Interview by Maliika Walker
Photos by Angela Kay Photography
Etana is The Strong One. I remember when I witnessed seeing her image for the first time, the video for Wrong Address. I immediately was drawn to her soulful voice and have been a fan since that day ten years ago. Each album release brings forth lyrics of encouragement, love, and truth.
The Reggae Soultress, Etana, just released her fifth album, entitled Reggae Forever. This is Etana’s first independent release. Now Etana is responsible for every aspect of her albums release and will own her music moving forward. Once again Etana is setting an example for female artists that will surely come after her, have control and ownership over your music.
Etana’s voice is the perfect instrument bringing positive, uplifting messages to anyone who desires to hear it.
Island State recently spoke with Etana as she was preparing to tour the United States with J. Boog and Jesse Royal. We spoke about the new album, her Strong One Foundation, and her business advice to young women seeking to become artists. Here is our conversation.
Maliika: I listened to your album today.. And it’s beautiful. There’s not one filler track on this record, as usual.
Etana: Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way.
Maliika: Why did you name your album Reggae Forever? And why release it on International Women’s Day?
Etana: Because I think reggae music is forever music. I think none of the songs on the album can, or will ever easily fade away. And then, on International Women’s Day, because women have come a long way. Even in reggae music. I still feel like we have a long way to go. It’s just a reminder to every woman not to give up on the fight for equality. I just think that we should continue. Because like I said, we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.
Maliika: I love the album cover. You have such a regal album covers. What is it about this album cover that made you choose it?
Click the album cover to purchase Reggae Forever
Etana: It’s a liberated woman, a woman who is serious about life, and serious about getting where she needs to go. A woman who knows she’s strong, who knows she’s beautiful. But at the same time, she’s peaceful, and kind and caring. All of that is in the image. That’s what I see when I look at it.
Maliika: Spread Love is a beautiful song. You sing, “it’s peace that I’m feeling in my soul, well it feel like heaven, and I want to make it contagious.”
Etana: I remember when I was going through one of my hardest times, on social media, Tanya Stephens called me and said, “You are so much about love, and light, and togetherness, and unity. If these people only knew.” And she said, “I wrote this song. And I was only just thinking about you, because this is who you are.” And she said, “I’m not going to sing this song, because I think it’s for you to sing.”
And so, when I heard this song I said yes, I’m going to do this song. I drove to meet her in the studio, and recorded the song there. Of course, after we re-made the track she gave us. I did make some lyrical contributions, though. Because it was just the first verse, and a little bit of the second verse she wrote. And then I had to complete the song. But the whole idea was hers.
Maliika: I also love the ska vibe of You Are the One. How did that song come about?
Etana: Well it has been said that Ska came before Reggae. I thought that if I’m going to do an album, and call it Reggae Forever, then I couldn’t leave out where it all came from, where it all started. So I did a Ska tune.
Maliika: I remember your song 6 minutes and 21 seconds from when you posted a video of you singing the song on Facebook. So I loved hearing the song on here. What inspired the song?
Etana: 6 Minutes and 21 Seconds is a song that I thought of when I looked at everything that I was doing in music, my charity work. I made a statement (about Trump) that was not appreciated by everybody and received a strong response. It takes so long to build character, to build your own life, to build on your dreams and then in less than six minutes, people can try to tear it all down, forgetting everything that you’ve ever done that was good. And so, I wrote 6 Minutes and 21 Seconds.
Maliika: You’re releasing Reggae Forever independently. Why now?
Etana: I have four albums and I was in an agreement with VP Records. When that agreement ended and we parted ways, I decided to finally own my own music. It takes a lot of work to own a record. Because not only do you have to pay all the expenses to produce the music, which could add to a good sum, but you also have to be one that says, “Yea or Nay.” That’s is not easy. I had to do it this time for myself.
Maliika: Now let’s talk about some of your other businesses. You sell jewelry and body butter on your site.
Etana: The body butter is handmade. And then it can be seasonal as well, because it’s much better on the skin when it’s really cold, and your skin is really dry. Or if you have really dry skin or eczema.
