By Paul Rodgers
CALGARY – Sister Nancy is the original mumma and the mistress of ceremonies. She may be best known for her hit “Bam Bam,” but her legacy and influence extends vast stretches beyond that. The classic reggae tune, a cut from her ‘82 album One, Two, did not experience immediate success. However, it experienced a resurgence courtesy of sampling in songs by Lauryn Hill and Kanye West, who used it on the new offering “Famous.”
Finally, 35 years after recording, people have begun to learn who the woman is behind the timeless tune. Born Ophlin Russell in Kingston, Jamaica in 1962 to a conservative Christian family, Sister Nancy first got into music through her brother, legendary reggae/dancehall DJ Brigadier Jerry. She soon decided she wanted to start DJing and MCing herself, and became known as the first female dancehall DJ.
“I was the first woman who was there, now I’m looking 41 years after all the ladies who come, they come after me,” she says over the phone from her home in New Jersey.
“I of course I am very pleased with what I have accomplished and how I have set the pace for other females.”
She never let the fact that the music scene in Jamaica, and around the world for that matter, was male dominated, saying simply, “I said if they can do that, I think I can do that.”
She has also worked as an auto mechanic, another industry dominated by men. The experience served as the basis for her song “Transport Connection.”
Last year, Nancy retired from her job as a bank accountant, and now enjoys her time relaxing at home, because when she hits the road to perform, she is hard at work. In the 41 years of her musical career, she says that her performance has changed for the better, and she is working harder now than she ever has, even when she was in her 20’s.
“The more you work, the more you gain more experience, the more you know. You know how to operate on the stage and how to perform and how to deliver to people. And I like it, I love it because now I know exactly what to do.”
Though she hasn’t been in the studio to record her own music recently, she hasn’t ruled it out as a possibility in the future, saying “I’m still pretty young.”
“I was born like this, this is not something I put on, or something that I can take off, I was born to do what I do and I know that.”
Sister Nancy performs October 6 at the Freemason Hall (Edmonton) during Up + Downtown Fest.Freemason Hall, Sister Nancy, Up + Downtown Fest