Jamaican reggae dancehall artiste Shauna McKenzie better known by the stage name Etana at a press briefing in Ole Sereni Nairobi on October 27, 2021 ahead of her concert.

| Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Etana returns with new hit songs

What you need to know:

  • Etana's visit comes hot on the heels of her recently released eighth studio album 'Pamoja'.
  • Ever since her first tour in 2012, Kenya has always been a special destination for Etana.

When Jamaican reggae dancehall chanteuse Shauna McKenzie takes to stage today at the Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi, all she yearns for is a reminiscence of her last Kenyan tour in 2019.

During that visit on May 11 at Uhuru Gardens, Etana – the moniker she is popularly known by – justified the Sh6 million she pocketed after a thrilling performance, that at some point left lots of her fans very emotional.

“Aaah! The memories are still fresh. It feels like yesterday. The singing of my songs from the crowd, the voices that went up in the air to the point I couldn’t hear myself. They were deafening. Yes! That’s what I expect today. I do not want to hear myself.” Etana told the Saturday Nation.

Returning to Kenya for the fifth time, the Grammy nominated star who arrived on Wednesday, says her current visit is even super special.

“This is my fifth visit to this beautiful country. The first time I came in 2012, I was maybe six months pregnant. I never knew fans would sing as hard as they did. They didn't even care how my belly was. My return this time is super special for them.”

The visit comes hot on the heels of her recently released eighth studio album dubbed 'Pamoja', a Swahili word for togetherness.

The 16-track album carries four different collaborations with East African artistes. Three of the four are Kenyan singers. They are upcoming reggae artiste Michael Bundi, rapper-cum singer Naiboi, as well as legendary dancehall star Wyre, all who will be sharing the stage with the 37-year-old 'Weakness' hit-maker. Bongo flava sensation Nandy is also on the album.

Collabos with Kenyan singers

“Pamoja is extremely special. I have always wanted to collaborate. I don’t have a lot of collaborations purposely because I have tried to keep my music exclusive. And so I think it’s very special for my fans to hear an album collaboration from me with other artistes, especially from Kenya and Africa.”

Etana learnt of Wyre through his works. He is the only Kenyan who has been lucky enough to collaborate with a number of Jamaican stars, the likes of Alaine and Cecil.

“My manager and the team chose Naiboi. When they played his music for me, I agreed with them, that his voice was perfect for the 'Legacy' song. As for Bundi, it was all about fulfilling his dream. He made an appeal on Twitter saying that he wanted to do a song with Etana and it was his dream to meet me one day. I promised to make that dream come true and that makes me feel so good.”

Besides picking a Swahili word for the album, Etana’s fans will for the first time get to hear her belt out a song in Swahili, tonight when she performs her 'Malaika' rendition, which is also part of the album.

'Malaika', arguably the most awesome love ballad to have ever come out of East Africa, was officially recorded in 1960 by Fadhili Williams.

Though Kenyan, Tanzanians have also laid claim on the originality of the song, which they believe was first composed by their very own Adam Salim and later ‘stolen’ by his protégé Fadhili. Over the years, a number of artists from across the world have done their cover versions of the song.

Etana first learnt of 'Malaika' from a Chinese lady she met years ago, who was a huge fan of South African songbird Mama Africa, the late Mariam Makeba. Of the many hits Makeba is remembered for, her rendition of Malaika tops the list.

Contemplating retirement 

“She told me I reminded her of Miriam Makeba. When I went back to see her, she had passed on so I decided I would dig about Miriam Makeba. When I heard Makeba sing the song, I fell in love with it then. I decided to do it but went even deeper with the meaning because that is how I truly feel.” Etana adds.

With the release of the 'Pamoja' album, Etana is already contemplating retiring from music after over a decade in the industry. 

In June, she told the Sunday Nation that Pamoja would be her last album, but the tides appear to have changed the course.

“I did think that it would be the last because of all that it takes to complete an album. It’s expensive to create and promote but it lasts forever if you do it right. However, I am on the defensive of dropping two more albums so let’s not talk about quitting right now.” 

Ever since her first tour in 2012, Kenya has always been a special destination for Etana, who fell in love with its people thanks to the warm reception she received. She says this is the reason she has returned several times.

In 2019, Kenyans gave her yet another reason to love the country even more after her jam Love song released under her then record label, VP Records in 2014, became more popular in Kenya than it was in her native home Jamaica.

According to Kenya Music Facts 2019, a data analysis which was released by music streaming platform Boomplay, showed the song had the most streams among foreign ones in the country.

“I saw Kenya’s love in 2016 and I saw it before that in 2012. In 2019 it became clear to me that Kenya is my second home.” Etana told Jamaica Gleaner in 2020.

Annual Grammy Awards

So, does Etana enjoy as much support in Jamaica as she gets in Kenya?

“I will tell you this, Bob Marley once said that ‘the music will always go to its rightful place and its rightful people.’ I don’t think it has anything to do with me, it’s the power of the music. I am just the vessel.” Etana reacted.

Born in August town, Jamaica, the only girl in a family of boys started her music career as a backup singer of Jamaican reggae and roots legend Richie Spice in 2005.

At the time, Spice single Earth a Run Red was doing well worldwide. Etana successfully auditions to become one of Spice's vocalists on his European tour. After two years, she parted ways with the band to launch her solo career, releasing her first album The Strong One in June 2008.

Etana says despite her musical success, it has been very difficult rising to the top.

“Initially, when I went solo, one of the hardest things for me was to perform on stage with my own band. I have been called names by people who thought they could overrun me easily. You can think of any derogatory name a man can call a woman. Many are not used to dealing with a female who may talk too strongly.”

At the 61st annual Grammy Awards, Etana’s fifth album ‘Reggae Forever’ was nominated for the Best Reggae Album category making her the first female in over two decades to be nominated for a Grammy.

She is the only fourth woman to have been recognized on that prestigious stage after Judy Mowatt (1986), Rita Marley (1992) and Sister Carol (1997).

Although she never won the award, which went to Ziggy Marley’s album 'Rebellion Rises', Etana remains hopeful of becoming the first woman to win a Grammy in the reggae category.


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