An Interview with Etana: The Strong One

With hit songs ‘Wrong address’ (2006) ‘Roots’ (2007) and her chart topper ‘Warrior Love’ Etana has had several # 1 songs on Jamaican, England, Us and the Virgin Island on reggae charts. Arguably the most successful female singer in reggae today, she’s struck a symbiotic chord with audiences. This Jamaican born Miami bred siren described by Vibe magazine as “established herself as formidable performer and songwriter whose music and reputation precedes her’ has won the female Singer of the Year for 2007 at several award shows this year including the International Reggae and World Music Award and the Reggae Academy Award. On stage she exudes a regal bearing and the attitude of a diva; her live stage presence commands attention

SS: How did you break into the music business?

Etana: I came to Jamaica in 2005 to open up an internet cafe and start a new life away from music. I figured it would be a better thing to do than to be in a world of music where sex and material things are the only sure way to be top seller or to be appreciated in the initial stages of a female artist career. I was later introduced to Fifth Element Records by a friend a mine. I remember when I was going through the gate I said to him, “look, I am signed to a major label already. I don’t need to be here”. He just looked at me and laughed. He walked in and told his friends that I was the girl he was always talking about that can sing. It took some time but I finally gave in and did about two or three songs for them. Then they asked me to do one show with Richie Spice in California as a back up singer and I ended up on the road with Richie for one year.

Every time I came in from one show there would be another ticket to go do another. I didn’t hesitate because I realize all these people were accepting me for me without the weave and tight revealing clothing.

SS: Who are your major influences, internationally and locally?

Etana: My influences were and some still are Sizzla Kolongi in the “black woman and child” days, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Whitney, Air Supply, the “I” Threes, Jill Scott, India Aire and everyday people (family, friends, etc.)

SS: Where did you get the name Etana and what does it mean, does it reflect anything about you personality?

Etana: The name, “Etana”, means the ‘Strong One’ in Swahili. My given name is Shauna McKenzie, which means pretty. I chose the name Etana because I know women are all beautiful in their own way like a beautiful garden of flowers; however they all don’t (know)their strength.

SS: How would you best describe your vocal style?

Etana: I best describe my vocal style as “Free”

SS: List your biggest and successful hit, or popular songs?

Etana: My most popular song is “Wrong Address”. I think when a song is known world wide like King Bob Marley “One Love”, you can call it a big successful hit.

SS: As a new artist, you have been successful so early in your career, has it been overwhelming and how do you handle the success and attention?

Etana: I am grateful so far for all my achievements and I’m still learning from my every disappointment, though not many. It can sometimes become overwhelming on the business side of it but doing the shows and vibing with the people is the best part. I do know that I have a far way to go and many more rivers to cross, so continue to show love and appreciation for the people but I never pay too much attention to hype.

SS: Do you feel you have favorite genre of music you prefer, and how has that genre influenced your singing?

Etana: I prefer real music from the heart and soul. Music that moves me every time I hear. It could come from reggae, pop, acoustic soul; jazz … world music with heart is what I prefer.

SS: What is the most important lesson you have learnt in the music business? Etana: Most important lesson I have learned in the music business sometimes even when you show respect you might find sometimes you have to demand it and two you never go to the battlefield without your ammunition. (Not in any way talking about guns)

SS: Girl group MBC spoke of challenges they faced as young female artist, like sexism, where producers focus on their body first and their talent later as a result they struggle to get airplay, have you experience any of this?

Etana: I never experienced any sexism coming from the side of a promoter or manager anyone in the reggae industry. I was blessed to have had a group of Rasta man who treated me more like a family member than an artist. However, I have had some experience while I was in the group that made me believe that music was not for me.

SS: As young artist do you get the respect and support of your peers in the music business?

Etana:The love and respect I get from my peers is heart warming. SS: Thus far, what has been your fondest in the music business?

Etana: My fondest is vibing with the people especially the children

SS: What is your least favorite memory since you came in the music business?

Etana: Doing my first show as a solo artist in Gambia, Africa. The people were singing the music as if they knew it long ago and they were soaking in the message in the music and the words I spoke like water being poured on the sun dried earth. When the show was over the people all seem to want to just touch my hair, my cloths, anything. I had to be escorted from the venue.

SS: You began your career with Fifth Element but you have made some career changes could you talk about this?

Etana: In late 2006, there was a raid in Fifth Element, where one of my mangers was arrested and incarcerated and the other shortly after leaving Devon Wheatly, Richie Spices road manager. Since he never saw me as an artist, I decided to start my own label, Freemind Music.

SS: Who is your management?

Etana: I was already working with Sharon Burke of Solid Agency and after the break down of Fifth Element; I decided I would not join another company. We both decided she would take the role of management.

SS: What is, or has been the biggest obstacle you have faced as female artist?

Etana: I have not seen any obstacle too hard to overcome as yet.

SS: Do you think females are given enough opportunities to showcase their talents in Jamaican music?

Etana: I still don’t think females are given as much opportunities to showcase their talents as the male artists in reggae and I think that comes from the chauvinistic mentality that women should be baby mothers and house wives. We have come a long way though as we are seeing more women popping up all over the globe in reggae in the past year, but we still have some distance to go.

SS: As an entertainer what goals would like to accomplish?

Etana: To remain a positive influence to African children around the world. Helping to recognize and build on their strengths, helping to see the light. There is much more but I will leave them to manifest in time.

Stan Evan Smith is contributing Editor Everybody’s Magazine, Writer, Gleaner/Star NA. Staff writer for and Jamaicans. Com He can be reached [email protected].