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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: Is it right that this culture you’re talking about, this society in Jamaica that is not allowing reggae to rise up to the place where it should be, that it’s a very conservative, Christian-dominated [segment of society] in Jamaica. True?

Etana: Yes. And classism is a big thing too. You know, uptown-downtown.

Q: [Like your hit song,] “Wrong Address?”

Etana: Yes. Exactly. Reggae music is supposed to be poor people music; it tells the story of the people.

Q:  And that’s not the story they necessarily want told?

Etana: Right.

Q: Staying on the topic of important investment in Jamaica, could you describe the charitable foundation you created in Jamaica, “The Strong One Foundation?”

Etana: It’s geared towards education. And I feel like there are lots of talented young people in Jamaica. But they don’t have the same opportunities [as] some of the [other] kids there. Most of the times, especially the very poor ones, they stay at home – with no shoes, one uniform, no lunch money to go to school. No books – they go to school and they have no books to use. Because it’s not like in America where they give you the textbooks while you’re in the school, and you use the books and you put [them] back on the shelf.

Q: You have to buy them?

Etana: Yeah, you have to buy them, every one of them.

Q: And this is a situation I’m sure that ties in to the crime problem in Jamaica?

Etana: Everything. Everything. And so, I think that the little part that I can play, that I’m obligated to do, because I managed in my life, and my mother did the best that she could to manage, to be in a better position than they are. So I feel like if I find myself in a position to help, I should.

Q: Respect. That’s beautiful. Last question, and thank you again for this time. On May 27, 2015, The Human Rights First Organization issued a press release that said: “Jamaican singer Etana takes a stand for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.” And this press release noted that you said that the hatred of LGBT people goes against Rastafarian principles –

Etana: It does.

Etana with writer Stephen Cooper at the Novo, Los Angeles, California | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Q:  – that every human has a right to determine his, or her, or their, own destiny. Now that same press release discussed Buju Banton’s very well-known [and popular] song “Boom Bye Bye.” [That song] repeatedly mentions “batty bwoy,” which of course is a derogatory reference to gay people –

Etana: Yes.

Q: – and the press release said it was “a song that celebrates shooting a gay man.” Do you think when Buju Banton is released from prison (soon) that he has an obligation to correct the musical record as it concerns that very well-played track? I mean this is a [song] I can remember when I was in high school, I sang, I didn’t even know what the words meant.

Etana: Wow. How did you feel after [learning]?

Q: Terrible, now that I’m an adult. I don’t know how I would have felt if I had known as a youngster, whether I would have been immature about it and still thought that it was a cool song. But now, being older, and understanding the terrible discrimination LGBT people face –
Etana:  – and what they go through in [Jamaica].

Q: And so I thought about a number of things Buju Banton could do: He could issue a public service announcement; he could write and start singing a new song that shows a belief in the humanity of all people –

Etana: That would be a better one. (Laughing)

Q: At a bare minimum, he could publicly disclaim the lyrics and say that they were wrong –

Etana: And that he denounces them.

Q: Do you think he should do this?

Etana: Yes. Because there are so many gay people in Jamaica. From the very low-income communities all the way up to the highest income. It’s a broad spectrum of people. And so I don’t get the homophobia anymore. I think it has to do with pride and the Christian culture.

Q: Is [the situation] improving?

Etana: Yes, because gay people now walk the streets together. Not to say that they are 100% safe either; I had a [gay] friend who was murdered in his house, Dexter, who was a makeup artist. And for days, I couldn’t eat properly, I couldn’t sleep, I kept having dreams. I kept picturing him going through the house, ‘cause I know the inside of the house, and I kept picturing what happened, and kept thinking, why did it happen? And asking myself a lot questions, and there were just no answers.

Q: That’s terrible. I’m sorry. And I want to thank you for being such a strong voice on this and so many other important issues affecting Jamaica.

About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq