Earthy empress Etana got it right when she dubbed her newly released debut album The Strong One.
For, while the title aptly speaks to the twenty-something’s moniker which means ‘strong’ in Swahili, it also says loads about her musical prowess.
Born Shauna McKenzie, the singer was introduced to the local stage as a background vocalist for Richie Spice before taking her 5th Element affiliation a step further in 2005 when she recorded the breakout single Wrong Address (track 15).
But it seems she has become more than just the guitar-toting melody maker who opines of the oppression and classism that exists in corporate Jamaica.
Strong opens with the potent and inspiring Don’t Forget – a track akin to entering a large room full of colourful helium balloons.
Etana, however, returns back to her militancy by the second track Roots, which like Wrong Address may be seen as a prolonged metaphor for challenging the status quo.
This, a tenet of her Rastafari faith, continues on Jah Chariot and the formidable new single I Am Not Afraid.
“If dem a come/Let dem come/ ‘Cos I’m protected by the Most High One” pens Etana in the latter, “They don’t mind when you.prostituting, standing in a government line.”
She’s also Etana the righteous on the hip-hop stylings of Caltariba System (track 6) that paints the haunting reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic around the world; and the album closer with Nuclear. The latter cleverly puts forward Rastafari’s penchant for word, sound, power: “News clear/ Every power junkie got to be there/ There’s gonna be war around and around/Gonna be war if they can’t put it down.”
But she’s very much sexual as she is spiritual and shows this brilliantly on the ballad-esque aesthetics of recent chart-climber Warrior Love (track 10) and the easy-on-the-ears Blessing featuring reggae import Alborosie; it’s the only collaborative track. And expression of the Eros does continue on More & More (track 7) and Closer (track 12).
There are also expressions of platonic love and respecting human life. try Nothing But Love, Overcome and the gospel flavoured ivory tinkling of Live & Love Life.
But there is, too, the idea of love gone wrong. The catchy Wasting My Time tells this tale, and though it sounds more like a track performed by dancehall-pop princesses Tami Chynn or Alaine, it clearly points to the singers versatility and perhaps the influences she would have been exposed to in her early career as a singer in an R&B girl group while she lived abroad.
“Mama said never put your trust in flesh/ ‘Cos they will leave a pain in your chest/Even when you give them your best/ They will always put you through stress,” she sings on Wasting.
The album released by VP Records on Tuesday June 17, 2008 lists Chris and Joel Chin as executive producers, while accomplished musicians Dean Fraser, Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar and Robert ‘Dubwise’ Brownie among others are sprinkled within the credit listings. It’s no surprise then, that the heady mix of well-known and expert musicians, studio engineers and background vocalists makes for an internationally ready project. It doesn’t hurt too that Etana – easy on the ears and eyes – is quite the songwriter, since she’s listed as writer on nearly all the tracks.
But while the 16-track debut project is commendable, the liner notes ought to have been properly edited and could have been more attractive. Notwithstanding, it’s great that Jamaica now has it’s own Lauryn Hill. minus the drama.
Etana The Strong One is one for the international record racks.