Sixteen Questions for Sonia Rodney, Wife and Manager of Reggae Legend Burning Spear
Sonia Rodney is the unperturbable, well-liked wife and manager of legendary reggae artist Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, who has a great new album, Jah Is Real, just out on his new record label Burning Music. With a US tour currently in the works, Sonia Rodney somehow managed to find the time to provide some eye-opening answers about her role as a woman in the music business:
Lucid Culture: How did you meet your husband, and did you ever think that you would ever be involved with managing the band?
Sonia Rodney: I met Spear at a concert in 1975 he did in Queens. My sister was the one that knew about Burning Spear; I was 15 years old and a single mother. We became very good friends. Spear was very shy and was not looking attention from anyone
LC: Prior to working with Burning Spear, did you have a background in the music business?
SR: No. I had no background in the music business.
LC: Are you a musician yourself?
LC: What is your current role in Burning Spear’s music?
SR: I handle all the matters from booking shows, to the online store, to motivating the fans that are our family.
LC: Is it stressful working with your husband?
LC: I don’t mean stressful working with Burning Spear, I mean does it affect your relationship?
SR: No, Spear and I were always very good friend before we got married. Spear waited for me to be of legal age so he could marry me. So yes we had ups and down in our relationship but the friendship always remain to keep us together.
LC: Burning Spear is a beloved, iconic figure with a worldwide following. To what extent has this opened doors for you?
SR: No doors were open for me as it was never about me. I want to used the talent that the Creator gave me to communicate with people to open doors for Spear.
LC: What special challenges does working with him present?
SR: Even through everyone always say they respect Spear they always try to do this, that, not right in the business way. They cannot accept his right to sell his music and be free musically, I have to be determined and strong, and I don’t settle, and many are not used to this coming from the camp of reggae artists. They are always trying to confuse “our,” “mine,” and put words in our mouth. If we ask them for documentation the people in the music business will not reply to us. I never give up. I have paid many prices for the freedom of Burning Spear musically. Just like Rosa Parks I refuse to sit in the back of the bus when I know I have a right to sit in the front of the bus. They even tried to get me arrested after they sell our records that we paid for, and decided not to pay us.
LC: A woman in the business world is always faced with challenges. Do you think being a woman has helped you or hindered you, and if so, how?
SR: Both. Being a woman with a Jamaican accent and a strong determination many like. It’s a old boys’ club so at times many become upset that they can no longer make money from Burning Spear music, and they blame me. I say they don’t have to like me but I know they will have to say in the end she did what was best for Spear. I work my business with honesty and integrity.
LC: How do you respond in the case where you’re dealing with a guy who refuses to take you seriously?
SR: They always become my friend in the end, I never take no for an answer, and they like that.
LC: It seems to me that just about every type of music – rock, rap, reggae, whatever – is dominated by men, so there’s always a lot of sexist behavior going on. Your husband has gone on record as being against overly sexist lyrics in reggae. Do you believe that this has had an impact on his audience, and if so, how?
SR: I see Spear as a messenger of the Creator just like Marcus Garvey and Mr. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The venue is the church for Spear to bring people together, since times have now changed. The lyrics in Spear songs just come to him. It’s not about being a star, it’s a job that he was elected to do, this is the reason why he will never compromise.
LC: To what degree has race, or your West Indian heritage, played a factor?
SR: Race plays no part, my West Indian heritage plays many part in me. I am every woman that travels this earth and have passed on the fight for the rights of freedom, to protect her family.
LC: As you travel around the world, as a woman in the music business, where do you feel the most comfortable?
SR: In Kenya
LC: Is there a special, single achievement in music for you that you’re most proud of?
SR: Yes, making Burning Spear a free man and standing up for his rights no matter what the price.
LC: I know that what you do can be incredibly difficult and stressful, for example, I just got a message over myspace from the Itals who had a horrible experience at a club in Portland. What’s the worst experience you’ve had in the music business, and are you willing to talk about it?
SR: My worst experience was with the last distribution label that I trusted, and worked so hard, and when the agreement was over she tried to destroy me both mental- and business- wise, by filing false charges against me for harassment, by me calling for information I was entitled to, that could only come from her. When I find out about what she had done, I call the police station myself and went there. She never told them the truth about what happened, and they hold me for a few hours to check me out and come to me and say they were sorry and would not file any charges against me, this was her way to scare me away from not getting the information I requested and to not pay me. Yet she is running around saying she got me arrested, to this day she refuses to face us in court. I never have problem with clubs’ owners: I only work with people I know and trust, and I always work with the same people.
LC: A lot of people are saying that Jah Is Real is Burning Spear’s best studio album in a long time. Do you agree?
SR: Yes I do, we call it our baby, this album took on a life of its own.
LC: Do you have a favorite Burning Spear song or album?
SR: Jah Is Real.
LC: Is there any advice you’d like to give to girls who are interested in pursuing a career in the music business?
SR: Go for it, just keep it clean, you don’t need to show your ass to sell records. Jah is Real.