Etana’s third and latest album Better Tomorrow has received rave reviews and is her most cohesive and consistent to date. Reggaemani got a chat with her about the album, working with producer Shane C. Brown and how recording while being pregnant influenced her work.
In a reggae world dominated by men, Etana, real name Shauna McKenzie, has managed to gain worldwide success with hit songs such as Free, All I Need and her 2007-released debut single Wrong Address, also included on her debut album from the year after.
Etana, which means the strong one in Swahili, realized her potential and the power of music while living in Florida in the early 2000’s studying to be a nurse. She left collage and joined a female pop/R&B trio. Her strong, soulful voice and songwriting skills soon gained attention and she was asked to join Richie Spice as one of his backup singers and eventually it led to her own recordings.
Uplifting and inspirational
Her fusion of roots reggae, soul, jazz and pop has rendered her several awards and she has also been described as somewhat of an India. Arie or Alicia Keys of reggae. And that description is probably more accurate than ever when listening to her latest album Better Tomorrow.
I reach Etana on the phone from Florida. This is the second time I’ve had the opportunity to interview her, and just like the first time she’s low-key and eloquent as she answers each question.
“Better Tomorrow is meant to be happy and inspirational. An album you could play at home for hours, or even at a club,” she explains.
Many of the tracks are uplifting, lyrically as well as musically, but Etana takes on several hard topics as well. The title track, for instance, celebrates life itself and the blessings it brings, something that’s maybe taken for granted too often.
“A time to sing a brand new song, no more hungry children, no more tears,” she sings on Better Tomorrow, a track she penned after watching a National Geographic TV documentary about a little boy’s daily search at the dump for plastic bottles, which he would trade in for food.
“Whatever he found that day would be his family’s meals,” explains Etana, and adds:
“He found an overripe banana that you would normally throw out, but he was excited, jumped with joy and was willing to share and gave a piece of it to his sister. Even in the hardest times he was happy.”
Channel positive energy
She describes herself as an optimist and urges for a better tomorrow.
“There’s always a better tomorrow. People always complain how bad things are in their country. But that doesn’t bring any change. There has to be a better tomorrow,” she says with emphasis, and continues:
“I’ve to be an optimist. That’s where I’m today. If you keep thinking about the negative, and not the positive, you’ll keep creating more negative energy than positive.”
Recording while pregnant
While recording the album Etana was pregnant with her second child, a daughter born in November 2012, just three months before the album was released.
“Maybe at times I was affected by the pregnancy. All I Need was recorded at eight months, and it was tough doing the notes, but the rest was like nothing,” explains Etana adding that she channeled emotions and energy from the pregnancy into the album.
One of the songs, Til You Get Old, is Etana’s heartfelt pledge of love to her child, and the track also includes an actual birth. Not her own though.
“It’s our right to give birth. Giving birth and be happy about it,” she says.
One producer, one sound
Better Tomorrow is mainly recorded together with one single producer, Shane C. Brown, today probably best known for producing Busy Signal’s first reggae album and being the successful dancehall artist’s manager. The album was recorded with live musicians and Etana describes the album and the process recording it as a book with only one writer.
“Shane is very detailed and specific, but gives room to be creative, and he knew exactly what I wanted, where I was mentally. Spiritually we had a connection and it was easy to work with him,” she explains and gives an example:
“He could say ‘do the way you feel, do it your way, and then do it this way for me’”.
Etana is obviously satisfied with how the album turned out, but she doesn’t have any great expectations about it.
“I never expect this or that. I just wanted to put it out there. I want the world to appreciate it and I’m grateful for everything that comes with it,” she concludes.