Duane Stephenson telling his own story
STEPHENSON... It’s been great so far. I have surpassed many of the things I hoped to accomplish

Singer Duane Stephenson is one of those artistes quietly making an impact internationally and who perhaps doesn't yet get the type of ratings he deserves locally. But he aint mad at anybody. Duane is simply doing what he does best, "Music", he says with that reassuring smile.

Still basking in the success of his debut solo album project for VP Records, August Town, the former member of boy group, To-Issis, is looking to release his sophomore album by February 2010.

"This will be the second of a two-album deal for VP," he explained. "With the success of August Town, which was one of the best selling albums for VP for 2008, there is the temptation to duplicate it, but we are actually doing things a little different," Duane said.

Among the big tunes on August Town were the title track, which went number one in most of the Caribbean islands, except Trinidad, where it peaked at number 3; Ghetto Pain and the cover of the Tyrone Taylor hit single, Cottage In Negril.

The working title for the soon-to-be-released CD is Black Gold, and Duane is quite excited about this project.

"It's coming together very well," he enthused. "It's versatile, but like August Town, it's still anchored in roots reggae, which is my true love. However, over the years during my travels, I have become more exposed to world music, and have learnt what other people like, so that influence is definitely there. And we are also deliberately giving it some youth music, hence the decision to use Christopher Birch as one of the producers," he stated.

Duane noted that he believes in what he calls "intelligent music", whatever the genre. "Birch is one of those dancehall producers who keeps his things on a certain level. You will never see something half-baked out there with Birch's name on it," he said.

Among the other producers on the album are Duane himself and, of course, Dean Fraser.

Black Gold will have collaborations with Tanya Stephens, Jah Cure, Jimmy and Tarrus Riley and possibly one more artiste.

It was in summer 2004 that Duane embarked on his solo journey, having come to the realisation that after being with a group for almost 10 years, he needed to chart his own destiny. And he has no regrets.

"It's been great so far. I have surpassed many of the things I hoped to accomplish. I really can't complain," he said frankly.

He has been closely aligned to Dean Fraser and has opened for Tarrus Riley on occasions. "But I have been doing a lot of shows by myself as well," he told the Observer. "Lots of times Tarrus is in one part of the world and I am in another," he explained.

Increasingly popular within the Caribbean, he lists a show in the Dutch-speaking island of Suriname of this year as one of his most memorable. "They wanted me to come back three weeks after that event, but that felt like I would be exploiting them, so we set the date for next January instead."

Duane recently performed in Amsterdam at a concert headlined by Shabba Ranks, and that too, he said was a moment. "The promoters expected 5000 people at the Heineken Centre in Amsterdam, but over 8000 people turned out and they stayed till the last note. It was awesome," he recalled.

Yasmine Peru

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