'Write' Stuff


'Write' Stuff

Tanya gets it 'write'

Observer senior reporter

Friday, February 15, 2019

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When the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) hands out its Honour Awards on March 5 at the Little Theatre in St Andrew, Tanya Stephens will be among the recognised.

Stephens — known for hits such as Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet, It's a Pity, These Streets, Boom Wuk, What's your Story, Pon Di Side and After You — is being acknowledged for her contribution to the reggae industry as a songwriter.

She admits not being into awards and award shows, but felt she would be a hypocrite had she not accepted this one which recognises her songwriting skills. It is an element of the music industry which she has advocated improvement over the years.

“I am really happy for this one. Over the years I have always advocated for artistes to invest more in songwriting. I usually brush these things aside but if I did this time, it would be like I am going against what I have always stood for. If I can use this as an opportunity to inspire future artistes or even the young ones in the business at this time, then it would be worth a lot,” she told the Jamaica Observer's Splash.

Her songwriting skills have long been recognised. Many point to Stephens' catchy turns of phrase and the mature manner, which she writes on topics that have been previously given simplistic, pedestrian treatment.

For Stephens, the secret to her songwriting lies in one word... honesty.

“I really write about topics and issues that are of interest to me. So that allows me to bring an honesty to the material. It is not just issues with which I have had personal experience, but also issues which will be of interest to my audience. So, in one sense, I am writing for myself and at the same time not writing for myself,” she told Splash. “When I write I reflect my ideas and philosophy on a particular topic. Most times it is thought-provoking, as I hope it will spark conversation. I take on potent topics which others shy away from, such as abortion, rape, poverty, with the hope that I can do them justice, start a conversation and break stereotypes.”

According to Stephens, “I believe my work can be viewed as refreshing as it says what others think but are afraid to say. For example, you rarely hear persons write or sing about their flaws. Most people write and sing about always being at their best; I tell you that I have flaws, don't always have good hair days, not always feeling sexy. I think a lot of people can relate this and therefore find something to connect with in my writing.”

Long before a career in music, she recognised the value of language and literature and credits her older sister, Rhona Spence, who was a English teacher at Ocho Rios High School, for fostering that love of reading and words.

Stephens recalled her sister commanding her to write an essay summarising a holiday experience following the school summer break. This, she said, was critiqued, corrected and graded.

Her teachers at St Mary High school also played a part in guiding the interest and talents of young Tanya Stephens.

Formal writing began with poems and short stories. She pointed to Miss Ramraj, a Guyanese teacher of English at St Mary High, as being the first to acknowledge her abilities.

Musically, Stephens' first song of note came in the early 1990s. Titled Is This For Real, it was recorded on the Far East rhythm and recorded for Ocho Rios-based producers Barry O'Hare and Stephen Stewart. Yuh Nuh Ready fi Dis Yet, produced by Dave Kelly, was her breakthrough hit in 1995.

Stephens pointed to the songwriters who influenced her style.

“I am a huge fan of people like Beres Hammond, Ernie Smith and, of course, Bob Andy. I pay tribute to Ernie and Bob Andy in my music; these are national treasures. Then there are people like Smokey Robinson. He has a way of conveying emotion with his lyrics. If you doubt me just listen to Tracks of My Tears. There is a fearlessness which I love. Then there's Burt Bacharach and Diane Warren... there is not much you can say with these two; they are just amazing. Look at the list of songs they have written,” she said.

Stephens writes not only for herself. Her signature is on the track, Spread Love, which is on Etana's Grammy-nominated album Reggae Forever. She also writes for artistes outside of Jamaica.

“I am really proud of the song Rock The Cradle which I wrote for Sanne Salomonsen from Denmark. In addition to the fact that, she can sing, when I listened back to the track I have to ask myself, 'A me really write that?”

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