Ranking Ann, known for her mid-80s studio work with Mad Professor and Ariwa Sounds as well as live sound system sessions with the Black Rock Posse, has been deservedly resurgent of late. Her lyrics remain powerful and well informed over three decades later.

She kindly took the time to answer questions about how her lyrical mindset has changed over the years, how this project came together and what artists have influenced her.

TGT: You’ve had several releases since your return to reggae recording – notably the raw and heavyweight “Shalom” – including “Jealous Man” for Red Robin Records. The obvious question is what brought you back to recording reggae, but I’m also curious about how your approach to, and mindset about, making music has changed since the 1980s.

Ranking Ann: Never really left recording reggae in the real sense of the word, it was more a case of barriers to recording and lack of opportunities. After leaving Ariwa in 1986, I found I didn’t have any real contacts within the reggae industry so it was hard to make an approach to any producers. I was in contact with a couple of musicians and music lovers who had ‘front room’ studios but they didn’t have the means to do anything with the recordings I did. So I have some of those 80s homemade materials on cassette but alas they’re no longer playable. So the simple answer is, the opportunity to record, which came via Facebook contacts, was what brought me back to recording.

I don’t think my approach to and mindset about making music has changed much since the 80s.  I’ve always had things to say inside my head and hearing a particular track with a certain vibe would speak to me and bring out hook lines which would then develop into a full-blown song.  But it’s always been about truth, reality and conviction, whether something personal to me or what was happening to others around me, socially, politically, psychologically. The 80s was a time when the plight of others was just as important as personal stuff.

Within all of that, it was a way of educating people about important issues happening around them of which they may have had no knowledge.  Today those same principles apply. The difference today is maybe I’m a little more lyrically diplomatic. Well in your teens and 20s, no PC constraints, whatever came into your head, you said it without necessarily thinking it would be misconstrued and taken out of context or labeled with some kind of ‘ist’ or ‘ism.’  So admittedly when I write now, I tend to edit language that may come across as being particularly harsh or ‘subversive.’ But then and now it’s always been about expression – not just ‘style n fashion.’

TGT: How did the vocal sparring (with Midnight Riders) of your “Jealous Man” – which directly addresses domestic violence – come about? How do you feel this lyrical turn in 2018 connects back to tracks like “Stop Romance Inna Dance” or “Liberated Woman?”

Ranking Ann: I was approached by Red Robin to record a track for them and offered a selection of tracks to choose from. While still ruminating, RR ran the idea past me about doing a counteraction to “Jealous Woman” and thus “Jealous Man” was born. The theme of domestic violence was not my initial idea for the title – I intended to keep it more light-hearted, in line with the “Jealous Woman” vibe, but as it is with creativity, inspiration can take you off on a tangent.

Jealousy on a sliding scale can range from fairly harmless manifestations to the extreme response, brutality or worse still, murder. I’ve always felt very strongly about domestic violence – my first proper job was working with women and children fleeing domestic violence and it gave me real insight into the subject.

“Stop Romance” is a more light-hearted look at male activity in the dance and although you had men who would push it a bit too far while dancing up close and personal, it was then, as it is now, part of reggae-party and dancehall culture.

On the other hand, “Liberated Woman” has a direct correlation to domestic violence.  People often think of physical abuse as the main form of domestic violence, but clearly sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse are all just as, if not more harmful, than the physical.  “Liberated Woman” refers to the aspect of ‘control,’ which more often than not underpins domestic violence. Someone’s need to control someone else; control the way the other person dresses, where they go, what they’re allowed to do, say, etc.

TGT: Your lyrics have been described as both ‘militant’ and ‘feminist’ – regardless of label they are as crucial now as they were when recorded. Are there other reggae artists you feel a connection with, or whose songs have really resonated with you… a Ranking Ann’s Suggested Listening if you will!

Ranking Ann: I particularly resonate with artists whose lyrics have spoken about freedom – freedom for the individual, freedom for the disenfranchised. Those who sing about human rights; equality, fair treatment, and justice for all, and the freedom to love and express how you want to be loved.

The list really would be too long and would take me forever to think of, but here’s a few:

Ini Kamoze (early – mid-80s)

Errol Dunkley

Dennis Brown


Ranking Dread

The In Crowd

Junior Byles

The Gladiators

Buju Banton

Alan Kingpin

Jimmy Cliff

Delroy Wilson

Brown Sugar

And the 70’s works of the Tamlins, Mighty Diamonds, Derrick Harriott, Trinity, Big Youth, Pat Kelly, Gregory Isaacs, and Bob Marley’s Exodus and Kaya albums. I could go on and on and…

Release date: 4 December 2018 (Red Robin)

Riddim-maker Naram and executive producer Red Robin continue their 80s-fueled reggae explorations with their third 12” release. Featuring strong follow-up collaborations with Midnight Riders and Junior Cat, this six-track also welcomes veteran vocalists Ranking Ann and Earl Cunningham to the Red Robin Record label.

The A-side presses both ends of the sonic spectrum to deliver a soaring melody atop a thick bassline. As dynamic as the riddim may be, it’s actually the vocal back and forth that demands a rewind or two. To start, Midnight Riders takes on a “Jealous Woman” who ‘talks too much’ and ‘ain’t got no judgment.’ A contextual continuation of Black Uhuru’s “Shine Eye Girl” in one way, there’s an underlying sense of possessive conciliation here: ‘I’ll make you mine, until the end of time; these arms of mine, these only for you rebel woman.” Naram’s dub lets the low-end dominate, while the melodies replace any voids with echoes and reverberations.

Yet it’s the middle track of the side that delivers the potency of truth: UK-based Ranking Ann’s crucial counteraction “Jealous Man” exposes the weaknesses of the preceding perspective and its ‘plastic jealousy.’ Line by line and verse by verse, she pulls neither punches nor any other clichés. Patriarchal bias is thrown aside, proclaiming that a ‘jealous man is a trouble to woman; whether him a lover or whether husband,’ before questioning where the titular character gets his ‘mindset from.’

The second verse then allows Ranking Ann to share her own narrative, eloquently switching from stereotypes to specifics: ‘he look in my eyes, that a ring the alarm; me have to move fast but me try to stay calm.’ The hook even changes, evolving from ‘jealous man, you really have to understand’ into ‘jealous man, where you get your madness from?’

On the reverse, Earl Cunningham smoothly rides a slightly lighter riddim on “War in the City.” The tune is full of caution and sorrow, as Cunningham sees his brothers and sisters gunned down. Then comes Junior Cat’s more upbeat interpretation, with “Stand Tall Ghetto Youth” brimming with positivity, despite the hustle and bustle. Naram’s tasteful dub wraps up the B-side, letting the groove control the vibe until the last note fades out.

More info:
Ranking Ann Facebook
Red Robin Records Bandcamp

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