Japanese selector makes Jamaica her home

Bad Gyal Marie has been living in Jamaica since 2009. (Photos: Contributed)

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But for Marie Sano, more popularly known as Bad Gyal Marie, hers was the journey of more than 8,000 miles – from Tokyo, Japan, to Kingston, Jamaica.

Her ‘one step’ came in 2009 when she decided to leave the place she had called home all her life to move to Jamaica, a place she inexplicably felt drawn to, from the very first time she heard dancehall music at a Japanese club.

“Reggae music is big in Japan”

— Bad Gyal Marie

“Reggae music is big in Japan,” she said. “I remember when I was a teenager I went to a club and the DJ played dancehall music, and it changed my life. I just felt something. I cannot explain because it was so strange. It was like my blood just started boiling.”

Determined to pursue this new-found passion, she threw herself into research about Jamaican music. She invested in records and practised spinning them in clubs. But even then, she never intended for it to become her full-time career.

Bad Gyal Marie (left) says Likkle Shabba (right) taught her a lot about dancehall music.

What she felt in that moment when she fell in love with dancehall and reggae music, however, was perhaps the pull of the universe, drawing her in the direction of exactly where she needed to be, as since her move to Jamaica, Bad Gyal Marie has realised that being a selector is, in fact, her calling.

Operating as the lone female selector on the sound system, Notorious International, Bad Gyal Marie has made quite the name for herself, most recently copping first place in the keenly contested 2019 Boom All Star Sound Clash.

Her journey to the Boom title took some doing, however, as Bad Gyal Marie had to work hard to prove that she was more than a spectacle – more than a little Japanese girl playing around with Jamaican culture. And even before then, she had to convince her parents that moving to Jamaica was a good idea.

Bad Gyal Marie moved to Jamaica from Japan in 2009.

After graduating from college with a degree in Cultural Studies, Marie decided to make the permanent move. By then, her parents had been sufficiently convinced that this was her passion and she now had their full support.

She started her career as a selector in Jamaica by working with a fellow Japanese national. Together, both women would get a shot at the turntables at popular local street dances like Passa Passa. But for Marie, it was not enough.

“I always say every Jamaican is my teacher, in language and in music and so I just ketch the patois likkle by likkle”

— Bad Gyal Marie

Determined to be taken more seriously and realising that she wanted to play all night and not just for 15 minutes, Marie met Likkle Shabba, a selector from Kingston 13 who took her under his wings, training her and teaching her the ropes.

“I used to just go to the studio and talk to people daily. I always say every Jamaican is my teacher, in language and in music and so I just ketch the patois likkle by likkle,” Marie said.

Working with Likkle Shabba, Marie received more exposure, playing in a weekly session they hosted together called Yard Clothes Wednesdays in the Wellington Road area of Kingston 13. They would later go on to create the sound system Notorious International, featuring the likes of DJ Premiere, DJ Lucky, Oddie Frass, Superstar from Tokyo, and of course Marie and Likkle Shabba.

Now that she has earned the respect of many in the dancehall space, Marie continues to make her mark across Jamaica. And along with Notorious International, Marie has entered the Guinness Sounds of Greatness before winning the Boom All-Star Clash in May 2019.