On June 14, 2014, at Reggae in the Hills taking place in Angels Camp, California at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, Junior Toots was bringing his set to the crowds. The warm sun was gently dropping toward sunset a few hours away as a beautiful woman joined him on the stage and hit it hard. Eyebrows raised, people already entranced by Junior Toots reliable Reggae magic rallied and took note of the hip hop, dancehall infused Reggae song she was serving up with a fury of passion and talent. Tuff Like Iron was perhaps more able to draw attention as a rare female presence among the male dominated genre but skills speak louder than sex, color or creed.
“Keep Your Head Up, Wave to the Haters,” she sang with dreads flying, fist raised to the sky, fingers in an expressive claw like a lion fighting back at the stereotypes, the social dramas, the peer pressure. Tuff Like Iron, well fit into her name, rocked the Reggae in the Hills crowd with her beat and her heat. Beauty steaming but not her fuel, she gave an energetic performance which is what live appearances demand in order to please the fans. She won many hearts, especially of the women who love other women who speak truth and succeed.
Tuff Like Iron was born Kendra Scanlon on May 28, 1986 in New York City. Her godfather Bona named her Kindele but she was to take on her Reggae name when she first went into the clothing industry featuring Rasta and African T-shirts and red, gold and green dominant clothing and accessories. The clothing line was a development of a complete switch from majoring in Black Studies at Barnard Columbia University. After first obtaining her AA, she transferred into Barnard at the age of 18. However, in her first year, she discovered that the deeper she delved into the studies filled with a history of inequality, oppression and ignorance, the angrier she became.
At this time, Kindele Aixe (Kendra's chosen name) had already been working at Harriet’s Alter Ego for about two years. Rather than let her anger grow into something that would warp her into being less rather than more, she says she decided to “channel these frustrations into a rebellious explosion of wearable art.” She found Harriet’s Alter Ego to be a “creative environment full of revolutionary artists” and this path “seemed like a natural means to self-expression and self-reliance.” She transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology and began pursuing her clothing line.
How Kindele-Tuff Like Iron grew from her clothing line into the music industry is a natural progression following her exposure to the musicians while vending; however, getting a fuller picture and to the heart of her drive for music requires stepping further back into childhood and who she has always been at heart. Tuff Like Iron’s father, Julian Cambridge, is a “very talented drummer” she says. He is from Trinidad and plays in different styles although mainly Reggae, Soca and Rock. He also plays steel pan, bass guitar and keyboard. Tuff always knew as a youth that she would be a recording artist and is “only surprised it took this long.” Her mother, Rebecca Scanlon is Irish and Italian, from New York and is a “top class chef specializing in vegetarian food.” (Another dynamic and successful female role model.)
When asked what draws her to Reggae, Tuff says, “Nothing drew me into the reggae world, I was born into it and have finally become Tuff enough to share my musical message with the nations. My parents both had dreadlocks or ‘shants’ as we call them and they were into reggae music and culture.” She further explains that “Although I was not raised as a Rasta, it was just born in me and developed and blossomed throughout my lifetime.”
At the age of eight, Kindele-Tuff took a “very life altering trip to Jamaica” and recalls “literally balling” because she did not want to leave. She says that she still feels that way every time she steps on that departing flight. Jamaica is the home of her heart and where she feels most comfortable and at peace with herself. She stopped eating meat and started growing her dreads at the age of 14 and her Rasta and Reggae immersion and expression has been “a lifelong process but a very natural one.”
While NYC will always be a home base, Tuff has spent the past 12 years spending a great deal of time in the islands of Jamaica and Trinidad. She describes the lifestyle there as “very different from American, and although sometimes this has its disadvantages, there is much to be experienced when you step ‘outside the box,’ that’s when you really start to live.” Her musical works have all been based there but she is “currently building the California network in order to establish another base” since New York is really a bit too cold for her taste. Continued on part 2 here. Please also see the slideshows above for a peek at Tuff Like Iron in photographs.