“It someone had told me when I was 20 that 40 was so sexy, I would have never believed them!” --Tayna Stephens, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2016
Let’s get one thing straight. Tanya Stephens thinks that she is the greatest thing since, and before, sliced bread. And the prolific reggae/dancehall singer /songwriter is proud of it, too, with more than 20 years of music to her credit.
After her riveting performance at the 23rd Annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival at Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, CA (www.snwmf.com) on June 18, Stephens addressed the media in the press tent. In fewer than 20 minutes, she became our BFF. As Stephens was escorted from the stage to the press tent, she was literally mobbed by fans who showered her with hugs, kisses, gifts and praise.
Stephens, who rose to popularity with her risqué dancehall hits and love songs such as “Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet,” Draw fi Mi Finger,” “Boom Wuk,” “Goggle,” “It’s a Pity,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “These Streets” said she prefers not to be labeled as a “female” artist. Stephens said her most feared question is “what advice would you give to young women who aspire to break into the music industry?”
“I would say, try not to take too much advice, because there’s no one way to do this,” said the dusky voiced singer, who performed on the SNWMF bill with world music greats such as Etana, Beres Hammond, Toots and the Maytals, Leroy Sibbles and others that weekend. “What works for Tanya Stephens may not work for another female coming into the business. It’s changed since I came in. I would say, don’t be labeled as a ‘female’ artist, just be an ‘artist.’ Stop being intimidated by the word ‘fraternity’ and stop thinking that this is a male dominated industry. They may be many in terms of numbers, but in terms of potency, not so much. We have them beat. Just come in, kick down the door and do your thing. Don’t be hung up on the ‘female’ label; our job is not sexual. I know that people mean well when they compliment me by saying that I’m one of the best female artists, but I feel marginalized by my gender. I look at women and I see no competition. That may sound egotistical to some people, but I’m not an accidental artist. I work very hard. If you hear me put out 10 songs, it means I made maybe, 150 songs. I demand more than just the title female artist. It’s like saying all right, we need some breasts, and I don’t even have that much breasts.”
To date, Stephens has recorded nine solo albums including “Big Things a Gwaan (1994), “Too Hype” (1997), “Work Out” (1997) “Ruff Rider (1998) “Sintoxicated” (2001) “Gangsta Blues” (2004) “Rebelution” (2006), “Infallible” (2010) and “Guilty” (2013).
Stephens has released more than 100 singlesand collaborated with artists such as Lady Saw, Bounty Killer, Shabba Ranks and Marcia Griffiths to name a few.
“I’m a woman when I’m with my husband; I’ve been married for a few years,” said Stephens, who turns 43 this year. “But I don’t see that as something that defines me. I don’t complete him and he doesn’t complete me; we’re just two people who are doing this together. When I’m with my husband, I’m his woman, but with you guys, I don’t have to be a woman, do I? ‘Cause we’re not all sleeping together now are we? I need to be a woman for our kids because they need a mother. But when we are working together, why can’t we just be people? If we embrace the terms “women’ and female,” we embrace marginalization and the limitations put on us.”
After performing at SNWMF, Stephens headed to Europe to play the summer festival circuit. Yes, she has a new album in the works, but right now Stephens is taking it easy and loving it.
“It feels nice; it feels like the best of me, really, said Stephens. “So, I’m in no rush. I’m working on a new album, but I haven’t completed it yet, not to my liking. I have to like it first. And when I like it, then I will think that it deserves your ears; and I will release it. I have no record label; I have no boss, I have no deadline. I can take my time, and I hope you guys will exercise some patience. I have to live up to my own expectations and meet my own standards. That’s my process.
“I’m grateful that you give me a platform, and the fact that people actually like what I do is amazing,” said Stephens. “Nobody has to like my music. Of course, I think that I’m the greatest thing since or before sliced bread, but nobody has to agree with me.”
Oh, and another thing, Stephens has a wild and wicked sense of humor and her sharp wit shines through in her lyrics and conversation. One member of the press asked about her brief business venture as a bar and restaurant owner in Ocho Rios.
“That was not a good pairing,” said Stephens. “Just think about it; me with a bar! (laughed). That didn’t work out. I was my best customer, but that was bad for business.”
Stephens, who hails from St. Mary, grew up in a typical Jamaican household which means that she was influenced by country western music, gospel and Calypso. One of her first influences was Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener, who inspired Stephens’ love of writing with his double entendres. Stephens also considers SNWMF Saturday night headliner Beres Hammond a great writer. As a student of literature, Stephens loves a good story—the plot, the suspense, the climax. Sidney Sheldon is her favorite novelist; she collects his books in hard and soft cover.
Stephens’ also gushed about one of her biggest musical influences, Motown heavyweight William “Smokey” Robinson.
”Influence is a mild way of putting it,” said the Stephens. “I’ve been in love with Smokey since I was about 10 years old. ‘Tracks of My Tears’ is my all-time favorite song; it’s been my favorite since I was in grammar school.”
To the delight of everyone in the press tent, Stephens crooned a few bars of “Tracks of My Tears.”
“People say I'm the life of the party 'Cause I tell a joke or two/Although I might be laughing loud and hearty/Deep inside I'm blue…”
“I don’t collect keepsakes; I’m not a person who takes a picture with an artist to say ‘look who I’m standing next to,’ because I think I am all that and more,” said Stephens. “A friend brought me an autograph from Smokey, and that’s the only (memorabilia) I’ve kept throughout my entire career. Smokey Robinson was the soundtrack of my childhood and my adulthood. Every pain I’ve felt, I’ve cried with Smokey. I literally cried with Smokey. It’s crazy; you know me and Smokey’s relationship. He doesn’t know we have one.”
Ironically, Stephens said she has no desire to duet with her idol any time soon. “You know what, I don’t like meeting the people I really, really love, because then, they become human. And the truth is, no human can live up to your expectations, so I don’t want to spoil Smokey for me. I would rather Smokey stay just the way he is, over there with his fabulously-getting-younger self.”
Stephens’ currently has another great love, former presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. She even wrote a song for him called “Bernie a di Realist.” https://soundcloud.com/j…/tanya-stephens-bernie-a-di-realist
“Listen, for me Bernie Sanders is not about politics,” said Stephens. “Bernie taps into everything I feel inside as a human; everything I’ve wanted. You know, the peace. The caring for each other. Doing what we know is right as opposed to what is popular and what is on the books. We wrote the damn books so we can change the books. This is what Bernie stands for. So, for me, it’s not even about winning or losing, it has nothing to do with the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I’m not an American and I can’t even vote here! Bernie is inspiring people all over the world to fight and rebel against what we know is wrong with the system. This country is rich! There shouldn’t be any poor people. Just like Jamaica is rich! There shouldn’t be anyone starving! Even if he is not running for president, I’m with Bernie forever. I love that man! He’s kind of rivaling Smokey right now.”
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