Krysta Anderson, Gleaner Writer
Latifa 'Tifa' Brown has overcome misfortune to become one of Jamaica's most sought-after entertainers. A Digicel brand ambassador, fashion icon and role model to thousands of young people, Tifa has led an interesting life.
Her parents went their separate ways when she was very young, and she spent most of her earlier years living with her grandmother at Duke Street in downtown Kingston. She told Outlook: "When my parents broke up, my mother decided to move away and just start over in the United States. I'm the only child for my mom, so I never wanted for anything and was never short of anything. My mother ensured I spent every holiday with her."
Tifa's grandmother had a restaurant and bar and she was always surrounded by music. She has memories of singing and dancing contests with her cousin.
Her interest in the performing arts was sparked at the primary level when she began attending Wolmer's Preparatory School. There she was actively involved in the choir, drama and the dance club.
But the bone disease she was born with, Blount's disease (a growth disorder of the tibia that causes the lower leg to angle inwards), began developing and she had to endure a total of three surgeries which were necessary to enable her to walk. She told Outlook that she received her Common Entrance Exam results at the hospital.
After her grandmother's death, her mother returned to Jamaica. While she enjoyed prep school, the transition to Wolmer's high was different. Her feet were in casts at the time and she began high school in a wheelchair. She described the first half of first form as lonely and weird. Her legs couldn't bend at the knees, so she had to have a special wheelchair built as well as ramps around the school to ease the process of going to and from classes. She was not allowed to do classes such as clothing and textiles because those classes took place across the street. She also couldn't participate in physical education classes.
By the end of second form, she was able to walk and went to an Ashe Ensemble's auditions, shortly after which she joined the company and was an active member for six years. Singing, dancing and acting then became a big part of her high school life.
She was popularly known as 'the dancer' in high school and would be spotted with her friend, Mystic Davis, a fellow Wolmerian and also a YVA winner in the category Favourite Dancer of the Year (Female), dancing up a storm around school.
She was the leading goaltender for both indoor and outdoor hockey during fourth form to sixth form. This led to her receiving a hockey scholarship, which she turned down to pursue her studies locally.
She went on to the University of the West Indies, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with a minor in human resource management. It was also there that she was introduced to her college boyfriend who convinced his brother who began recording her.
Her recording career progressed and she went on to the famed Big Ship studios and recorded there as well. She soon did an audition for Danny Champagne. It was her link with Ward 21, however, that opened doors for her and truly boosted her image. Kitty Police on the Dem Gyal Sitt'n 'riddim' got her recognised as an artiste and launched her professional music career. She explained, "It was incredible to be a part of that movement, working with several talented female artistes in the Dem Gyal Sitt'n medley, who were given a platform to express their creativity." Her biggest song followed suit and Bottom of the Barrel became a hit song among women. The rest as they say is history.
The YVA Fashion Icon of the Year (Female) winner attributes her keen fashion sense to her mother, and her aunt who sold clothes in downtown Kingston. She says that what she wears is heavily dependent on her mood. She ensures that she has a lot of clothes and accessories. "I tend to wear solid colours because it is easier to pull from that, mixing and matching as I go along. I learned a lot from my family and Dexter Pottinger, but it is something that also comes natural to me. Leggings or tights, for example, can be both formal and casual; it is all based on how it is complemented. Accessories are integral in making any outfit." She continued: "I also like to remix outfits, based on themes, but for me, clothing and accessories have to stand out and look good to me, or else, I will not buy it or wear it."
Tifa likes being a role model. "No other female dancehall artiste has ever been on a billboard before me, and being a female artiste among an elite group of ambassadors for Digicel is an absolute honour." Overcoming her physical challenges and knowing that you can do all, if you stay determined, she says, has kept her both motivated and humbled. Her advice to young people is to, "Stay true to you and never sell out your morals and values."