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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 12th, Rockers is highlighting Etana.
Shauna McKenzie, better known as Etana, grew up in the eastern Saint Andrew community of August Town where she currently resides. Her vocal talent was discovered when she was eight years old and was overheard singing along to a 1991 hit by the group Air Supply. In 1992, she migrated to South Florida so attend nursing school but her heart was still in music. In 2000, Etana dropped out of Broward Community College and joined a female vocal group called Gift. At the time Universal Records was interested in their music, so Etana reluctantly agreed to wear the skimpy outfits dictated by the music industry’s pervasive stereotyping of female artists; then one day, she could no longer conform and returned to Kingston, JA.
With music still in her heart, Etana knew she could only succeed if everything was done on her terms. Etana wanted to deliver dignified, emboldening words shaped by her embracement of Rastafarian principles, which include a royal representation of women, adhering to a natural lifestyle, and an acknowledgment of the teachings of Marcus Garvey and Emperor Haile Selassie I. That opportunity arrived in 2005 when a friend brought her to Kingston’s Fifth Element Records who were then enjoying success with Richie Spice’s single “Earth A Run Red” and his album Spice In Your Life. Spice was heavily booked for American and European tours; Etana auditioned to become one of his backup vocalists and so impressed Spice’s management team, she was immediately asked to accompany the Rastafarian singer on his tour dates. Etana gained invaluable experience as a member of Spice’s entourage performing throughout Europe and North America.
While in the studio with the guitarist and percussionist from Spice’s band, Etana put together the song that heralded her arrival – “Wrong Address”. Audaciously 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 in order to gain employment. The single, which was very relatable with many hard working Jamaicans who live in poor communities that are further stigmatized because of gang related violence, was duly rewarded with heavy radio rotation, reaching the #1 position on several Jamaican charts. Etana’s second major hit “Roots” was inspired by her travels to Africa (her very first solo performance was in the West African nation of Ghana where she was showered with overwhelming adulation).
Etana is being recognized for Black Music Month for being a passionate singer-songwriter, record producer and guitarist signed to VP Records. With two albums under her belt since 2008 with “The Strong One”, there’s no reason Etana isn’t one of Jamaica’s best female roots reggae artist.