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Etana (Swahili for ‘The Strong One’) stands tall as one of the most prolific female vocalists in present day reggae music. Her 2014 album ‘I Rise’, produced by the legendary Clive Hunt (Stevie Wonder, Peter Tosh, Rolling Stones, The Wailers, Grace Jones, Jimmy Cliff), hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Reggae Album chart, making Etana one of only three Jamaican female artists ever to land this highly-coveted chart position.
Not merely an entertainer, Etana consistently addresses pressing issues in her music by chanting against oppression and social injustices and by forwarding empowerment and education. Although Etana’s music is often billed as “roots reggae,” her style undeniably transcends musical genres with strong elements of Jazz, Soul and R&B and she has been dubbed ‘Jamaica’s India.Arie’.
Who is Etana?
Etana is a singer who was born in Jamaica and migrated to Florida at the age of nine. She spent most of her years in Florida before returning to Jamaica. Etana is a happy positive person who’s full of love and light.
What are your earliest memories of music?
I was about 7 or 8 and I remember singing in the back yard in Jamaica while my Aunt was hand washing her clothes. I was singing “The Greatest Love Of All” with my eyes closed and when I opened them people were looking over the fence at me. I was shocked because I didn’t realise I was that loud. Before that my mother played nothing but country music, this is where I met and fell in love with songs like “Country Road, “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette. Air Supply became one of my favs too in that period of my life.
When did you realise you wanted to make music?
About 10 years ago when I grew tired of doing the same ol things required in my office managerial position.
Who were your musical influences when you first started out?
Bob Marley, Sizzla Kalongi, Jah Mason, Jah Cure, Marcia Griffiths, Steven Wonder, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey to name a few.
When did you realise you could make music as a career?
After I wrote and sang the “Wrong Address” in 2007 and I heard it on the radio for the first time.
For those not familiar what 5 tracks best represent Etana?
“Reggae”, “Better Tomorrow”, “I Rise”, “People Talk” & “I’m Not Afraid”
How would you describe the Etana sound?
Roots Reggae, Rock, R&B, Soul, World music.
What inspires you to make music?
I have a very creative soul and sharing caring heart that churns out melodies. I don’t think I could keep that inside.
What are the pros and cons of being an artist in today’s digital age of music?
Pros – you can record and release all by yourself.
One negative is an artist still needs money for promotion so if the artist is brand new to music it may be a little difficult. Also record sales without the right promotion may be a very small amount or none at all.
What artists or producers would you most like to work with and why?
Pink, Figi, Steve Wonder, Lil Wayne, Jay Z. There are a few more but I’ll leave it here for now. Why? Because they are wicked talented.
What are your thoughts on the current Reggae/Dancehall music scene compared to when you first started out?
Hmm most of them still were able to travel the world when I first started in 2006 and even after releasing the first album 2008. Now most of the major artists can’t travel outside of Jamaica and there used to be many more DJ’s on mainstream radio stations across the world playing Reggae music. Now, there are many “underground” radio stations and a few radio DJ’s who play after midnight when everyone’s asleep.
What one thing does Reggae music need right now?
Reggae music needs more support from the Jamaican radio DJ’s and broadcast commission in Jamaica. Reggae music needs to be made the dominant music in Jamaica like French music is in France. Foreign music is played more than Jamaican music in Jamaica while Jamaica’s music isn’t played at all or very little in the United States and other countries.
This is one of the pros of the internet because the people know where to find the music. However, people are still more drawn to what they hear everyday; even subconsciously.
Being a female in largely male dominated music genre how important is it for you to be a positive role model to your fans?
I don’t think I try to be a positive role model I just live my life in a way that may be respected by many.
What do you think it is about Reggae music that it has continued to influence all music across the globe?
The drum and bass that talks to the heart and spirit. I also think it’s the culture attached to the music that makes people love it.
Are there any new artists from Jamaica we should be looking out for?
Fayah Kin, Ibahmar & Alkaline.
What is the best piece of advice ever given to you?
Respect everyone especially the ones least expected by society to be respected. Even a child deserves respect.
What can people expect from your shows in Australia?
Positive energy flowing back and forth, good music and great vibes.
What has been your career highlight so far?
The “I Rise” album was number one on the Reggae Billboard for more than two weeks and the first album by a female artist to do that in fifteen years.
What does the future hold for Etana?
I can only think of more greatness.
What is your definition of Grindin’?
Touring hard consistently with the band from venue to venue and festivals to festivals. or dancing in the club real close and slow LOL!
Interview by Duggs