Sunshine: A Kingston Matriarch
- Words: Sarah Bentley
"I'm your Sunshine girl. Lock and come in. I'll be keeping things irie all afternoon." At 2 p.m. every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, DJ Sunshine's upbeat introduction rings out across the island and the internet on Irie FM, Jamaica's first 24/7 reggae-only radio station.
Irie is known as "the people's station." Launched in 1990, its reggae-only formula was predicted to fail by the American-culture-obsessed middle class that dominates the Jamaican media. Its huge success in just a few months flipped the script of Jamaican broadcasting, paving the way for local music and culture to finally get official recognition.
Playing on Irie FM is a huge privilege, and on-air personality Sunshine puts a sublime spin on the honor. The Jam–her three-hour-long selection of old school dancehall and current hits–is a refreshing take on the genre, one that ditches its trademark machismo and self-aggrandizing prattle.
In addition to riding the airwaves, Sunshine (born Katrina Irons) is also the only female to have achieved any success in the testosterone-charged world of dancehall/reggae production–tracks on her firing Sunblock, Justice, and Real Life riddims have hit top 10 in global reggae charts. But where are all the other ladies?
"There are other female radio jocks but it's male-dominated," reasons 33-year-old Sunshine. "Production-wise, more are there, they're just not getting breaks. Studio life is nightlife. If you have a boyfriend or children, it's gonna be hard.
"And," she raises her eyebrow confidentially, "the artists aren't professional. They don't show up and it burns up your studio time. When they do come, they want to vibe. A guy can flex with an artist, smoke and drink. Women are either not invited to do that with them, or aren't prepared to do that, so the waiting around is very frustrating."
Although she won't divulge any names, Sunshine once waited five hours for a well-known Boboshanti deejay to turn up to voice. When he arrived, she expressed her frustrations and the artist promptly took off. "I've learnt to hold it down until after a session. Get the recording, bun them for being late after."
Despite her international kudos as an Irie FM DJ, getting artists to voice atop her Sunblock riddim was particularly hard. "They thought I was hustling," she recalls. "That I wasn't serious about it and it was something I'd take up today and drop tomorrow. For women without any introduction into the business, it's 100 times harder still."
But Sunshine has an enterprising flair. "You have to have your hand in many pies," she explains. "I'm a radio DJ, club DJ, producer, artist manager, and owner of a clothing store. To be a success in Jamaica you need dogged determination. You can't just be good at what you do, but [you have to be] exceptional at that, and 10 other things. That's Jamaica."
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