Shauna ‘Etana’ McKenzie-Morris: ‘The Strong One’ showing her mettle in life and music

Yasmine Peru

April 15, 2022

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It is quite significant that Etana’s 2008 debut album was titled The Strong One – it was a statement, an affirmation, and a celebration all rolled into one.

The twice-nominated Reggae Grammy Award singer has distinguished herself by her work ethic and ability to remain singularly focused on her music, regardless of the challenges. Etana is that girl who holds her head regally high as she reps reggae music and Brand Jamaica, and even smiles graciously if the occasion arises for her to chant some lyrics such as Lion Paw, while making a trod through the Gideon.

One of Flair’s The Distinguished recipients for 2022, Etana freely admitted that being honoured in this way was something she had never contemplated.

“Are you serious? The Distinguished Award,” she said, as if savouring the sound. “That’s so cool. It always feels good to know that people are watching your work and appreciate what you do. I am humbled and thankful.”         

Shauna McKenzie-Morris, known by her stage name Etana, has a silver-lining-to-every-dark-cloud perspective on life, and it was this attitude that guided her through the torrents of the pandemic.

“Since COVID, I realised just how much I could have been doing before. It took away my life, especially in 2020 – no performances, no tours for the whole year – but it also opened my eyes. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ But I have been kept busy recording new music. I had some time, and I stayed creative,” Etana shared.

Between 2019 and 2022, she ended up doing a total of four albums, one of which is an acoustic offering and another which was recorded in Kenya. Etana and her team travelled to the African country where she did a live performance, which is now being edited for the live album.

The Strong One expressed joy at being able to emerge out of the pandemic stronger than before.

“It was a time that, unfortunately, took a toll on so many people. Some went through divorce and all kinds of upheavals, while others experienced depression. But I am really thankful that I can be here and be a part of that vital healing process. And to receive another Grammy nomination was such a boost for me personally. For that album, Pamoja, I focused more on my fans and just reaching people. I have learned that it is not about the style of your music; it is more about the message and connecting with people. Once you find out what your mission is, then you will do exactly what you came here to do,” Etana said wisely.

Etana grew up in the community of August Town in eastern St Andrew before migrating to the United States, where she attended Broward Community College with the intention of becoming a registered nurse. But fate – another name for music – stepped in, and, upon bidding college goodbye, she joined up with a female vocal group named Gift. She “reluctantly agreed to wear the skimpy outfits dictated by the music industry’s pervasive stereotyping of female artistes”. Then, one day, she “could no longer conform”, so she hopped on a plane to Jamaica and embraced the type of music that reflected her own principles.

The year 2005 was a seminal one for Etana, as she linked with Fifth Element Records and successfully auditioned to become one of Richie Spice’s vocalists on his Earth A Run Red tour of Europe and North America.

She eventually embarked on her solo journey and released songs such as Wrong Address, the acoustic-folk fusion with roots reggae rhythms; Roots, which was inspired by her travels to Africa, and recorded the collab, If Tomorrow Never Comes, with New Zealand singer Swiss, which climbed to number one on the New Zealand top 50. Her albums include Free Expressions, Life Teachings, Better Tomorrow, I Rise, the Grammy-nominated Reggae Forever, Dimensions, Gemini and Pamoja.


Yasmine Peru


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