I have been going through Star newspaper archives over the past year and came across these two photos of Margarita, Anita Mahfood. For those who have read my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, you will know the book is almost just as much about Margarita as it is about Drummond. She was also the impetus for my writing Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music because she is a classic example of a woman whose value has been largely unrecognized. She was tenacious, charismatic, talented, and powerful.
So when I came across these two photos, I was like a kid in a candy store, seeing two new images I had never before seen of this woman I idolize. And I was even more astounded when I read two accounts of her performances, which I think are indicative of two aspects of her performances–the sensuality, and also the danger. Neither can possibly mention the aspect of Margarita that I am most interested in, which can only be recognized through the eyes of looking at her historical impact, and that is her role in helping drumming and Rasta musicians come to the mainstream, by crossing from the camps into the upscale clubs. Therefore, Margarita was crucial to the evolution of what would become reggae.
Here are the two reviews of her performances, and the later is the more chilling.
From the Star newspaper, January 3, 1959, “Xmas Revue–good to the last tune.” “Curvacious Marguerita, fittingly costumed, did a spot of rhumba dancing ‘shimmying’ that had the girls holding down the boyfriends in their seats and the wives daring their husbands to look.”
From the Star newspaper, February 19, 1960, “A Bit Overdone,” by Archie Lindo. “. . . Marguerita, nicely costumed, didn’t do very well. It appears that she was a bit scared of the boys up front who threatened to climb on stage during her number.” Margarita performed with other artists such as Rico Rodriguez, Totlyn Jackson, The Jiving Juniors, The Downbeats, Laurel Aitken, Girl Satchmo and others. The event was hosted by C.B., or Charlie Babcock. It is interesting to note that in the Let’s Rock advertisement on March 16, 1960, the following month, Margarita is not on the lineup. Nor was she on the line up in May of that year. Perhaps her experience in February kept her away, but this is also the year that she had her daughter, Suzanne, so perhaps her pregnancy could also be a reason. She had previously appeared at this show, so it is curious why this was the last, at least for a while, that she performed on the bill.
I would also like to draw notice to the fact that both reviews acknowledge Margarita’s costume. Zola, Margarita’s niece who adored her aunt, told me that Margarita made all of her own costumes herself. She taught herself to sew, just as she taught herself to dance. What a phenomenal woman.