gospel-tinged vocals, developed writing craft and obvious physical attractiveness allowed her to establish an important place for herself. Black Woman is dedicated to “heavy load”, from the physical hardship of labour to the emotional weight of being forcibly separated from family. With repertoire addressing national and international historic and social issues, Mowatt remains the reggae female who can most consistently claim the conscious path, Sister Chant, Zion Chant,Strength to Go Through, Black Man Brown Man, Mother Africa, Hush Baby Mother and Slave Queen have established her as the pre-eminent historically inspired and influential female reggae figure.