After years of being with Reggae label VP Records, Etana has declared her freedom and released two albums in two years. Pamoja is the latest of her last four albums, and she owns the masters for each of those LPs.
The Reggae singer says the music industry gives women a hard time but her fans make it all worth it. In this interview, we talk about her music writing process, collabs, and some of her historic performances.
How did you get into the music business?
I was a background vocalist for Ritchie Spice for maybe 2 years. During that time I was asked to write a song but coming out of music and realizing there are things I wasn’t comfortable with I was hesitant and it took me about 5 months to think about writing a song. I was watching a documentary about the system in Jamaica and I got so emotional and in the middle of watching the documentary my aunt called to say she didn’t get the job and they told her next time don’t use her August Town address on the application. That’s when the song came. (Wrong Address)
Not many people get a hit on their first go, when you found out people were receiving you as an artist in a male-dominated industry how did you feel?
When I first heard the song on the radio Ron Muchette played it I said “See, it doesn’t even fit on the radio” but a few months later I performed it and I heard bullets and fence a beat and I was like “ok” (laughs”. It was also when I traveled to Washington DC to do a show and an interviewer said to me “here too if you give your address that has a certain zip code people think twice about hiring you”. So. Knew I had a lot of work ahead of me but I was ready for the challenge.
Do you think as a Jamaican woman you have to work harder than men?
Maybe even 100 times harder but what I find great is walking through the streets of Jamaica and promoting the music by walking up to a sound system and sing the song. Interacting with the people is much easier than interacting with people in the business of music. I find those people to be hypocritical and clannish. One of the hardest things for me was to perform onstage with my own band. Imagine telling Beyoncé she can work on one of these rappers’ bands and it will be cool.
I saw you at Sting at the height of the night and the power went and you performed without a mic your entire set and left to resounding applause. How were you able to do that?
I was onstage and heard a whooohoo sound and I looked around and the stage was dark, my background vocalist started to walk off the stage and I said no come stand up right here, you on the right and you on the left. I said we will sing to the people at the front and the sound will go back once we start singing. They both looked at me like “What?” I just started singing and low and behold the crowd started singing and the sound travelled all the way to the back.
Where is the most interesting place you have been?
Brazil. I remember the promoter saying it was my night and there were 20 thousand people at the show. When I started to sing, the crowd held each other’s hand and started to sing. In Bluefields Nicaragua I couldn’t hear myself sing and in Kenya same, the crowd was so huge. Same thing in London, I walked out on the stage and the people sang every song. The love that they give and the way that they sing is overwhelming for me sometimes.
“When A Man Love A Woman And A Woman Love A Man A Jah Jah Blessing”, did you write that song?
Alberosie called me and say he has a song that he wants me to sing on and I said alright I’m on the road so I will make a U-Turn and drive to you. I went up there and he gave me a CD and I took the CD drove back out, as I was listening to it and heard his part and I sang “When I love You and You Love Me A Jah Jah blessing”. So I called him back and said I’m coming to knock it out right now and I wrote in in studio and did it right there.
My favorite song on the new album is Clap, are you doing a video for it and should we expect more songs like that from you?
It is one of the more popular ones. Sexuality, sensuality, all of those things are natural for a woman and there is no way to be in a relationship or have a husband and not know what that is about. I think there are a lot of grown people out there who know how to put it down and I think it’s cool to express it in a song that’s so cool to enjoy.
How did you discover the song Malaika?
Years ago an old Chinese lady said I remind her of Miriam Makeba and years later I went back to her house and she passed away so I said I will go look up Miriam Makeba and all she is about. “Angel I Love You” is a song talking about not having enough but he is saying “Hey I love you”. But the vibe of the song makes me think of the struggles our people have been through even not having enough. We build family, culture, countries, wealth and that’s what I heard when I heard Malaika.
Another guy I like on the album is Fiji. How did you find him?
I met him on stage but I heard of him through another collar with J-Boog or Tarrus. We met in Jamaica when he came to perform the song and I met him again on the road and said I must do a song with you one day. He is one of the realest I ever found.
Are you only going to be doing Reggae music?
Moving forward I think I am just gonna move freely based on everything that’s happening around me.
You dropped an album last year and one this year, will you be dropping more albums more often?
I do intend on doing that. Once you start you can’t stop. I think the music is bigger than me. I think there is a purpose for the songs that I write and all the productions that I do so I don’t want to hold that back. I want to give as much of that’s possible to everyone in the world.
What advice do you have for newcomers in the industry?
Try to do it right the first time as possible. Music is valuable from the beginning. Before you open your mouth know that music is valuable. I used to just record and then after the fact I realized I didn’t do a solid sheet and people wouldn’t want to sign a split sheet. What keeps relationships going is doing it right the first time. Don’t just sign an agreement because you love music and are just eager to get it out there. The people you sign with know how exactly to get that money.
Are you going fully independent or are you looking to sign a record deal again?
I wouldn’t rule it out but I definitely don’t think it would be with a VP and if it is a lot of it will have to be on my terms and that might not be so good for them. Or at least something that works for everyone across the board because we have a lot of issues and still have some that are unsettled. We have a lot to work through and it would be possible for me to get back to them as a company until all of that is settled. Would I go to another company? It is quite possible.
Thank you so much Etana
Thank you JR.
For the full interview listen to World Music Views Podcast Episode 92.