Not many adjectives do justice to the female vocal trio, the Rastarenes, but young, talented, confident, beautiful, spiritual and open-minded give you a rough idea. The R.A.S.T.A.R.E.N.E.S. (Rasta, Always Spreading Truth And Rights Everywhere Naturalizing and Ensuring Spirituality) are a breath of fresh air in the male dominated reggae industry.
The three God-fearing women grew up in the hills of Debra Zeit, an Ethiopian Orthodox community off Gordon Town Road in Kingston, where they sang in the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Church choir. Keteis “Fenote” Walters, Marlene “Semra” Fleming and Juliet “Wolete” Whyte officially formed the Rastarenes in 1993, and fittingly named the group after the word compound of “Rastafari” and “Nazarenes.”
In the tradition of Bob Marley, Luciano and other musical missionaries, the Rastarenes sing and perform to educate, “we have been given an opportunity to teach people and lift them up to a higher level through our music by singing consciously and by singing conscious songs. We aim to reach the heart of the people so that they can look more deeply into themselves and live up more,” said lead singer Keteis Walters before their performance at Rebel Salute 2001. They aim to practice what they preach and adamantly believe that together they can and will make the world a better place. When asked about the single most important message that their music conveys, Keteis replied, “It’s about love, first and foremost. Togetherness. Unity. Upliftment.”
Roots reggae is their musical foundation and they have expanded their sound to include African songs, which they sing in Amharic, including the soon to be released “Atilaleh,” (“Purification,” May 2001). They released the single “Reggae Boys” in 1998 for producer Robert Brown and in 2000 worked with Ibo Cooper, formerly of Third World, on his “Let Us Try” project, a “We Are the World”-inspired undertaking with various reggae recording artists. Collectively, the Rastarenes draw inspiration from the I-Threes, Lucky Dube, Luciano, Beres Hammond, Morgan Heritage, Lauryn Hill, Tony Rebel, Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba, Marcia Griffiths, Capleton and Michael Jackson.
While preparing for the Rebel Salute show in Alligator Pond, Jamaica, Keteis, Semra, Jacquie and band drummer (the only male in the mix), Laike Jolly, expressed their anticipation to see other Rebel Salute performers: Luciano, Glen Washington, Capleton, Culture, Ky-Mani Marley, Abijah, Israel Vibration and Everton Blender. During their own performance, the Ratarenes put on an excellent, energized, dynamic set of music, including songs “Freedom Fighter,” “Love Brother,” and “Marcus.”
They are currently working on material for a new CD due out in mid-2001, produced by S.A.M.E. Band artist, Sheldon Bernard. When the time comes to release it, they will have all local and international bases covered for publicity and distribution.
Whether they will be called the next I-Threes, the next Zap Mama, or the next Sweet Honey in the Rock, or whether they, in turn, will become the measuring stick for future generations of female singers is still to be determined. However, if their goal is to represent as conscious, female role models with talented voices, I can say from firsthand knowledge that they are definitely on the right road.