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Etana performing at the Novo with "Klyde Records," Los Angeles, California | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Reggae Star Etana Emphasizes Equality (The Interview)

Q: I just love its riddim; I find it addicting. It also reminds me, in a sense, of Bob Marley’s “Pimper’s Paradise,” which is one of my favorite melancholy Bob songs. Although “No Money, No Love” is not directly referring to a prostitute, the essence is similar – “money tree in her garden and it haffi grow” – as you sing.

Etana: Exactly. (Laughing). Because, if you think of it, even with women who believe if you don’t have any money, I just can’t be with you, or, women who actually does that for a living – like, hey, you need money for this kind of service or, for this kind of love you need money – there’s different kinds of people in different situations who may feel that way. Even a wife in a house may feel, OK, my husband, he needs to come up to the plate. So yeah, it’s like not excluding anyone.

Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Q: Another very interesting dancehall-type track on the album is “6 minutes: 21 secs,” which of course concerns the drama surrounding your 2016 TV interview with Jamaican journalist Anthony Miller. Was that the exact length of that [infamous] interview with Anthony Miller, 6 minutes and 21 seconds, hence the name of the song?

Etana: (Laughing) I was told it was, initially. But then, when I saw it, it wasn’t. But, for some reason, it just sounded good.

Q: It does sound good.

Etana: Yeah, so I just left it there. And a lot of people still do ask, “why 6 minutes and 21 seconds?” So, when people asked me, when they said “tell me why the number,” I said I don’t know what the number means; so I went and looked it up. And it said something about “angel numbers,” and I was like “wow,” it kind of works with the story. If you look it up, you’ll see what I mean. It kinda just goes; it fits. (Laughing)

Q: Cool. I loved how in that song you turned it back on Anthony Miller and all of the haters who tried to suggest you had somehow betrayed Jamaica by discussing pressing social issues – which is something reggae stars should do.

Etana: Not a female! (Laughing)

Q I guess not – I guess not according to [some].

Etana: Not a woman! (Laughing)

Q: You talked about poverty and healthcare in [Jamaica, in that interview with Anthony Miller,] and I really liked how you turned it back on him by singing, “how mi fi turn mi back pon sweet Jamaica.” It’s almost lyrically as if you are rolling your eyes at anyone who would question your love and allegiance [to] Jamaica. Brilliant!

Etana: (Laughing) Thank you. I think one of the reasons I said it that way is, I knew that if I said “the minimum wage is too low,” or if I say, “there is no ambulance [service],” they’ll be like, “yeah, yeah, we know that already.” But to hear someone like me say, “I don’t think I’m going to spend the rest of my life in Jamaica,” if that’s just the way we have to live. And so then they were saying, “it’s not affecting you. Why are you talking about it?” That was the question. “You have your water, you have your money, so why are you speaking?

Q: That’s terrible. And I’m glad that that bad experience with Anthony Miller hasn’t made you shy away from talking about important [political, social, and economic] issues. Frankly, we need artists like you who have a stage to speak up. And I’m glad you still do. Now the other thing that happened during that interview [with Anthony Miller] that created a stir was you voiced support for Donald Trump – who was running for President at the time – a position I believe you not very long after said you regretted taking. [I believe] you [said] that you just didn’t know enough about the candidates and felt that you shouldn’t have taken a position. Especially publicly. Is that a fair assessment of that situation, and is there anything else you would like to add or say about it?

Etana: Not really. I just shouldn’t have – I now know that especially when you’re talking about politics, you need to know it all. You need to know as much as possible. About both sides; both people. And if you think you know enough, read some more.

Q: That’s excellent advice, especially in these times. Now recently there was yet another curious controversy about you in the Jamaican press. This concerned the fact you received a grant of $5,000 (U.S.) towards the 38-show tour you’re [wrapping up] tonight with [fellow reggae artists] J Boog and Jesse Royal.

Etana: Right. (Laughing)

Q: Personally, I thought the controversy that erupted concerning whether you should have been eligible to receive the money to be both mean-spirited and stupid. Why do you seem to be such a lightning rod in the Jamaican press?

Etana: (Laughing)

Q: I know you might say [like one of your most famous songs, “People Talk”], “people talk, that’s what they do,” but it does seem like the things you do are more highly scrutinized, and criticized, unfairly I think, more so than other reggae artists. Why do you think this is?

Etana: I think, again, it’s because I’m female. That’s it. Because if you really check it, if you go through the history of the media in Jamaica, some of the men have done some of the stupidest things, have done the craziest things –

Q: And they’re not scrutinized the same way?

Etana: Right, no, they’re not. At no time are they scrutinized the same way. I’ve seen other male artists who came out and said, “I’m gonna vote for Trump too because of blah, blah blah,” and they [the media] don’t say nuttin’ to dem. They don’t have to explain why they said that.

Q: Ultimately, it’s a sexism thing then?

Etana: Yeah. If you’re a female, and you’re not sleeping with everyone to get where you need to go, and if you’re not hunting them down to find your way . . . I guess.

Q: My reaction to the news you received the grant of $5,000 had nothing to do with whether you should have gotten the money or not – I definitely think you should have – but rather my concern about it was that, in the grand scheme, it was such a low amount of money for the [Jamaican] government to be giving. One of the things I’ve always been frustrated about [as a reggae fan], and which I always ask reggae stars I interview for comment on is this question: Why is there not more money, and more investment [generally], by the Jamaican government in reggae music?

Etana: The people know the music has taken Jamaica across the globe; Bob Marley did that [first]. And he’s probably one of the biggest reasons why people [come to] stay in Jamaica, besides marijuana, and the music, and the food. But I don’t think that the culture of Jamaica respects the music industry. Because they didn’t have to go to college. They didn’t have to spend four or five years to get a degree for it. And then it brings people who are downtown and suffering, and struggling, uptown, next to dem in dem big house.

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