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Etana Speaks on Being a Woman in Reggae

Etana Speaks on Being a Woman in Reggae

Posted by Shanelle Weir on November 19, 2014

Since she first came on the scene in 2007 with her debut single, “Wrong Address,” Etana has been one of reggae’s strongest female voices. Over the last six years, the August Town-born singer has emerged as a leader for women in the genre, headlining all-female bills and speaking out against double standards faced by her and other artists.

As we spotlight the often-overlooked role of women in reggae with our “Empresses + Queens” series this week, we couldn’t think of a better person to start with than Etana. The singer, who celebrates the release of her latest album, I Rise, with a show tonight at SOBs in New York City, spoke with us at sea, somewhere between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, following her performance on last month’s Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise.


The mission with [Etana's original record label] 5th Element was: We were gonna teach people in the industry how to deal with female artists. Though there were female artists like Lady Saw and Lady G out there, it was still hard for other females to come up. It seemed like females were never dealt with fairly. They were still paid less than the men, or disregarded as not being important on the flyer… If you look at billboards from the past five years, you will see females as headliners. Which was not the case a while back. People are now attempting to do all-female lineups, which nobody has ever done before in reggae. I think females are being taken a lot more seriously. There has been progress and change but we have a long way to go.


I’m still fighting to perform the way I want to. One of my battles is being able to travel with my own band or to have my whole team with me. It’s still a battle that I face every day. I think the best performance that I can give is always with my band.

I want to get to the point where people stop looking at females as females and just look at you as an artist. When I saw Hillary Clinton say on TV that, even in the White House, women are being treated as second or less than men, I knew at that moment that I was not alone and that what I was feeling was real.

A lady came up to me a while back and said: “You will not believe what your music has done for my daughter. She was going in the wrong direction. And I gave her your music, and now she is almost like a replica of you, she wears her hair the same way, she’s not as rugged and she’s not getting into fights…” And she started to cry like it was really bad for her to deal with. I’ve met people who came up to me and just cried and said the music took them through the hardest times.

It’s only in Jamaica that people believe reggae is dying. That is not so at all. I think people need to find your favorite artist and support them, and their music. And women, if we don’t get together and support ourselves, I think there will be no reason for anyone to treat us equal to men. The competition and all of the things we do, calling each other names, disrespecting females, jealousy–we need to overcome all of that and come together, and that is when we will be respected or treated as equal.


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