Etana| Free Expressions
By Peggy Oliver
Her name is The Strong One in Swahili and she clearly lives up to her name. Etana shares all her thoughts in an old-school reggae style tossed with old-fashioned, unabashed soul that the urban music audience is dreadfully missing in the millennium. Though the artist whose birth name is Shauna McKenzie is receiving more press in the past few years, the road to fame was paved with many lessons learned personally and professionally. While living in Florida, she was part of the vocal band, Gift. During her tenure with the all girl group, her record company required Etana to compromise her ethical principals. Eventually she broke away back to her homeland of August Town, a suburb of Kingston, Jamaica. Soon another chapter would be written as the one time aspiring nurse joined acclaimed reggae vocalist and label mate Richie Spice on tour while gathering more experience for the future. Her first solo appearance was in Ghana, West Africa; a pivotal moment where her commanding stage presence and shear confidence brought adulation and respect from a growing international audience. With a wealth of hits in 2006 and 2007 like “Wrong Address,” “Warrior Love” and “Roots,” Etana was finally on the radar as a vocally mature, solid representative of roots reggae and a voice for the people struggling with pressing issues. Her debut disc from 2008, The Strong One, which included all the aforementioned singles, incorporated Etana’s love of reggae, soul, hip-hop and the adult contemporary pop of Air Supply. Etana kept busy with featured appearances on numerous reggae and riddim compilations including Riddim Drivin: Rocksteady and on a fundraising single supporting the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, “Rise Again.”
After releasing a three-song EP in 2010, Etana returns in 2011 with Free Expressions, where the singer/songwriter establishes an open book on liberation, love, pain, politics and anything else that crosses her mind. One of several singles off this VP disc, “Free,” is a cleansing anthem with an equally soothing soundtrack of acoustic guitar and keyboards: “Freeing
myself from everything that holds me captive.” For that special someone in Etana’s life “I Got You” simmers with southern soul that draws from Malaco, Hi & Stax Records heyday. Leaning in a hip-hop direction, “Venting” sends plenty of unapologetic messages about hypocrisy and the like; drenched in a heavy-hitting barrage of beats, vocal chants and strings. Etana cleverly shifts between aggressive chorus and angelic textures to increase the track’s intense mood. Of course, there are plenty of classic reggae roots along with touches of dub to choose from. The current single, “August Town” documents a recent dramatic event that occurred in Etana’s birthplace. ”People Talk” reflects her thoughts on how people may think, especially in the music business. “Retribution” presents a guidepost in how to handle our daily business: “Every day is a page from your biography.” The empowering “Moving On” provides the much needed getaway from a busted relationship:
“I’m going to find my favorite song in my car and drive real fast and go real far.” For the lover’s rock lovers, “Happy Heart” accommodates quite nicely.
These tracks are just some of the reasons why Free Expressions is a winning effort. With Etana’s secure vocal performances and stimulating lyrics, Free Expressions continues to fulfill the Strong One’s mission in proving music can strongly impact lives in so many ways.
The Urban Music Scene