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Etana: On the rise

STILL RISING: Reggae singer Etana

ARGUABLY THE most prolific female vocalists in present day, reggae singer-songwriter Etana has struck a chord with the masses, winning the hearts of the people one song at a time.

In a short time, the singer has captivated and inspired legions of die-hard fans while collecting a plethora of awards along the way too. Earlier this year, the Jamaica-born star was handed the Lifetime Achievement accolade at the Linkage Awards in New York.

Starting her solo career in 2007, Etana – real name Shauna McKenzie – was named best female vocalist and best album at the 2010 International Reggae and World Music Awards. She has also won best female vocalist at both the Excellence in Music & Entertainment Awards and the IRIE FM Radio Awards.

Despite the high acclaim, Etana, 31, remains modest and downplays the significance of winning awards.

She says: “I do what I do because I love what I do. It’s my life. It’s me.”

Etana’s recognition of the power of music and its widespread influence - especially upon the youth – came in the early 2000s. That realisation prompted a seismic shift in her career trajectory.

Living in Florida at the time where she was studying to become a nurse, she left college – much to her parents’ dismay and disappointment - to join the female pop-R&B trio, Gift.

While shooting a music video with the group, she rejected the overtly sexual stereotypes that was forced upon female artists and walked off the set, protesting the wearing of lingerie and stilettos and the invasive camera angles.

“I would get attention that I did not want for myself. What you wear says a lot about the way that people treat you.”
Since then, the songstress has come to terms with the over-sexualised representation of female musicians. She tells Life & Style: “I’ve come to accept that it all depends on the female.

“Because some females do want to show it all off and bare it all and some don’t. My choice was not to.”

The reggae singer, who still lives in Florida with her husband and two children, adds: “If that’s what their choice is, they should already know the type of attention they’re going to get and they should know if they can deal with it. So each it’s own.”

After her disappointing stint with Gift, she returned to her birthplace, Jamaica, with the intention of opening an internet café.

But a fateful meeting with 5th Element Record - then the record label of reggae singer Richie Spice - resulted in her selection as one of Spice’s backup singers and eventually, her own recordings.

Not wanting to use her biological name, the singer chose the name Etana, which means ‘the strong one’ in Swahili.
“I chose Etana because it rhymed with Shauna,” laughs the songstress.

“But also because it means the strong one and I wanted something that meant strength or power to remind women of our inner strength.”

Ever since the release of her first single in 2007, Wrong Address, which highlighted the discrimination faced by some Jamaicans living in violence-plagued communities, followed by Roots, which cautioned the younger generation to maintain their culture, Etana has consistently wrapped encouraging and edifying sentiments with gorgeous melodies and lushly textured rhythms.

“I looked at how women were being represented in [Jamaican] music and how little girls think that is the way it is supposed to be, and I wanted to be a positive influence and change some of the things they are taught,” Etana reflects.

In a somewhat beautiful coincidence, her new album, I Rise comes shortly after the passing of the great American female freedom fighter and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou.

The title track is the same as one of Angelou’s most celebrated poems, I Rise.

And although the song was actually written before Angelou died, Etana says she drew inspiration from the icon. “I took a lot of inspiration from her and from other strong females,” she says.

I Rise – Etana’s forth studio album – was produced by Clive Hunt and comes out this month.

“This album has a little bit of everything. There’s messages in the music, love songs and some inspirational songs too,” the mother-of-two says.

“With every album there’s different experiences, so I’m sure there is obvious growth, changes and wisdom in each of my albums.”

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