Earlier this month, Michel Martin interviewed Jamaican singer Etana, calling her “a reggae soul artist whose music is infused with strength and positivity.” In the interview, she talks to Martin about the inspiration behind her new album Better Tomorrow.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: I’m Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. If you like to travel or if you just like music, then you know that for decades now Jamaican artists have established the island as a musical force with names like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. But you might have also noticed that not many women have been mentioned in the top tier of those artists, so today we are going to meet a young woman whose soulful style and thoughtful lyrics have made her, at a pretty young age, one of the most respected women in reggae today. Her name is Etana and her third album, “Better Tomorrow,” has just been released. [. . .]
MARTIN: [. . .] But I understand that, you know, your road to this point was not the easy one and I wanted to ask you to tell that story about how, you know, originally you were studying to be a nurse in Florida and you left college early to try to pursue your musical career, but you had kind of a moment when you said, you know what? This is not for me. This is not right. Do you mind telling that story?
ETANA: I was in a group, a four girl group, in Florida, and I remember doing the video for the group and I was in lingerie, stiletto heels, looking really good, I mean make-up, you know, perfect. And I remember the camera guy going really low when we were doing the choreography for the video. After we took a break, I went to the rest room and I looked at myself and I said – in the mirror, literally, I said, is this what you really want for yourself? And, honestly, in my heart, I had to say no, you know, and I decided that if I had to do music and if this is what I have to do to do music, then I don’t want to do it at all. So I decided I would go to Jamaica and open up an Internet cafe and, you know, do business instead.
[. . .] MARTIN: How did you go about finding your way back to finding your voice and finding a way to say what it is you do want to say and presenting yourself in the way you do want to present yourself?
ETANA: While I was in Jamaica, I met Richie Spice and he wanted me to just do one show – one show as a background vocalist in California – and I ended up – when I came back there was another show for me to go to in Jersey, with him. I guess they were so pleased with the chemistry. In the meantime, I started to realize that, OK, while these people actually appreciate me wearing my skirts or wearing my afro the way I do or being me and nobody’s complaining, this is kind of good. They appreciated me for me. And so I started to say what I wanted to say and do what I wanted to do and wear what I wanted to wear, and it just, you know, it’s me now.
MARTIN: You took on a new name. You were born Shauna McKenzie. But you’ve taken on the name Etana, which is how you are known professionally now. What does that mean?
ETANA: Etana means the strong one. And I remember looking through a list of names, and I figured that Etana rhymed with Shauna. But I wanted something that had to do with strength and power, because I feel like women have such power across the world. We can break or build a nation, you know, because everything starts at home for me. So I figured, OK, well, this is it. And, you know, even if it doesn’t mean strong one in Swahili, it’s going to be the strong one for me.
[. . .] MARTIN: And I’d like to end with a song that I think you wrote when you were homesick for Jamaica. And it is called “All I Need.” (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ALL I NEED”)
ETANA: (Singing) Oh, I’m in control. I’m where I want to be. I’ll close my eyes, and there is where I’ll be, living my fantasy.
For full interview and transcript, see http://www.npr.org/2013/03/07/173718713/etana-female-reggae-artist-shines
Photo from http://www.dancehallusa.com/tag/etana/