Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Denise 'Isis' Miller's multiple music roles cover publicist, radio disc jock, stage manager, promoter and MC. In the last, she has introduced herself as the "sister of ceremonies" on numerous concerts, among the most prominent the Rebel Salute festival in St Elizabeth and, the more recent, the start of Uprising Roots recovery series at The Deck.
When she returned to Jamaica from the United States 15 years ago, Miller planned to be involved in most of the elements of music she now has a hand in. Along with Alisia Lawson, Damali Robertson and Marcia Matthews, she founded Rassis International to do publicity, management and bookings. Ironically, however, her two most public roles - hosting a show on ROOTS FM and live concerts as an MC - were totally unintended.
Born into music
Music, Miller said, "is basically in my DNA. I was literally born into music". Growing up in Hackney, England, her godmother owned an upscale club. So there were times when her stroller would be parked in the coatroom and, in the care of a nanny, Miller "absorbed everything".
Then, when she came to Jamaica at three years old, "music was always in the house". Her father dropped the tunes, especially at Christmas, and Miller clearly remembers Ken Boothe's The Train is Coming from she was about seven years old.
Music was not only at school but at home as well. At Mona Prep, she played violin, melodica, recorder, guitar and the triangle, plus "you had to learn ballet and creative dancing". Further, at St Hugh's High, singing was added to the guitar lessons. On the radio, Barry G and ET were favourites.
Miller went back to England to complete high school then ended up in New York for a number of years, returning to Jamaica to manage the family business - and ending up on radio purely by coincidence.
"The business is on Gretna Green Avenue (off Hagley Park Road) and my father always used to go over to Mustard Seed and buy Christmas cards," she said. About 12 years ago, Miller saw an advertisement for a radio announcer on the then approximately one-year-old Roots FM and, along with Damali Robertson, pitched a show idea to manager Tony Young. "We did a pilot on International Women's Day. He liked it and employed us to do the 'Conscious Reggae Party' on Saturdays," she said.
With the inevitability of an album on a turntable or a CD in a disc player, things have now come full circle, as currently Miller, along with Ketise Oyunde, is hosting the Conscious Reggae Party series. The first event took place at Wickie Wackie, Bull Bay, and the second is on tomorrow at Country Farmhouse, Deanery Road, St Andrew. Warrior King, Cali P, Marie-Claire, Oyunde, History Man, Chronixx, Dub Core and Uprising Roots band will perform, with Stephen Golding the night's speaker. Mutabaruka and Gabre Selassie will play the recorded music.
Miller did not intend to go much further in radio, but Winston 'Bello' Bell requested that she co-host the morning show with him. When she said no initially, he urged her to do the 'Ras and the Pas' - a combination of a Rastafarian and a pastor - with him. When Bell moved on, Miller stuck with the morning show and, at Rosamond Brown's urging, then shifted to the 'Rootsology' slot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"I found out this is my passion," Miller said, specifying that the feeling is at Roots. She notes that there are many listeners who they know by name; that includes the many Joyces, from Naggo Head, Waterhouse and Mahoe Drive.
In turn, working on a radio led to interaction with a live audience. Crediting King of Kings' Worrell King with teaching her much of what she knows, Miller said she was assistant stage manager at a concert in Clarendon and, at 8:30 p.m., the night's slated MC had not shown up. "Worrell said 'showtime!' I was looking around for the MC," Miller said.
And King was looking at her. "He said 'yes, you work on radio. If you not doing it, you are not the assistant stage manager'," she recalled. Miller went out, nervous, pretended she was on radio and it fell into place. "Now I am being booked to do shows as an MC," she noted.
However, she points out that she chooses the shows she does. One that is very dear to her heart is the annual Womanbition, an all-woman showcase which took place at Redbones Blues Café, New Kingston, in March this year. Miller is also part of the organising quartet, along with Oyunde, Emprezz and Nadia Stanley.
According to plan, Rassis International's first major event many years ago was a human rights concert in Ocho Rios, St Ann. Over the years, Miller has done work with Angie Angel, Anthony Malvo, Everton Blender, the Rastarenes and, most recently, Limey Murray.
However, Miller is enjoying the unintended paths immensely. "I love radio. I enjoy being an MC - as long as it is the right kind of show," she said.