The name Etana resonates highly among Reggae lovers all over the world. Etana, which translates to “Strong One” in Swahili, is one of the most prominent young reggae acts in the world with her success and influence spreading out worldwide. Her most popular song, weakness in me (2014), was actually a cover of the original by Joan Armatrading in 1981 and opened her to a wider audience especially in Kenya.
1. The genesis.
Born Shauna McKenzie in Kingston, Jamaica, she is the only girl in a family of boys. She grew up in August Town where her vocal talent was discovered when she was just eight years old and was overheard singing along to a 1991 hit by the group Air Supply before migrating to Florida in 1992. She would later attend Broward Community College with the intention of becoming a nurse. This was not to happen as she later dropped out in 2000 in order to join a female vocal group called Gift. Universal Records was interested in their music but as was the trend in the dawn of the new millennium, she did not enjoy dressing provocatively in order to sell their brand. She eventually left and went back to Jamaica to start her own business but as fate would have it, she eventually went back to making music.
Her breakthrough came in 2005 when she successfully auditioned to be part of Richie Spice’s backup vocalists. She mesmerized the Fifth Element Crew with her powerful vocals who were enjoying the success with Richie Spice’s single “Earth A Run Red” single as well as his album “Spice in Your Life”. What started as providing Richie Spice with background vocals for a single show in Los Angeles resulted in a chance of performing one year on tour with the artist. She learned a lot during this time and her talent and prowess had caused so much buzz that the management of Fifth Element encouraged her to make a solo record.
Her first solo, ‘Wrong Address’ was made while in the studio with the guitarist and percussionist from Spice’s band. Fusing acoustic folk with roots reggae rhythms and strains of neo-soul influences “Wrong Address” was based on the experience of Etana’s aunt being told to lie about where she lived to gain employment. The single received heavy radio rotation, reaching the number one position on several Jamaican charts. Her second song, ‘Roots’ was inspired by her travels to Africa. Her quest as a solo artist crafting positive music was fueled by a young girl who recited lyrics from one of her more racy songs. Embarrassed by this, Etana firmly believed that if she could sing a song with good lyrics, she could utilize that very same energy to create music to uplift, educate and strengthen. From that point on, she embarked on her journey as a solo artist — determined to make music her way. Etana cites a lot of artists for influencing her love of music, ranging from Reggae stars Bob Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and Sizzla Kalongi to R&B crooners like Whitney Houston, Lauren Hill, and Jill Scott, among others.
2. Awards and Achievements.
Her musical efforts finally paid off in 2008 when she released her debut album “The Strong One” on VP Records. With this album, she won several awards including the “Album of the Year” award at the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) in New York for her debut effort and at the Excellence in Music and Entertainment Awards (EME), among numerous other accolades. She was also nominated for the 2008 MOBO Awards in the ‘Best Reggae’ category. She has performed in various places worldwide including an impressive performance at the Johannesburg 2009 Arts Alive Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she was handpicked by the government of South Africa and Jamaica.
In 2018, she was nominated for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album. She became the first female to achieve a Reggae Billboard number one with her album “I Rise”, in seventeen years. Other milestones include unforgettable sets at several high-profile music festivals like Reggae Sumfest, Irie Jamboree, and the Soul Beach Music Festival in Aruba – where Etana shared the stage with the likes of Jamie Foxx, Common, and Robin Thicke.
3. Albums and Discography.
Etana has released plenty of songs and albums since the beginning of her career. Her first album was “The Strong One” released in 2008. She released her second album, “Free Expressions”, in 2011 which she later toured Europe within 2012. Her third album, the Shane Brown-produced “Better Tomorrow” was released in February 2013 and was preceded by a US tour. Her fourth album, “I Rise”, was released in October 2014 and entered the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart at number 7, and topped the chart in its second week of release. It remained at the number one spot for four weeks making her the first female to top the reggae Billboard chart in over fifteen years. She executively produced her fifth album, Reggae Forever, which was released in March 2018 and distributed by Tad’s Records. It remained at number one on the Billboard reggae albums chart for two consecutive weeks, still making her the first female in more than two decades, in Reggae, to gain top position twice on the chart. Her sixth album, ”Dimensions” was released in 2019 while her seventh and most recent album “Pamoja” being released in June 2021.
Her work ethic is unmatched and explains why she is so successful and more is yet to come from the strong one.