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Sister Nancy performs at The Stephen Talkhouse
August 3, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm$30
Born Ophlin Russell, Nancy grew up in Kingston, Jamaica’s Papine district, in a large family that included dancehall pioneer Brigadier Jerry. Her familial ties afforded her an opportunity granted few, if any, Jamaican girls at the time: To deejay (or chat) songs on sound systems, the local DJ crews that form the backbone of dancehall culture.
After learning of her talents from artist General Echo, Winston Riley of Kingston’s storied Techniques Records label brought her into the studio to record her first single, “Papa Dean,” in 1979. Returning to the studio to complete what would be her first and only album, One Two, in 1982, Nancy lent her voice to a haunting, minimalist version of Riley’s Stalag riddim, a popular instrumental track voiced by countless artists since 1973. Co-opting a lyrical refrain (“Bam bam bi lam, bam bam, what a bam bam…) from Toots & the Maytals’ identically-named 1966 hit, Nancy created an anthem of female empowerment, repurposing the skepticism she encountered as the lone woman on the sound system circuit into a supremely-confident mission statement.
“One Two,” the title cut from her album, would become her signature hit in Jamaica, leading to international tours and collaborations with dancehall’s then-reigning king, Yellowman. Little heard at the time of its release, “Bam Bam” would find its audience in New York, first in the city’s Caribbean Diaspora and then in hip-hop. In the early 1990s, it was sampled by golden-era rap acts Main Source and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and remixed into a hip-hop version by legendary radio DJ Stretch Armstrong. It wasn’t until Nancy herself relocated to New Jersey, where she would take a job as a bank accountant, later in the decade that she became aware of her song’s and her own iconic stateside status.