The who’s who of entertainment and Jamaican business crammed backstage at Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records to congratulate Tanya Stephens on an enthralling performance. The Appleton-sponsored ‘Tracks Live’ set last Thursday marked Tanya’s major return to the local stage in two years, and the exaltation was wildly kinetic – even at 1 a.m.
“Tanya, what do you want to drink? I’ll get you anything,” Gary Matalon, CEO of KLE Group (which manages the restaurant) declares.
“It feels good when people seh my work did something for them.”— Tanya Stephens
A sea of fans had ushered Stephens to the small room, with phones in hand ready to record a snap or selfie with the no-holds-barred star, while others were satiated with just a hug.
“I’m not an awards kind of person, but it feels good when people seh my work did something for them or touched them,” Tanya told BUZZ. “I want to be a part of people’s journey. Mi waan be a part of something more tangible than just external validation. Mi waan fi be useful inna people life, so when I hear that my music means a lot to someone I get emotional. If I can be a positive influence that makes me happy.”
Critically acclaimed album
This year marks 15 years since the release of her critically acclaimed fifth studio album, Gangsta Blues, but it goes unnoticed to Tanya.
“People tell me it’s a classic, but I don’t get lost in the words because if you get too caught up in praise, comparisons and descriptions, it feeds your ego, and I really don’t want that,” she said. “If it was that good then I feel like I need to top that, and that’s the only time I think about the album really. Other people say it’s great, but I kinda find it annoying cause dem tag you to it and it’s like Steve Urkel being stuck in that role and him want other roles… I love the album, but mi do other stuff too.”
The sexually and socio-political album was released in 2004, three years after the release of Tanya’s soft-pop, reggae album Sintoxicated, released by Warner Music while she resided in Sweden.
Romance and broken society
Collaborating with a host of producers and musicians, including Andrew Henton, Philip ‘Fatis’ Burrell, Barry O’Hare and Robert ‘Bobby Digital’ Dixon, Gangsta Blues hosted 17 tracks released by VP Records and Tarantula Studios.
The album title provides an inkling into the ebbs and flows of romantic relationships, balanced with the toughness of navigating a broken society and bigoted system.
Stephens unapologetically exudes her sexuality on tracks like Boom Wuk and Good Ride, is the villain in the ‘jacket’ case of Little White Lie, has side chick buyer’s remorse in Tek Him Back and switches roles as the devout wife in What’s Your Story. There was also It’s A Pity, the ‘Doctor’s Darling’ rhythm hit, The Other Cheek, an anthem for the marginalised, and even some spoken word.
Rise to fame
The album was followed by Rebelution in 2006 and Infallible in 2012.
A lot has changed since Tanya’s rise to fame, making it challenging for her to find inspiration.
“I reach for new people with new music (like producer Triple L) cause inspiration is a very fleeting thing, mi nuh driven by the same things anymore,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate; a one-room mi come outta, mi caan tell when last mi inna one room. Mi nuh know weh it feel like fi nuh eat, in fact mi a eat too much. Now mi a try struggle fi tek off the weight cause mi waan be back to mi meagre self so mi nuh have dem same motivation deh.”
“Mi nuh driven by the same things anymore.”— Tanya Stephens
She said that she has been working on an album for a few years, but will not release it unless it is representative of who and where she is today.
“At one point I didn’t want to put out an album because #MeToo was going on and all the songs kept leaning in that direction, and then something else was going on and it was the same thing,” she said. “I don’t want to put out an album full of songs featuring depression, I don’t want to immortalise that, so I kept pushing back and now I’m back to my mischievous self.”
The album’s name is not set, but Tanya hopes the songs will spark discussions in progressing Jamaica forward. This is also another challenge.
“It’s very hard because we’re not an open people. We’re really not into change, but we keep saying we want better and better is change but we don’t want to change nothing,” she said. “It’s very frustrating, but mi still a try wid the conversations and hope that eventually they’ll stop cussing me and just listen first cause as soon as mi talk, Jamaica just slide right down mi throat. It’s a whole bunch of okra out there and at times it gets tiring. I hope soon they’ll understand that I’m on their side. I live here, and I wouldn’t suggest anything that would make me uncomfortable cause mi a go experience everything weh me a suggest.”