Althia Sinclair finds her stage
It's the Reggae Showcase at Sandals South Coast, and with eyes closed, feet firmly planted on the stage, and both palms gripping the microphone as though her life depended on it, Althia Sinclair delivered a soulful rendition of Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry. For Althia, this song encapsulates memories of past and present hardships, reassurance, healing and clarity.
Sinclair's musical journey began in a little-known district called Quick Step in the Cockpit Country of St Elizabeth. And though the journey has not been easy and is far from over, she is content with where she is today as lead singer and band manager of Altitude Band, which performs four nights per week at Sandals South Coast.
"I grew up surrounded by music. Throughout the week, my house buzzed with Music 99 FM," she recalled. "That was my introduction to Celine Dion, Anita Baker and Maria Carey. I also had a lot of singers in my family and in church."
Church was where Althia had her first stage. As a child, her vocal abilities were undeniable, especially to Coreen Watson, a teacher from Quick Step All-Age School.
"Miss Watson was the first person to bring me to JCDC, and oh, what an experience that was," Sinclair recalled. She would go on to win various awards on the JCDC stage, and she dreamt of one day performing on an even bigger stage.
Growing up, she would get punished for taking too long to complete her chores as she got lost dreaming about being on a big stage. "I could feel it in my soul even as I stood there deep in the country with a mop stick as my microphone."
It was around that time that Sinclair really started to develop a love for reggae. "I'm not sure what it was, but when words failed, this music spoke to something deep inside of me. I was consumed with the stories of Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Marcia Griffiths, Etana and Buju Banton. I dreamt of being like them. However, some music practitioners weren't convinced. They told me I didn't have a 'reggae sound', that my sound was too soulful and 'pretty'."
After hearing those comments, it seemed the dream had died. "Suddenly, I wasn't so sure that I could make it as a singer."
Leaving Quick step
Sinclair knew that if she was to make it in anything, she had to leave Quick Step. She moved to Negril after her friend Rodane Black introduced her to an acquaintance there. "So, I took his advice, that one connection, and I went in search of the unknown."
It didn't take much time for her to find her way in her new surrounding. "I got a few gigs singing back-up, but the pay was mediocre at best." By the time Sinclair ended up on the doorsteps of Sandals Negril, she was a broke, single mother desperately in need of an opportunity.
"They took a chance on me, and I shone in their entertainment department, modelling and singing. However, every time I was called upon to sing, I would fit myself into the mould of soulful songs. Rihanna's Stay, Dido's White Flag and Sara McLachlan's In The Arms of An Angel became my go-to songs, and I stayed away from reggae."
However, that changed when she met Nicholas Robinson, the man who is now her business and life partner. "He, too, was a musician playing the resort circuit. He gave me back my dream of being on the big stage. He helped me regain my confidence and find my unique reggae voice. As a matter a fact, the first birthday gift he ever gave me was a microphone."
Sinclair went to work at Sandals South Coast in June 2017 as a supervisor in the entertainment department. "Once again, I tried to fit into an unfamiliar mould. The moment I enjoyed the most was showtime."
Unable to deny her truth any longer, Sinclair gave up the comforts of her job, reached out to her connections in the music industry, pulled together her own band, and went back to the stage full time.
Currently, her band, Altitude, consists of six permanent members - a guitarist, bass player, drummer, keyboard player and sometimes a percussionist.
Now, she's singing a different tune. "When I sing Movement of Jah People, it's more than just words for me, it's a declaration," she said.
"I never received any formal training as a singer, everything I've accomplished up to this point is through my natural talent, ability and passion for the craft. I refuse to let anyone fit me into a mould, or like Jimmy Cliff said, be sitting here in limbo."
Though she is no longer singing with a mop stick in St Elizabeth, finding her own stage has not been easy. "This is a young business, and sometimes I have to make real sacrifices to keep it going."
She added: "This is my passion, this is my dream, and every day I wake up, I intend to claim it, for myself, for my band mates, and for those who still believe in our song."