This past week, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise set sail from the Port of Miami with stops in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. For reggae and dancehall fans it provided a rare opportunity to see their favorite artists in an intimate setting as the ship sailed through the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. As one of the stage hosts joked it is “the only cruise where plantain is unlimited!” Plantains, jerk chicken, rice and peas, the island flavors did indeed run deep. This year’s artist line-up put a spotlight on the Marley family with Damian, Stephen, Ky-Mani and Julian all performing on separate nights, but it also featured a number of reggae and dancehall greats including Bounty Killer, Elephant Man, Tanya Stephens, Jah Cure, Capleton, and far too many more to name.
While aboard, FRANK151 had the opportunity to sit down with Tanya Stephens, who shared her thoughts on everything from social justice to what she has in store for 2016. Tanya has been an iconic voice in Jamaica’s music scene dating back to the late ’90s with her dancehall hit, “Yuh Nuh Ready For Dis Yet.” Casual reggae fans worldwide also know the hit single “It’s a Pity” by heart. Her studio albums Gangsta Blues and Rebelution both made Billboard’s Top Reggae albums list and in 2010 she released the Infallible LP for free. Most recently, she reminded fans of her lyrical prowess with the multi-genre album, Guilty. It seems as if she never stops working, yet has somehow figured out how to escape the creative slumps that often plague other prolific reggae and dancehall artists.
Here are 7 questions with Tanya Stephens:
Can you talk a bit about your path to success and any obstacles you’ve had to overcome along the way?
I have no path that I follow. I just do whatever comes naturally in each moment and I don’t believe in obstacles. I’m actually climbing so everything between me and my goal is a stepping stone. It has really been fun. It is the best job I could possibly think of having and I’m very grateful for it.
You write songs like “Turn The Other Cheek” that have distinct social messages; what are some of the social issues you currently care about?
I am really into social change for the better. I care about what’s happening especially in my country, but everywhere — socially and economically. I care about what’s happening with gender equality. I care about what’s happening with sexuality and the acceptance of people’s differences. What is going on with race. All of the differences that we make into a bigger deal than they should be I really care about and I think I am lucky enough to have the platform of music so I take that responsibility very seriously. I do love doing music for fun, but in the middle of the fun I do like to stick in something, even subliminally, something that stays with you and says, “let’s just share this space peacefully, let’s just get along.”
Are there any artists that you are currently working with or hope to work with that you would like to see perform on next year’s cruise?
Well I just did a collaboration with Jully Black from Canada and I’m such a big fan of hers. She is awesome. She’s amazing. So definitely, yeah! I would love to watch her on the cruise. But I’m a fan of music so I can’t be disappointed. I love any line-up.
What projects do you have in the works for this upcoming year?
I’m on an album right now. I’m just about finished. I am really not into deadlines. I work until I love it and then I put it out and right now I think I’m loving it so I will drop an album shortly.
How do you prepare for your live shows?
I don’t prepare at all (laughs). It’s supposed to be LIVE. For me, I have a very short attention span. I get bored. So it has to remain organic. It has to be something that is interactive. I have to communicate with people and it has to remain fresh for me to keep liking it. I don’t prepare at all.
You’ve been a household name in Jamaican music since you hit the scene in the late ‘90s what are your thoughts on the role that female artists play today? I know that artists like Jah9 and Kelissa have to come to represent this “reggae revival” of sorts, do you feel the industry is more open to women as of late?
I don’t think about the role that women play. I’ve never worked as a woman. I’ve only worked as an artist and I don’t like the distinction at all. I’m not offended by it because I love being a woman and I’m not denouncing my gender at all, but when I work I don’t work as a girl. I make songs that stand up next to any man. I’ve never been intimidated by any guy so I don’t know. Maybe there are people working for women, but it’s not me. I’m just being an artist.
Maybe I phrased that wrong. I guess more of what I was wondering is for a young girl in Jamaica who grows up and wants to pursue music is it less difficult, or has it stayed the same? Do you have any thoughts on that?
I’ve heard that it is more difficult, but honestly, I’ve never thought about it. The way I see it, my friends that I went to school with, who went off into different fields, some of them went to pursue a career in law or medicine, they had it really hard. They had to be up all night studying when I was in the studio hanging out, smoking weed and drinking. And I think I turned out pretty good! I had a job before they did, it doesn’t come with benefits and insurances, but it comes with so much that I can’t be ungrateful and I’m not going to call it a struggle because there is nothing you can possibly achieve without investing. That was my investment: going to the studio and toughing it out. And I’m tough so I don’t complain about that. I would say to the girls go into it not as a girl, but as an artist. This is an art form. It is about expression. It is about creativity. It is about, we are literally gods. We create everyday, every time we go into the studio. So go in there and be God-like. Just make some music and kick down the doors—don’t kick it with a girly foot either. Put on your bad boy shoes and kick it down and do the thing.