Interview with Etana
11/03/2014 by Justine Amadori Ketola
Reggaeville connected with Etana to discuss her new release I RISE available on VP Records. The album is produced by Clive Hunt, whose credits include Stevie Wonder, Peter Tosh, The Rolling Stones, Grace Jones, Jimmy Cliff and many more. Etana is a thoughtful, courageous interview subject, one who considers unconditional love an essential part of being a human and whose journey as an artist has been marked by her independent spirit as her creative output continuously serves to inspire and promote a positive self-image in women and a genuine concern for the needs of the less fortunate. Her new album is full of deep production values that Etana intentionally pursued in order to represent the live performance experience that is so essential to her artistry.
Congratulations on your excellent album, I consider you really a role model in entertainment, not just in reggae. What is it like for you to be in this industry, one that doesn’t have many females in such a position?
It’s not easy but its also fun…and I find the fun moments on stage and meeting the fans and meeting people from all over the world.
Where are you now?
I am in St. Thomas now, there is a Natural Hair and Wellness symposium here tomorrow, I am here as a speaker more than a performer.
There are two interesting cover songs on the album, “Selassie Is The Chapel” from The Wailers and “Stepping Outta Babylon” from Marcia Griffiths really one of my favorite songs of all time. Do you find inspiration from the Rastafarian part of reggae or from your Jamaican culture?
Always…it’s in me, in me, in me and doesn’t change, doesn’t stop it doesn’t stop.
I often think after traveling to Jamaica or working with artists from there or interacting with friends from there, its not so much they are “Rasta” per se, but the people and the culture that are “One Love”. But these ideas of oneness and unity and a genuine concern for the well being of others and for the world are common traits.
I think it should always be that way, and as you know in my message and in my heart as I live from day to day, I always let it be known that I believe so much in unconditional love. About one perfect love where you can see and appreciate someone as a person, not be judgmental or rude or mean or even prejudice in any way. Its just one perfect love across the board. I would appreciate someone not looking down on someone regardless of what their class is or what their religion or their belief is.
I would agree, I follow you on Twitter and I notice you talking about unconditional love and giving it to others but also being ready to receive it and once you realize when you are receiving unconditional love, particularly as women too…when we receive it it can be very liberating and freeing to realize it.
Exactly…very liberating it feels very, very good.
There are so many horn lines on the album as in “How Long” did you go into the album with the intention of going after this really vintage sound that translates so well in your live shows?
I wanted it to be a lot more me, its definitely in the mental and spiritual space that I am right now. I wanted it to be a lot more live. I wanted the music to sound like more of the direction I would like to be in when I am on stage. With a full band, nice and strong and very rooted in reggae.
There is a very inspirational line from the song “On My Way” that really stood out to me, “High meditation, strict dedication, straight from the roots I grow”. Where did this song begin and how did you approach recording it and what was the inspiration?
My life in music, my life in reggae, the journey from day one. Basically on that day, I sat in the studio and I reflected on when I started, the changes with management, everything. 5th Element Records being broken down and stuff like that and coming all the way through it and still going through different things as I grow from phase to phase. That’s what its about, the whole journey.
This first person message in “Jamaica Woman” really sounds like the answer tune to “Stepping Outta Babylon” what would you say coming from a country that has a female Prime Minister who is often under scrutiny, you reach out to women in Jamaica to examine this sort of “labba labba mix-up” it would seem.
(Laughs..) You know I am definitely in this mental space now where I am thinking that if we as women don’t support each other, I’m not sure how we’ll get support from other people. How we are able to build a better nation if we don’t support each other.
Also “Passing Through” has this situation in the lyrics where a woman is waiting for a man to get it together. Are you teaching a lesson through this song with its lyric “Passing through don’t make the connection true”?
Passing Through was a serious one and it was written long before this album like maybe two or three years ago. It was from my observation of the men how they treat even their wives or girlfriends. They hang out for days and go home when they feel like it and when they get there, they spend a couple hours with the kids thinking that’s ok, spend a couple hours with her. Or just drop off some money and leave again and they are gone off to doing all the other things they do. I’m just saying that’s not a relationship, that’s not a life you know.
