No one can doubt that reggae artistes are well known around the world today. Artistes such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Jimmy Cliff come to mind; but what of their female counterparts? Are they given the recognition they deserve? There are several great female reggae singers who have truly marked a place in reggae history with their melodic reggae tunes. Undoubtedly, these ladies deserve to be ranked with the top males in the industry. Names such as Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley come to mind. More recently, female acts such as Tanya Stephens, Cherine Anderson, Queen Ifrica and Etana have taken the torch and have kept the reggae fire burning bright. Of these ladies, one of the most lyrically conscious and extremely gifted reggae artistes of our time is Etana, ‘the strong one’.
Shauna McKenzie, known commonly as Etana, ‘The Strong One’ was born on May 22, 1983 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her vocal talent was discovered when she was overheard singing along to a hit by Air Supply. She was only six years old at the time.
She migrated to the United States in 1992 and went on to attend Broward Community College with the intention of becoming a registered nurse. She decided to prematurely exit college in 2000, and later joined a female vocal group named Gift. She then signed with Universal Records and reluctantly agreed to wear skimpy outfits on stage, until one day she could no longer conform to this glaring stereotype.
Etana later returned to her Kingston birthplace to make music on her terms. In 2005, she began working with Richie Spice at Fifth Element Records. Spice was heavily booked for American and European tours with singles such as “Earth A Run Red” and his album “Spice In Your Life”. Etana auditioned to become one of his backup vocalists and was so impressive that she was immediately asked to accompany Spice on his tours. On the tours, she gained invaluable experience as a member of Spice’s entourage performing throughout Europe and North America.
Many of us however met Etana when, while with Spic’s band, she released a soulful, heartfelt anthem about a young woman’s struggles to transcend inner-city stigma to make it in an extremely judgmental world of work. That single became her breakout hit “Wrong Address” on her fist album, the ‘Strong One’. This heralded the birth of a new reggae artiste. Indeed, it was an unforgettable introduction to an empress, a thoughtful soul, a warm spirit and a melodious voice. Etana’s second major hit ‘Roots’ was inspired by her travels to Africa. The remainder of songs on ‘The Strong One’ presents an eclectic mix of Etana’s creative ideas and musical influences. Having produced significant radio hits, a successful first album and numerous awards, Etana’s evolution continues with a second album ‘Free Expressions’ released in 2011 and with that, she has ruled the charts since.
It is fair to say that reggae female artistes do not receive the recognition they deserve. In truth, many of these ladies are as talented and lyrically creative as their male counterparts. Today, the imbalance is being rapidly eliminated, especially due to efforts of contemporary female reggae artistes such as Etana. She is not simply known as ‘the strong one’ due to her perseverance and strong sense of self but her dominating musical presence. As she has long demonstrated, we can rest assured that the strong one will be around for a long time to come, still representing the feminine voice of reggae, an integral element of the music. Nativo (The Caribbean Current)