ATX Sound System: April 17, 2019

Etana’s Long, Strange Trip to Reggae Stardom

Today, everyone’s heard of Etana. The Grammy-nominated singer (scheduled to perform on Sunday, April 21 at the 2019 Austin Reggae Fest) is currently riding a career peak as she celebrates her first decade in the game. But there nearly wasn’t an “Etana” at all. In fact, the woman previously known as Shauna McKenzie had, for all intents and purposes, quit music. But then a funny thing happened: None other than Richie Spice pulled her back in.

Shauna was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but grew up in Florida after relocating with her family at age eight. After high school, Shauna was going to nursing school and singing in an all-girl pop/R&B group called Gift (think Spice Girls or TLC). As the group began to take off, Shauna left nursing school behind in order to pursue music full-time. But she soon found the process too degrading. The skimpy outfits they were expected to wear, for example, hardly jived with her Rastafarian beliefs–or even her own sense of self-worth. So she quit, giving up her big shot at fame and the singing career she dreamed about since she was a kid. Needing a complete change of scenery, Shauna upped sticks and moved back to her homeland, Jamaica, to open an internet cafe and become a businesswoman instead.

Everything was going along as planned until one day when a friend told her that Richie Spice needed a backing singer for a show in California and brought her to meet him. That one show turned into two shows, then a whole US tour, then a European tour. Once back in Jamaica after the tour, she began working on solo material with some of Richie’s team. Shauna (now re-christened “Etana,”meaning “strong one”) was back in the music business, and doing it on her own terms.

A couple of early singles, including “Wrong Address” (which would become one of her signature tunes) and “Blessing” (with Alborosie), caught the attention of Neil “Diamond” Edwards, VP Records’ golden-eared head of A&R (he’d also signed Richie Spice, Gyptian, Busy Signal, Christopher Martin and Romain Virgo, to name but a few). Edwards would offer Etana a multi-album deal with VP, and her debut solo album, The Strong One, would be released in summer of 2008.

Etana’s success came as a result of several bold decisions and a self-belief which she credits to her devotion to Rastafarianism and the strength she found in the religion’s elevation of women to an almost “royal” status. Female empowerment remains a recurring theme in Etana’s lyrics while, musically, her teenage years spent listening to American pop radio also seems to have left its mark: Etana’s modern approach to Jamaican music sparkles with just as much pop and R&B influence as it does old-skool roots reggae. Fans can look forward to a spirited performance from her on Sunday, April 21 of the 2019 Austin Reggae Fest, with a live set that is usually as much soulful as it is uplifting. We’ve added a few of our favorite Etana songs, new and old, to the Austin Reggae Fest Playlist to get you prepped.

 

Click here to hear all the dub sounds we have been listening to the last few days.