It seems to me a lot of your music on this album is coming from that place of observing the culture and listening to your friends and family and stories and really bringing these stories to life. The title track “I Rise” is very inspirational as well, it sounds like it destined for non-stop airplay on Elise Kelly’s “Easy Skankin” on IRIE FM Jamaica. It really helps promote faith, it really sees your vocals meld beautifully with the music. How did you go about bringing these song ideas to life with Clive Hunt?
I went deep with the writing, and my thoughts and I was very very honest. On each album I am honest, but then I am in a different mental space, each time so its the same, I think I have grown in every way possible. With Clive Hunt, I think he is just a genius, if he makes a track and it doesn’t…I mean it is basic or I wouldn’t be able to write to it. But he will say, ‘Ok it’s not big enough…let me go back and take just the vocals and make a whole new track again, to the vocals.’ Just so that it can be as big as he wants it to be.
So you would say that it is almost a back and forth, he might bring you a rhythm, you might write to it and he might listen back to it and say ‘Oh the way she is singing I want to bring this to life differently now, with the way she is singing it.’
Yeah, he goes back to the studio and calls VP and schedules a whole new session again around one song. So the production was a lengthy one, even though it took maybe four or five months to finish the album, it was like a lot of work in that four-five months.
Oh yes, he is a perfectionist, both of you, its really well done. You released two songs from the album so far, “Richest Girl” and “Trigger” and both of these songs and videos are coming from a uniquely female perspective, from a relationship viewpoint with “Richest Girl” and from a child to a mother who has to accept her son turning or continuing to be a “shotta” do you consider resilience and acceptance part of life as a woman, as in that we must accept our lot in life in many ways?
We do but we also I think have the strength to change a lot of things. Which is why I am calling out so much in different interviews different forums, different platforms to females, to women, almost telling them that it is time for us to get up now and make a move, get together, unite so we can start making huge changes. So we can have the world see us as equal even.
Just to get to equal would be great…..
In “Jah Jah” you sing that you were ridiculed and verbally crucified what was the result of or try to take you down? I know in the past you have discussed that you were expected to be more sexualized and there were standards or styles you were expected to approach in terms of your image.
It’s a lot of everything, people who believe that you should not have went into a church to prove anything to Christians because Rastafari just is. When they missed the point and the fact and the point of everything. For me my point was religion doesn’t make the person, it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t be you know who you are, a bunch of rules and regulations. We should look at who we are as people and accept each other. That was the whole point of that, it was just missed because of the whole religion and belief thing I was ridiculed. I was ridiculed for the way I was wearing my hair, I was ridiculed for a lot a things. For being as serious as I was, I was called ‘miserable’, I was called ‘hard to work with’ because I wouldn’t allow people to just walk over me and I remember even an ex of mine at the time. Maybe a little bit before that stage where he decided that he would pay some people to kill me because I shouldn’t live without him and all these things. It was a lot of things, I kind of put it together and summed it up in one song.
Even now with the religion as we look around and we see people debating who is ISIS and who is an Islamist and who is religious, people are going to be religious and it is not going away.
I had to learn that.
Jamaica is a place with more churches per capita than anywhere in the world.
I was going up against something that was rooted and planted and I learned that it was not going away for now so I kind of continued on my own spiritual journey and I just accept and appreciate everyone for who they are whether they are positive or negative.
I would consider you more militant and more outspoken than the men on your level. I am very displeased with the men more time, the ones that were militant have fallen off. You are speaking truth to power, you have to be commended for that, because many of your compatriots in music are not doing that for the most part.
The ones that are coming up are but those that are more advanced are not.
You have not sold out.
No, never, you why because when your heart is in your heart is in, well for me, when my heart is in I go in, there is no half way, I just know how to do it and if ever I should ever feel like I don’t want to do it anymore, I definitely would stop my heart is just in.
It’s so important the work you are doing. What is touring life like for you? What does your live performance give back to you in terms of the industry?
I love the energy, I love the energy I feel when I perform along with the people. I love to see them sing along. Europe, France was nice when we toured France, when we went to Martinique. That was unbelievable to see thousands of people from all over the island standing up even in the rain, shouting and singing every song. I mean I couldn’t believe it, like thousands of people. In the Caribbean, you don’t see like how you see them in Europe, come out in those numbers. In Martinique it was incredible. Going through the US, its a little different, its a little tricky, some places its huge, and in some places its still growing which is OK. I’m fine with that, I just continue to grow and build in the best way that I can.
