The list of female reggae stars is woefully short, so it’s encouraging that VP Records has
signed Etana, who has already made a name for herself as an award-winning singer and
songwriter. Born Shauna McKenzie Etana, she grew up in a family of boys in August Town on the Southeast side of Jamaica, and moved to Miami in 1992 while still in grade school. She eventually went to college, but dropped out of nursing school to join a girl-group called Gift. The group’s glossy image afforded Etana little opportunity to feed her creative muse, so she jumped ship and returned to her Jamaican hometown. She eventually landed a gig as backup singer for Richie Spice—a tenure that gave her a lot of live experience and exposure— and followed her ambition for a quick trip into the studio, where she recorded the hit acoustic jazz-reggae single “Wrong Address” with a few of Spice’s band members.
Always a broadminded music listener, Etana is emerging as a talented songwriter who can effortlessly mix reggae, jazz, gospel and R&B styles while holding them all together with her dusky, soulful voice. Not surprisingly, her lyrics pay tribute to strong women with soft hearts—sometimes things work out for the best, sometimes they don’t—and her debut album, aptly named The Strong One, paints a vivid picture highlights include the soft reggae ballad “I Am Not Afraid,” the electronics-and acoustic guitar-driven “Warrior Love” and the gospel-flavored “Roots.” Whichever musical direction she chooses, Etana inserts her uniquely sunny self into the narrative, making any song she touches instantly recognizable as hers. With the new album out now and tour dates scheduled throughout the summer and fall, Etana should see her star rise higher and higher in 2008.