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Tuff Like Iron brings it on at Reggae in the Hills - part 2

Continued from part 1. Tuff Like Iron’s desire to produce something in the way of musical expression followed her inspiring experience in 2012 when listening to Hempress Sativa sing “Jah Have Mi Back.” She was vending her Tuff Like Iron gear at a Veggies Meal on Wheels in Kingston alongside her “fellow indie designer Mamyashi … and when Sativa hit the stage [Tuff states] her voice and energy were so powerful it literally gave me goosebumps.” Her chance encounter with this inspiring artist and the twins from Jah Ova Evil became a highlight on her path to becoming the recording artist she always knew she would be. She says, “My friendship with Aijah ‘The Gideon’ Nunes, recording artist and brother of the legendary Lil J.O.E., brought me closer to the whole. J.O.E. family and was the catalyst for Tuff Like Iron music. The rest is history!”

Tuff LIke Iron at RITH 2014
Susan Raines
Tuff Like Iron
Susan Raines

Tuff Like Iron’s first song, “I’m Talking To You,” was recorded in 2013 at the Jah Ova Evil Studio by Jahnoi “Selah” Nunes who Tuff describes as “extremely talented … and well known for developing young talents into amazing artists.” The twins, Jahnoi and Aijah were brothers to Alty (Lil J.O.E.) Nunes and sons of “the acclaimed Jamaican dancer Patsy Ricketts.”

Tuff’s song writing process involves “listening to the instrumental for hours on end until everything fits in just right.” She says, “When I’m in Jamaica at Jah Ova Evil Records, I often sit in the studio with my bredren, engineer and fellow J.O.E. artist DXL all day and while he is building the riddim I am building my song.”

Tuff says that she is “inspired by the Most High and by my youth … and my dearest mentor is my Sis Hekima, designer and owner of Harriet’s by Hekima clothing.” Hekima taught her about community, health, sewing and put her on the path of self-reliance by helping her establish her own clothing label at the age of 18. Tuff Like Iron also says, “I have been heavily influenced and nourished by some Rastafari elders who are a bit unorthodox in their practices but have helped me in so many ways. Bona Swa, my loving godfather, who is an amazing visual artist, taught me to see a different kind beauty in people and life. Prof I is a Nyabinghi elder known for keeping the only Nyabinghi gatherings where you may see women drummers. He is also the first person to put me in the studio to record some background vocals on his Nyabinghi Album. “

Tuff further explains that the unorthodox aspect of these Rastafari elders is found in Prof I “because he is a big defender of the woman, especially because he has 15 children and many of them are daughters …. Rastafari cultural and spiritual celebrations called Nyabinghi are actually named after powerful African Queen Nyabinghi, yet women's participation in the celebration are usually limited. Only if you go around Prof I you will see man and woman drummers and chanters giving Izes in unity.”

Since the Reggae genre is about “99.99% male dominated,” as Tuff says it, she admits that “being a female in any industry can be a challenge and the Reggae world is even more manly.” She take this as “both a blessing and a curse as a female because, as one of few women grabbing the microphone, you stand out above the countless male artists; but, it’s a rocky road and there aren’t many sisters on it. I have to count my blessing and honestly, if I was a male, I don't know if people would take as much notice as I have been able to generate in such a short time. Again, my brothers from Jah Ova Evil and also Junior Toots have been super supportive of all my works and have been there with me every step of the way because they know the world needs powerful female voices in these times. A lot of people are ready for a change and we come to give it to them.”

Tuff says “I have been blessed to find creative strength and support in my musical family especially producer Jahnoi "Selah" Nunes and the whole Jah Ova Evil family in Jamaica and now Junior Toots here in California. I first heard about Junior Toots through my sistren Hempress Sativa. …We met recently through a mutual friend and the musical current just brought us together. It's been a joy to work with him thus far and we will continue to do shows together and we have some combinations in the making that are bound to stir it up!” The “combinations in the making” refer to a “big, big tune” recently recorded with Junior Toots and the Ganja Farmer Marlon Asher that should be released in the near future on their upcoming albums. They are also working on coordinating some shows together.

Tuff classifies her music as Reggae, with traces of Dancehall, Hip Hop and World music. “It’s a very international vibe with that real roots feeling that people want.” The current Tuff Like Iron available works are her EP 1986 with five tunes available online at Amazon and all produced by Jah Ova Evil Records. Two of these songs also have videos “Equal Rights and Justice,” and “Keep Your Head Up.”

Her personal music tastes are diverse and she states, “ I love Roots Reggae, of course, especially Hugh Mundell, Agustus Pablo, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, Burning Spear. Also, I'm into African music/world music like Fela, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Oumou Sangare. I grew up listening to dancehall and Hip Hop so I still love me some Notorious B.I.G. or Nas when I'm in a New York State of mind. I also like rock music like TV on The Radio, The Bad Brains, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Then there's people who just smash all the categories like Lauryn Hill, K'naan, and M.I.A. I'll stop here cuz this could go on and on...”

When asked about the difference in the Reggae vibe across the States, she says, “I think the NY reggae scene is much more underground and mostly concentrated within the West Indian communities while the Cali scene is more widely accepted by a more diverse audience. But nothing could ever compare to the reggae scene in good old Kingston town.”

Experiencing a music artist in live performance greatly alters how their music is later experienced. The energy they bring to their work is brought to even greater heights when seeing and hearing them in person. Tuff says, “As a new performer I have a lot to learn that will come naturally with experience, but the greatest thing is that the Most High bless ini with the will and the determination to be the Tuffest and that is half the battle.” She finds performing live to always be a thrill as the “heart beat quickens, anticipation builds and you only have that moment to connect with the people so you gotta be on point!”

Tuff Like Iron was definitely “on point” at the recent Reggae in the Hills 2014 appearance. Her songs speak to you and in particular to those who hunger to hear more female voices bringing forth the blessings. Tuff explains, “My purpose for embarking on this musical mission is to spread the words of truth and positivity. Music is the best way to do this. Singers and players of instruments have special powers and unfortunately many of the most popular artists abuse these powers and lead people astray by promoting vanity, violence, and disorder. So ini come on the scene to promote positivity, truth, and love through music, fashion, and livity. With my music I intend to reach out to young people who need guidance, support, and love in order to achieve greatness. Music was a major inspiration for me as a child. I hope that young girls could watch my 'Keep Your Head Up' video and see that you can be yourself and be natural and be beautiful and happy, no false hair necessary! Furthermore I want to set an example for the youth and be a beacon of self reliance, health, wellness, determination, and perseverance." You can find part 1 of the Tuff Like Iron brings it on at Reggae in the Hills here.

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