Album Review: Tanya Stephens - Some Kinda Madness
by Gardy Stein
"Everything is madness to me. Humans are the most complex and self-sabotaging animals on the planet. We do everything that goes against our sustainability, our survival on the planet. When we do something good it is to correct something really, really bad that we did before. Everything we do is some kind of madness." (Tanya Stephens in Jamaica Star)
Thus explaining the title of her new opus Some Kinda Madness, Tanya Stephens presented the album one day before the official release in a private event at Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. It is her first album in 10 years, and expectations are accordingly high as friends and fans are eager to hear what the artist has been up to – and, rest assured, it is a lot!
Produced by Tad A. Dawkins Jnr. and his father at the eponymous Tad's Records, the release comes with a massive content of twenty tracks, and since all but two of them (Intervention by Romeich Entertainment and Aloe Vera by Katrina 'DJ Sunshine' Irons) have been created by the family duo, the overall sound is well-rounded and consistent. Of course, this sound is also defined by the skilled musicians who lent their talent to the project: names like Phillip 'Winta' James, Kirk 'Kirkledove' Bennett and Simon Pipe (drums & programming), Donald 'Danny Bassie' Dennis, Flabba Holt, Michael Fletcher and Glen Brown (bass), Carol 'Bowie' McLaughlin, Franklyn 'Bubbla' Wall and Andre 'Stringy' Marsh (keys), LaMont 'Monty' Savory, Mitchum Khan and Darrio Morgan (guitar), Dean Fraser, Okeil McIntyre and Oshane (sax) as well as Hector Lewis, Congo Billy and Dean Barnett (percussions) speak of the amount of quality involved here, not to mention the fantastic background singers Sherita Lewis, Rochelle Bradshaw and Limey Murray. Chapeau to y'all!
The woman behind and, at the same time, in the center of this project, however, is Tanya Stephens. At 49 years of age, she has clearly risen to the top of her abilities, both vocally and textually. Thus, she has written all of the lyrics herself (some in deepest, authentic Patois), dipping into the rich life experiences, the ups and downs, the challenges and achievements that formed the person she is today.
Already the first song Be Who We Be sets the record straight: "If yuh nuh like wha yuh see, better yuh take off on the next plane, we be who we be, Jah, we no need fi explain!". Starting off quite simple, with acoustic guitar, bass and percussive elements, it grows in intensity while Tanya sings about going her way no matter what others around her say, until it becomes a hymn of confidence that you'll love more with each listening round.
With Fifty, Tanya has created another anthem, this time for the ladies her age (apologies to all juveniles – this one is for the mature women out there!): "I turn 50 next year and I am celebrating everything about that. Fi mek it to half a century in these times is a big achievement. Plus, mi go through so many changes. Mi like mi right yah suh. I think that right now is the best of me.", Stephens told the Jamaican Observer,
and with Patra, she found a like-minded spirit to join her in this celebration. Together, the two queens ride the kicking riddim reminiscent of the sweet '90s Dancehall era like the bosses they are, talking about the pure joy of being alive, of looking sexy, of being free to go to any party because "pickney grown, no need babysitter". That's the spirit, and the track is definitely one of the highlights of the album (in case you have any doubt about the truth of these lyrics, watch the accompanying video!). "If you think we bad now, wait 'til we lick 50!"
Other high-spirited songs are the lively Zig Ziggler ("Elevation is a state of mind!"), and the Ska-infused Jezebel (featuring Sabrina Qureshi, an artist I haven't heard of before), igniting the dancing fever along with the above-mentioned Aloe Vera. More laid-back, you'll hear proper Reggae riddims in songs such as Feels Like Love and Don't Hurt Me, which features a dulcet harmonica played by Rob Papparozzi and a well-known bassline, all the way to the really slow, balladesque World Go Round.
Subjects treated next to love and relationships are hangovers in Too Much Party, sexual liberation in Blame It On Rock & Roll, the things we believe in (from a slightly cynical point of view) in Serendipity, and, on a more serious note, violence against females in Diamonds In The Sun. The track featuring Cedella Marley and Diana King is an extremely emotional account of the topical issue of rape and abuse, so often hushed up in families and society, but it's also talking directly to the victims, encouraging them to speak up and express their hurt by letting go of their tears and let them glisten like the song title implies.
Not Today comes as an unintentional obituary to Cecil 'Skelly' Spence, who passed away a few days before the release of this album. The riddim used for this song is a beautiful re-lick of the iconic Israel Vibration tune Same Song, saxophone and all. Niceness! Another well-known instrumental is used for the title track Some Kinda Madness, featuring Omar Lattibeaudiere aka Singer Jay.
Apart from the ones already mentioned, there are other fine features worth mentioning, including Nadine Sutherland in Weight In Gold and Big Youth in the beautiful rub-a-dub combination Reset. "This is not ordinary, it's legendary!" In So Damaged, we hear the voice of Tanya's daughter Kelly Shane, and while it's not astonishing that the latter inherited musical gift and voice from her talented mother, it's a sweet surprise how well the two timbres harmonize. The track itself is more Blues than Reggae; in fact, the whole album seems to be created in a mindset completely free from genre-considerations, as the subsequent pieces Serendipity and River also show.
The bonus track Silence closes the album, coming back full circle to what she said in the beginning. Here is a woman who speaks up about anything, voicing her opinion no matter how strong the headwinds are, no matter what others think about her – silence needs to be broken on so many issues! Thank you, Tanya, for providing such a welcome example to follow, and thank you team Tad's Records for creating such a fine album. A great companion on this road through Some Kinda Madness!
Tanya Stephens - Some Kinda Madness
DIGITAL RELEASE [Tad's Record]
Release date: 09/02/2022
01. Be Who We Be
03. Too Much Party
04. Zig Ziggler
05. Fifty feat. Patra
06. Aloe Vera
07. Jezebel feat. Sabrina Qureshi
08. Weight In Gold feat. Nadine Sutherland
09. Not Today
10. Blame It On Rock & Roll
11. Feels Like Love
12. Reset feat. Big Youth
13. Some Kinda Madness feat. Singer J
14. Don't Hurt Me
15. World Goes Around
16. Diamonds In The Sun feat. Cedella Marley & Diana King
17. So Damaged feat. Kelly Shane
20. Silence (Bonus Track)