One of the most recognized female reggae stars in the world, Etana has won at the fame game simply by refusing to play it and it’s a huge accomplishment for the Grammy nominated artist, whose musical career almost didn’t happen.
“I had no interest in being an artist,” shares the singer/songwriter. “A friend of mine told me that there was a request for a black female to join a girl group in Miami. He brought me to the audition, and that was it.”
At that time, Etana was studying nursing at a local community college, but discarded the scrubs for the stage to join the manufactured group. Objecting to their over sexualized packaging, she soon left to seek a solo career, briefly sharing the stage with Richie Spice singing background vocals before debuting the immensely popular single “Wrong Address.” Since then, Shauna McKenzie, whose adopted moniker Etana means ‘The Strong One’ in Swahili, has established herself as one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in reggae, but she will admit that it has been an immensely tough road.
“I did wonder if I was making the right decision when I went out on my own back then and thought that maybe I should have stayed in the group as things were a little more stable,” she reflects. “I was not on my own. I had a label and I was getting paid every month, but I decided to just keep going and to be myself and live the way that I want to live. I told myself if I want to do this, I should expect it not to be easy because if it was easy everybody would do it.”
Five albums, a MOBO Award nomination and the Grammy nomination she snagged for her first independent album “Reggae Forever,” Etana is one of only five female singers ever nominated for a Grammy since the Reggae Category was introduced.
“It still makes me feel a little funny because I know that women have come a long way in America, but still have a long way to go in the reggae industry. We have to push forward,” adds the singer. “What I have done is wiggled out of my agreement with VP records and used my own money to produce my own album and also promote my own album to some extent. What we have to do is to start supporting each other as women. Becoming producers and playing bigger and better roles for ourselves that way we don’t have to depend on men so much. We have a long way to go and it’s just a shame that even though we play such an important role in life that we are second in everything and are being paid less. A woman still has to work four times as hard as a man to be recognized.”
Despite that, it is work the songstress enjoys. With her sheer vocal strength, multi-octave range and impressive versatility, she sits comfortably within the reggae/soul jazz genre and has a warm, rich tone adding, her insightful and vulnerable tracks are filled with worthwhile and uplifting messages.
“I grew up listening to a lot of country songs like Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette and I love producing records that people like singing to and having fun with. Songs that inspire them, songs that strengthen and make them rock at the same time. I love to see my audience rocking, dancing and singing their hearts out with passion and I am blessed to have that. It is the part I love the most, performing to my audience in front of thousands of people who are singing right back to me.”
Just last year Etana wrapped her “Reggae Forever” world tour, which kicked off March in Kingston and wrapped in August. There was also the Memorial Day UCLA Jazz Fest in Los Angeles which she performed on stage with Freddie McGregor. Prior to that, she was in Nairobi performing at Uhuru Gardens, Kenya’s largest Memorial Park and just concluded her “Spread Love World Tour.” A grueling tour which kicked off in January, it included stops in Melbourne, Sydney and New Zealand and in a few months, she will be heading back to the London stage to debut her brand-new album for another tour with her Raw-Soul Rebels band in May.
A mother of two little girls, she will admit that being away from her girls while on tour can take its toll, both physically and mentally, but stays healthy with immune system boosters and an arduous workout regime.
“My three-year-old doesn’t get it like my seven-year-old does and she will call me and tell me to come home now! I purposely schedule a break of a week or two in-between and I would be with them all the time and won’t use my personal cell phone so it’s their time till it’s time to hit the road again.”
An avid reader, when she’s not working, Etana enjoys spending time with her family, going to the beach and watching movies.
“I spend a lot of time reading and listening to audio books and I am kinda of boring in that end. I don’t like to have small conversations and I like to learn a lot and I like to share information. Going to clubs is not fun time for me because I do that anyway all the time so when I do have free time and I am not on stage, I like to go to the beach, watch movies and will put a hat on my head so no one notices me.”
Active on social media always interacting with her fans and letting her followers in on her most chaotic and gorgeous moments, her motto is to do the best that she can to help those around her. Etana has used her success in music to create a charity organization in Jamaica called the “Strong One Foundation” where she helps teenage mothers and girls with financial support to continue their education.
“We have a few people I have worked with getting ready for graduation and those who have made it through high school and two of them have finished high school with honors leaving Jamaica for N.Y.,” she adds.
The first female to achieve a Reggae Billboard #1 in seventeen years with her “I Rise,” album, Etana recently released her sixth album, an eight track EP titled “Dimensions” which features collaborations with Beenie Man and Pressure Busspipe.
For details on the upcoming tour visit: ETANA
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment journalist who covers industry-specific news that includes music, television and film. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org