Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
Perhaps 2012 was the best year in the seven-year career of dancehall artiste Tifa, but it was also probably the worst year of her career as well.
Latifa Brown, the uptown girl who took the unlikely route of pursuing a career in dancehall after obtaining a degree from the University of the West Indies (UWI), has had to overcome barriers and adversity to become one of the most-talked-about female entertainers in Jamaica today.
And with a new album on the way, she seems destined for even greater levels of stardom.
But with all the success, she has had to contend with squabbles with fellow female entertainers and what she believes to be attempts made to derail her career by persons who don't believe she belongs.
Year 2012 started out for Tifa with her winning six Youth View Awards, including Female Entertainer of the Year. It was a great start but alas, it wouldn't always be that way.
"Even though 2012 was a very monumental year, it was a very sad year because ... it's funny, even though you know not everybody is going be happy for you, you expect that, being as though, one, I am a woman, and, two, I had to break so many more barriers than everybody else," she said.
"Not only as a woman but also as an artiste, when I started everybody was like, 'Oh, she used to go UWI; wha a university graduate a do a sing dancehall? Oh, she brown and she cute and she live uptown. Oh, her foot dem ben' up (Tifa suffers from Blount's disease, a growth disorder of the tibia that causes the lower leg to angle inwards) nobody naa go tek har.' I had to break through all those barriers. I had to make a conscious decision to just do me, and if dem tek it, dem tek it, or if dem don't, dem don't. I had to break through all those barriers for people to start listening and say, 'Hey, the words, the lyrics, the melodies wha' a come out of her mouth actually mek sense.'"
She recalled that when the year started, she had tours lined up and she had shows booked, but then she went on to win the awards, the knives came out. "It was like, 'Oonu really a go mek she reach so far?' Operation Tek Down Tifa time," she said.
She claims she didn't celebrate her YVA awards success because it was just like a dream.
"It was so surreal. Only Kartel and dem people de do dem tings deh," she said. However, instead of bringing her joy, her success brought her much pain. She lost friends, and suddenly everybody, she said, had nothing but bad things to say, despite the fact that she was among the dominant female entertainers whose songs were on the radio, who were being requested for shows, and so on.
From then on, 'people', she said, starting blocking her from shows, telling promoters not to sign her to shows they were on, mistreating her on shows she performed on, and telling lies and spreading rumours about her.
The one that hurt the most was that she used expletives during her performance at the Grand Gala to mark Jamaica's 50th anniversary celebrations.
She vehemently denies this, blaming a technical glitch for the perception that drove the rumour.
"The feed tripped out. People who were there know I didn't curse, and it was hell," she said.
"It was just a real ridiculous hard year. There were times when I was like, 'Me a go dun wid this, me cyaa bodda. It's not worth it.'"
But then 2012 was such a good year for her, she has to continue. The six YVA's nominations again this year are proof of that. She believes this year's nominations serve as vindication.
"But not only for the YVAs but for everybody else. Irrespective of what was done to me, I had a wonderful 2012. I was nominated for the Kenyan awards, Hold On was my second number one outside of Jamaica. Hold On is still on the charts, like three, four months now, and I am still booking tours, so I still came out triumphant."
As such, she is looking forward to attending the YVAs this year.
"It's the only night, other than a wedding, that you get to put on a gown and dress up like a princess," she said.
Going forward, Tifa is aiming even higher as she begins the process of breaking through globally in a manner similar to that which has been achieved by Patra, one of her idols; Sean Paul and Shaggy, arguably the most successful dancehall artistes in Jamaican history.
She recognises that she cannot afford to be complacent.
"Oh, so you won six awards. You're grateful for them, but they can't take you to the next level," she said.
"You're grateful for the appreciation, but there's more work to be done. If I can be the Jamaican Madonna, why not? Since Patra, nobody no tek it pan da level deh. People have had success, like collaborations with people, but they haven't really took it there like a Shabba, Patra, Sean Paul or Shaggy. If I can take it to that level, why not?"
She speaks proudly of her first album Twisted Footprints due out after the first quarter of the year and which she says reflects her journey as a woman and as an artiste.
"It's 21 or 22 tracks. The majority of the album is songs you have not heard before. It has interludes, it has skits, it has features. It's like a storybook. Initially, I was going name it T.I.F.A (This Is For Anyone), because there is something on it for everyone."
She said there are songs about child abuse, virginity, heartbreak, unity and more.
Mainly because of her success in the world of dancehall, Tifa was named a brand ambassador for telecommunications company Digicel in 2010. She joined an elite group of Jamaicans, including Olympic champions Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as well as Miss Universe runner-up Yendi Phillipps. She says she feels honoured to be among them.
"I was elated and still am elated," she said.
"I am a part of an elite group with the fastest man in the world, the fastest woman in the world, I-Octane, somebody that placed second in Miss Universe. I am part of some amazing people. Out of 2.7 million people, they chose me. I get a platform to showcase me. I get a platform to motivate people, not only with my music, but to say, 'Look here, for everybody who thinks, oh, I am in a wheelchair, or my face cut up or I am too dark, anything is possible once you work hard at it."