Very simple, handmade stuff. And the jewelry, some of it is handmade, and some of it is purchased from other vendors who create handmade stuff for a living. And then I buy it from them, and then post it. I usually try to buy my stuff from women because I love to support them.
I sometimes make skirts available. Women make the skirts. They’re all handmade, so it’s not as easy to produce them. I’m not sending them to China, or somewhere they are being mass produced. It’s handmade. And handmade by other women, young women.
Maliika: This is a selfish question, but are you going to have any of this stuff for sale when you’re touring?
Etana: Of course. I will have some things while i’m touring. I’m definitely going to have my skirts. I’m going to have my body butter. And those sell out, usually very fast. So I’m hoping this time, that I’ll have enough.
Maliika: Now, the Strong One Foundation. Tell us a little bit about that.
Etana: Years ago, the first thing that I did, was I set up a competition. Because I wanted to find a way to help kids who were in need to go back to school. I made a competition where young kids, from sixth grade and up, could talk about their experience, and how life is wherever they live. Share their stories. And the hardest stories are the stories that I found more touching. I would give them 15,000 Jamaican dollars each. Not cash, but book vouchers for them to buy books from the local bookstores, backpack with necessary supplies for school.
That went well. And then I got more inquiries about people wanting me to do it again, because they found it helpful. And I did it again, I got approached by other people who couldn’t afford tuition, period. They were getting kicked out of school, they were top students, top of the class. With one uniform that they would wash every day and iron. So of course, it maybe had holes in it, or it was really beat up. And were getting kicked out of school because the parents could not afford the tuition. And so I would pay that.
There were some kids who were not even able to go to school at all. They were just sitting at home and not going to school, period. Whether it be lunch money, shoes, uniform, books, whatever. They were just sitting there. And I was able to get them to attend school.
Maliika: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Etana: Yeah, but I never really advertise it because I didn’t feel like I needed to. I didn’t feel like I wanted anyone to think it was a publicity stunt or something. You know how some people maybe advertise,. I didn’t mean to do that. Until last year, or maybe year before last, I decided to post about the foundation to get other people involved, to see if I could help more people.
That’s all I do, I pay for education so that those who really can’t afford it, are able to attend school. It is not a 5013C organization yet. I want to make sure I have the right team so when the funds do come in, that it gets applied like how it’s supposed to be applied. And that we can give a full account of how the money is spent. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I have people on board, handing funds, and mishandling funds. It’s taken me some time to find the right people. I have one person I knew I would be able to trust. I knew it, and his whole heart was in it, and he passed away. And so I’m trying to find more angels like him, who can help ensure that it gets done right.
Maliika: What business advice or encouragement would you give young women interested in becoming a recording artist?
Etana: Do it right from the beginning. And a lot of people may say, well how do I know I’m doing it right? When signing an agreement, or when approached by a company, don’t just find any old body to review it, and sign it. Or don’t just read it and sign it? Because it may seem simple, but there are simple little words in there that mean something completely different from what you may know it to mean. So the best thing for you to do, is have a professional attorney review the agreement, who has no alliance with the company. Make sure that everything is in the agreement that you want for yourself and your future. And try not to give every bit of you, or to be owned by a company.
Believe yourself, know as much as you possibly as you can about the business of music. It is a business. Artists, we write and we sing from the heart. It’s all love. But there is a side of music where sometimes, the people who are not creative and don’t know a thing about music, gets the most financially. Especially when you, the artist do it for the love, and don’t know the business side. They just take full advantage. So, be mindful, and believe in yourself, and do it right from the beginning. Do everything that makes you happy. And remember not to sell yourself short. You’ll make it anyway if you believe in you.
Maliika: What message do you want people to walk away with upon hearing the album?
Etana: That they’re free to love, free to laugh, free to be who they are. I want them to remember that everyone has the right to decide their own destiny. And it is our right to be ourselves, and be happy with you. And that whenever they’re feeling any kind of low, that they can always listen to a song like Carry You, and know that my love, my unconditional love is with them. I want them to know that it’s all right to hear and to see, and to not see, negative people talk a lot of things, and pay them zero attention. And be all right with you.