The Strong One
VP Records - Groove Attack
June 13, 2008
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : 5||Backing : 4/5||Production : 5||Sound quality : 5||Sleeve : 4/5|
Female reggae singer-songwriter Etana started out getting attention
as Fifth Element Records' first lady with the tune closing this album and the
magnificent soulful selfproduced gospel-influenced tune opening this very strong debut
album "The Strong One". Born Shauna McKenzie Etana spent her youthful days playing in
the hill side community of August Town situated in the South Eastern side of Jamaica.
The only daughter of a fairly large family of boys she was as curious then as she is
determined now doing the mischievous things most children tend to do at an early age.
Attending school locally up until 1992 when she migrated to the U.S to start a new
life in the sunshine state of Miami Florida Etana was a budding achiever; she finished
grade school and eventually went off to college the year after with plans of becoming
a registered nurse. During her studies at Broward Community College Etana became
extremely passionate about music, she was consumed with the joy of creating her own
mix of the different genres she would attentively listen to in her earlier
A hardened fan of reggae, pop, hip hop and jazz musicians she found inspiration in Whitney Houston, Lauren Hill, Jill Scott, Sizzla Kalonji, Marcia Griffiths and the legend Bob Marley all of who eventually gave the then academic the will to explore a new and potentially more suited career in music. In 2000 after making a tuff decision to prematurely exit college Etana attempted a shot at stardom when she joined a girl group by the name Gift which was being courted by Universal Records. Wearing skimpy outfits and conforming to the industry stereotype of how a woman should dress Etana fell victim to her dreams of becoming a mainstream star. It wasn't her ideal fit but she conformed to the record labels requests and gave in to her groups glamorous appeal until one day while on a video shoot for their lead single she could bear it no more walking away from the spotlights and returning to her place of birth Kingston, Jamaica to start fresh as an entrepreneur looking to grab a piece of the Cyber Market with an internet cafe.
Down but not out Etana still wanted to do music but only in her own way, she wanted to send a different message and portray a more eloquent look and this opportunity came in 2005 when a friend brought her to Fifth Element who at the time was prospering from the strength of Richie Spice who was heavily booked for several American and European Tours. Auditioning for a shot at becoming the backup vocalist for Spice Etana vocally floored his management team and was handed a plane ticket to do a few shows in the U.S. The ensuing fifteen months followed with the now permanent songstress soaking up valued experience as a stage performer with performance credits in Europe and North America. Eager to make her own mark Etana boldly attempted a hit single one day while chilling with the guitar player and percussionist from Richie Spice's band. The idea had been floating in her thoughts for weeks and like magic the melody for her debut smash single "Wrong Address" was born. Simple yet effective the single was a fusion of jazz and reggae, it was the first of its kind and in 2006 the song was rewarded with heavy radio rotations plunging it in the number 1 position of several local charts.
Describing her style back then Etana was quoted as saying "I do music straight from the heart, straight from the soul, straight from the people I see in everyday life" and so came about her second major hit, the opener of this album "Roots" which was an intriguing mix of African and reggae cultural sounds fused with gospel influences and lyrics in Patois. The song became an anthem because of the definitive statement yu cyan water down and dilute / yu cyan hide the truth from the youths featured in its chorus and is followed by "Nothing But Love", the song produced by Big Yard's Robert Livingston most clearly showing the influence of Whitney Houston on her vocal delivery and the self affirming "Don't Forget" and the anthemic roots rasta tune "Jah Chariot", two truly beautiful Dean Fraser production. Carl James, who was also involved in the production of the recently released Jamelody album "Be Prepared" together with VP's Joel Chin created the irresistably catchy latin-influenced riddim for "Caltiberea System", according to Etana a code word describing any system that creates oppressors.
The brilliant self- and Jah confident "I Am Not Afraid" across No Doubt Records' 'Rub A Dub'-riddim produced by Kemar 'DJ Flava' McGregor is up next, followed by the heartfelt lovers tunes "More & More" and "I'll Be The One" of which the latter suddenly reminded me heavily of June Lodge, although Alaine certainly comes to mind as well. Robert Livingston takes over the production duties again for the smooth uplifting "Overcome" followed by the extremely impressive apocalyptic "Nuclear" (although that tune migth have been replaced on the retail release with Etana's duet with Alborosie "Jah Blessings", a fine tune but not as strong as "Nuclear"). "Live And Love Life" is a piano ballad that is perfectly sung but I do prefer to hear a reggae backing behind this powerhouse female voice like on "Closer", a brilliant lovesong over a dubby backing that fits Etana's flawless vocals like a glove followed by "Warrior Love", the Dean Fraser produced romantic tune with its African backing vocals that has been released as third single (after "Wrong Address" and "Roots") taken from this album.
Stephen 'Lenky' Marsden produced "Wasting My Time", a tune that also has enormous hitpotential, with its rootsy piano-driven dancehall backing and Etana's great vocals and strong lyrics about the fear her lover in the end might walk away. It is not only the combination of strong riddims backing her brilliant singing, but lyrically this album is convincing right from the first to the last syllable as well, making it such a pleasure to listen to. The final tune on this album is "Wrong Address", the semi-acoustic first release fusing reggae and jazz that put her on the map, something that this album definitely will do even better, as this is undoubtedly the best female roots debut album in years and Etana has delivered an album that no roots aficionado can afford to miss.