One of your first performances as a solo artist was a solo artist was in Gambia, what is it like for you to travel to Africa and how do your fans respond to your music an message there?
Something’s still a little disappointing, like them not embracing so much of Africa as I thought they would have been. The culture is not so strong, like they are more wanting to be British or European or American more than they want to be African so that kind of bothers me a little bit. And the people are still afraid to speak out for their own rights and that bothered me a lot. Like when you ask somebody…when I was in Ghana, last time, I asked someone ‘What do you feel about the government?’ I was just trying to feel around to know what was going on. Him just look ‘pon me and he said, ‘We don’t speak about that, I don’t want to talk about that’ and he walked away. You could tell there was much fear like they weren’t interested. I remember doing an interview in the same day and they asked me what I felt about the use of marijuana. And I said, ‘Marijuana should be free, everybody should be able to grow marijuana and use it for their own purposes including making tea, for medication or eating it raw like vegetables.’ And I said one of the main facts that I feel that they should release it to the people is because its still in many medications you take today. ‘Nuff a the pills you take everyday, marijuana is in it. And they called my manager and told my manager that I should come back on the radio and apologize for saying that. I told them ‘well you have two options, you can deport me to the United States or you can deport me to Jamaica because I have a United States passport and I have a Jamaican passport, you take your choice, but I am not coming back to apologize for speaking the truth’. So those are the little things. But as far as performing in front of the people in Africa, I love to hear them sing back because they sing in harmony and they know every, single song that I have ever released, they know every one.
Besides being an artist, you are also an entrepreneurial type of person and you’ve recently launched a line of skirts, a clothing line, can you tell us more about that?
It’s handmade skirts with African prints, my own designs because people would always ask on Facebook and when I’m on the road, ‘Where did you get that skirt… tell me where you get that?’. I would get the fabric and I would make the skirt. So I decided I’m just gonna go and make the skirt so they have access to them, this way they can purchase their own favorites.
So a lot of your clothes are tailored for you?
You were actually wearing the lovely Mamayashi designer’s dress at the IRAWMA Awards that were recently held in South Florida. Was that dress custom made for you?
Yes I love her. I love everything I wear by her.
Where can people find your clothing line?
On my website, EtanatheStrongOne.com and the skirts are Style Etana.
As far as using social media to speak your mind, you use it really well to maintain a personal connection with your fans, how do think that technology helps you in your career?
I love it, you know in some sense people may say its not so good because people are able to download music for free and you are not getting to show the real numbers of purchases. Otherwise, even through Facebook alone you get to reach thousands of people. I think I have 486,000 people now. When you do a post I don’t think you necessarily reach 486k but you reach on one post can reach 170,000 in just a couple seconds. Its amazing, they never had that before. I’m grateful for it, even on Twitter we have fans from anywhere across the world, anywhere in the world can actually reach you and send you a tweet and say, ‘Hey Etana how you doing?’ you know. It’s incredible, I love it.
You’ve included this great “big up” song, “Jam Credits” at the end of the album, Clive Hunt your producer, your engineers, your musicians, with so many great musicians on there, it is so well-planned and original, even Neil Diamond and Chris Chin from VP Records are shouted out and of course Andre Morris your esteemed manager and partner in life. What made you do something like this?
Because most people across the world, they are not purchasing the physical album, but they do the download and when you download an album, the credits are not often there so to give credit to all these talented people who actually put such hard work into the music they love. So I figure if you say it on a track, they’ll listen to it. At least they get to know, to share credits, I have to big up all these other people who made the project what it is.
The bonus track, “Get Out” and the song “By Your Side” are both so soulful, do you feel influenced by vintage American soul singers like Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin?
I love Get Out... and Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, I love those people.
This album feels like you are really going back to that time that magical time that really transformed Rocksteady into Reggae and that time period where the musicians were all in those sessions, the way that Clive Hunt and you have worked together on this, it has that magical sound of the drums, you can hear your feeling of being in the pocket, it shines very well. Are there any final messages or views that you have or plans for the album release or special events you have globally or otherwise?
Well I plan to do it in Europe when I get there in a nice way, nicer than I have ever done before, bigger than I have ever done, and I can’t wait to get there in February and I can’t wait to get there in July, I think its going to be a nice run. Its going to be beautiful cause everything you are hearing in the music you are going to be able to hear it on stage its going to be nice, its going to be lovely.