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Michelle Black - Yam farmer by day, cabaret star by night

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Michelle Black sits on her van, after completing a hard day's work.
Michelle Black performing at a hotel.
Michelle performing on stage
Michelle Black in her yam field.
Michelle Black in her field.
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Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

OCHO RIOS, St Ann:IT'S A combination unheard of for a female - a glamorous cabaret star by night, wowing audiences along Jamaica's north coast - but only a few hours earlier she was in dirty jeans, T-shirt and hat, planting yams for export, in the hills of St Ann.

But singing sensation, Michelle Black, is quite comfortable in the dual role and does not intend to drop either passion.

"I'm a hard worker," Black told The Gleaner in a recent interview. "I love both worlds and I'm doing everything to keep both of them." And she is serious about that.

Black started singing professionally 16 years ago, shortly after graduating from Marcus Garvey Technical High School, and although she only started farming five years ago, both play a significant role in her life.

She has built quite a following as a singer and news about her farming came as quite a surprise to many.

"I started farming because my grandfather was a farmer, he was somebody who was very, very close to me and, when I lost him in 1997, I lost everything. So farming gives me a feeling that he's still here, that I'm still close to him."

Not only that, said Black: "It's a wonderful feeling to see things you've planted, just see them grow. It gives you satisfaction that nothing else can, when you're in the field, it's just peace, quietness, just nature, it's a good feeling, nice place to relax and forget the rest of the world. It's something that's just amazing."

The farming started five years ago in Bamboo, St Ann, when Black planted an acre of yellow yam. In the latter part of 2011, she secured another acre, but the major expansion came last year when she secured another 15 acres, with plans to add yet another 15 acres within a few months.

"So I'm going to have 32 acres in all to work with. I mainly plant yellow yam, maybe a few cash crops for personal use, but yellow yam is what I'm into."

Black supplies yellow yam for exporters, but hopes to begin export by herself in the future. It's not easy to strike a balance between singing and farming, she explained.

"It's kind of hard, because it's very hard to find reliable people to work and I have to be hands-on. I have to be on the farm every single day, sometimes even Sundays, because I have a projection to produce at least 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of yam per month, beginning this year.

Starting May to June, I should be able to start reaping at least 30,000 to 35,000 pounds, so I'm growing in the farming. I'm hoping that eventually I'll find competent people to work with, people who I can leave to oversee things some of the times.

And while she is growing in to farming, she is also growing in the music industry - finally.

This year, she is dedicating two days each month to do recordings and will be travelling to Kingston for that. Later this year, she hopes to release some of those recordings to a worldwide audience.

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Outside of gracing the stages at leading north coast hotels, Black's journey in music has taken her to perform overseas at venues that include Niagara Falls and England.

Said Black: "My New Year's resolution was to do some recordings this year. I have a few songs that I've recorded but not released I'm really taking it very seriously.

And speaking about the reaction of some persons after they get to know she does farming, Black said: "Some people can't believe, some people don't see me in that light at all, they see me onstage at night and I'm this glamorous, well-dressed woman singing, and during the days I have on a jeans and T-shirt and a hat. The other day, some people saw me driving the van and said "Is how yuh look so?" I just said "it's me, the other side of me. It's still me."

rural@gleanerjm.com