JA’s Finest Female Roots Reggae Artist
Empress Etana is a highly spirited, Soulful and Rootsy singer/songwriter blessed with an enchanting eloquence. Such was her charisma that, as soon as she touched down in Kingston Town, Shauna McKenzie was hailed as one of the most promising and sensational female sounds in Jamaica’s burgeoning Roots Reggae arena. This recognition is accredited to her unique and expressive vocals which sachet her songs as well as the compelling lyrical content she delivers. Albeit, this young lady, a diminutive one at that, in a largely male-dominated industry made her presence felt even more powerfully with her words of wisdom than her delightful chords could ever express. From the issuing of her debut single, ‘Wrong Address’ consistently through to current gems on her ‘Strong One’ set, Etana has created tidal waves throughout the international musical landscape. To witness her live performance is to experience an intriguing mix of the sultry and meditative - her body rocks and dances as her voice excels and her musical testimonies are as edifying as they are captivating.
Etana’s beginnings may have been humble but, this has greatly influenced her intense passion for music, the sense of maturity and respect with which she approaches her art. Her roots are sunk deep in August Town, Jamaica, the home base of Reggae icon Sizzla but, her feet are physically planted in Miami, Florida after she migrated there with her family when she was nine years old. When she returned to the island, the Fifth Element Management Team were floored by her powerful and occasionally raspy alto vocal chords and immediately asked her to join Richie Spice’s touring party as a backing vocalist in 2005. The ensuing few years saw Etana step up and walk out to soak up some of the limelight, gracing stages in Europe, North America and independently in Africa.
From Reggae through to Jazz, her musical influences are varied and though she is not one to subscribe to labels, Etana describes her brand of music as Reggae Soul. “It is straight from the heart, straight from the soul, straight from the people and everyday life”. Operating from the Solid Agency and the iconic Fifth Element Records, when Etana released her debut set, ‘The Strong One’, it became an instant classic!
Roots Reality & Cultural Reggae Music
One of Reggae music’s most authentic Roots and Cultural vocal groups, The Abyssinians, have been singing about African redemption, humanity and brotherly love from way back in the late 1960s. Vocal harmony groups are the pillars on which the tower of Jamaican popular music was built. Gifted solo singers formed the walls and on all of this grew the solid foundation of exceptional musicians and melodious groups; the true icons of Reggae music today. Among the groups which readily spring to mind in random order are the likes of The Wailers, The Paragons, The Techniques, The Tenors, The Melodians, The Uniques, The Heptones, The Pioneers, The Jamaicans, The Sensations, The Claredonians, The Ethiopians, The Dominoes, The Tamlins, The Soulettes, The I-Three… the list goes on and on. These groups were known for their particular features and characteristics; whether as special lead vocals, variable leads or the superb skill of harmonizing and inter-changing in unison.
Each group had its signature sound - whether it was Lovers Rock, Roots & Culture, Reality Vibes or even a combination of all of these. One group that irrefutably personifies and captures the very essence of Roots & Culture music is The Abyssinians. The Manning Brothers of Donald & Lynford with lead vocalist Bernard Collins are the original members of The Abyssinians. Their beautiful harmonies has earned them the distinction of creating and recording one of Reggae music’s most popular Roots & Culture anthems, the definitive ‘Satta Massagana’, a song that was self-produced and released in 1969 on their own Clinch Label. This trademark song was recorded using the facilities of the legendary Studio One turf with Leroy Sibbles on bass. Without question, this song has become one of the most re-recorded, performed, re-licked song and rhythm by present day artists as it carries a prophetic message of hope of the ‘Promised Land’. Back together again, after years of separation, the same original members of The Abyssinians have toured the world over (including Europe, Japan, USA) working extensively to promote their music to a new generation of fans.
Foundation Roots artist Anthony Robinson’s stage name is Tenastelin which, interestingly, is an Amharic greeting. He was born of Jamaican parentage in East London, coincidentally, in the same hospital as Boxing Legend, Lennox Lewis and had attended the same infant school. His first professional singing experience was with the ‘Coptic Roots’ band, formed by Ras James Anderson in the ‘80s. He moved to Northampton for a few years where his first taste of studio recording was with the Earthquake Studio. When he moved back to London, he started recording with Keety Roots’ ‘Vibes Posse’ and released his first single, ‘Commercial Bwoy’ on that label with a tune called ‘Burial Tonight’ on the flip side. At that time, ‘Roots music’ and ‘Dub’ seemed to be dying out whilst other styles known as ‘Ragga’ or ‘Bashment’ were emerging.
The Roots and Dub music, known then as ‘Steppas’, was rapidly spreading to other communities such as Europe. “You had legends like the Twinkle Brothers and the great Jah Shaka who kept the genre alive. I saw that the music was expanding so, I chose to sing songs that represented that change and transition instead of leaving it to others coming in and trying to change the music from its originality which, is (and must always be) the ‘Rastafari vibes’! The ‘Steppas’ style has now developed into what I would call the ‘Dub Arena’ - this is where the big, powerful Sound Systems would play awesome ‘modern Steppas tunes’, vocal and versions. My latest album, ‘Unknown Legends’, was directly composed for that mode, even though it can also be listened to quietly”, he explains.
To date, Tenastelin has issued eight albums and numerous singles. His albums are: ‘Wicked Invention’ (1989), ‘Sun And Moon’ (1992), ‘Take A Look At The World’ (1994), ‘Sacred Songs’ (1996), ‘The Order’ (self-produced, 1998), ‘Lion Symbol’ (1999), ‘Cosmic Intervention’ (2004) and the aforementioned, self-produced ‘Unknown Legends’. Currently, there's an album produced by ‘Iration Steppas’ released last year and some singles for ‘Reggae Remedy’ of France. There’s also ‘Spiritual Kinsmen’, a 10 inch single out on the Roots Hi-Tek label and ‘Richest Continent’ on the Black Legacy label.
Tenastelin prefers to work with a ‘live band’ rather than doing PAs. He describes himself as ‘aloof’ and has no manager or agent so his ‘live appearances’ have been few and far between. However, he has worked with bands on specific shows over the years like his own Lionistics Band, Dub Asante and even a band from the Middle East called Israel Dub Foundation. He continues to write and record songs mostly at his own ‘Dub Corner’ studio yet, if the opportunity arose, he would record for other labels and is looking to increase his live performances.