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Tanya Stephens  

            The quintessential Jamaican singer/songwriter, Tanya Stephens is equally adept at blazing the latest dancehall riddims as she is at blessing an acoustic guitar-driven ballad with lyrics that are insightful, relevant, comical, and often scathing…...life and love observed with the honest eyes of a child, yet processed and returned to her audience with uncommon maturity and melody.  

Vivienne Tanya Stephenson’s career kicked off like so many others, free-styling with her crew on the corner.   As the second to last of seven kids, her musical influences were determined by “whatever everyone in the house was listening to.”  It was a mixed bag, including Smoky Robinson, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, American R&B, her mother’s “suggestive calypsonians, like Kitchner and Sparrow.  That helped me develop wit,” Tanya recalls.  “I discovered what they were talking about at a real early age.”  

 Singing on the mic at local sound system dances completed her musical education and it wasn’t long before she recorded her first track, ‘93’s “Is This For Real.” Included in producer Barry O’Hare’s Further East compilation, the tune announced the presence of a certified maverick within a business heavily populated by musical mavericks. “O’Hare’s really a musician, more melodic and musical,” says Tanya of the Ochie-based producer.  “If I had gone to Kingston first, I’d have just have jumped on a riddim.”  O’Hare produced her first album, 94’s Big Tings A Gwan, which set off a string of boomshots - the title track, “Love How Your Body Tan,” “Kick Way,” and “I Bet You Miss Me” - and established Tanya’s as an aggressive competitor armed with a gorgeous, rhythmic alto and a scathing wit.  

Daughter Kelly arrived the same year, but motherhood was a motivation, not a hindrance but a motivation. Tanya’s next CD, 1997’s Too Hype - a compilation of Tanya’s hit singles and new tracks that were actually demos,” slipped past her stringent quality control as it was released without her consent “and I couldn’t find the producer.”  Yet it contained initial recordings of “Goggle” and “Yuh Nuh Ready (Fe this Yet)” - hilarious yet commanding statements of female sexual empowerment.  Tanya had more input for 1998’s Rough Rider, a goldmine of hits that yielded “119,” “Part-time Lover” (a bow to Stevie Wonder but entirely Tanya’s), “Think It Over,” “Man Fe Rule,” and “Draw Fe Mi Finger.” For the writer/singer of tunes like “Big Ninja Bike,” an exuberant deflation of men who don’t deliver on sexual promises.  Tanya is about “trying to bridge the gap between men and women and puncture the myth that it’s a man’s world,” she explains, adding “I have no problem being a woman - I love it.”   

“I don’t like to sing mushy, hopeful stuff, that's not real to me. ” says Tanya. “I go straight for the reality of interpersonal relationships because I’m fascinated by people’s behavior. I don’t judge, I explore and look at things from different angles. I hate being categorized as a female because my job has nothing to do with gender. Don’t say I’m one of the best female lyricists in Jamaica ; you’re not really complimenting me at all. There’s so few females and even less who ACTUALLY WRITE their own stuff!" 


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