Tanya Stephens wants to make her audiences think


This year, the unrivalled queen of Rentolava stage was Tanya Stephens. Stephens is perhaps best known for speaking her mind in support of gay rights and more tolerance – not an easy feat in the conservative Jamaican society. We met her shortly before her gig in Ilosaarirock.

Challenges make you grow

The reactions in Jamaica have been mixed”, Stephens explains when I ask how she feels about her public role. Stephens has stern supporters, and then there are those with whom she tries to “have a dialogue”, as she formulates her attitude towards her opponents. Stephens is amazingly positive: “I have grown a lot from the controversies and debates; it is like I have been given a mirror.”

I, too, have been taught to think the same way as my opponents in Jamaica”, Stephens explains. “But as I grew up, I started questioning these views. I do not know whether I have converted anyone or not, but I’ve certainly made people to think. And to me, that is the most important thing.”

A life-long journey

Gay rights are not a gay issue, they are a human issue”, she reminds. Stephens feels it is her responsibility to work with the LGBT community: “It is necessary to counter the anti-gay tendencies in our society.” She is also involved in HIV awareness, and hopes that her work alleviates fears that stop people from getting help to themselves or from going to HIV tests.

However, campaigning for these good causes is not enough for Tanya Stephens. When I ask what other topics she might be taking up in he lyrics in the future, her reply is: “Everything”. “Everything I care about ends up in my music.”

The star explains how good causes and music are part of her life philosophy: “My music has evolved as I have grown up. When I was young, I was more concerned about my own security, about my job and things like that. But security is no longer that critical to me. Now, life is about my growth, I aim to become the best version of me. And equally well, to make the world the best version of itself.”

Dialogue makes the world a better place

Some Jamaican artists are effectively being shut out from European festivals as a reaction against their homophobic lyrics. In line with her quest for more tolerance, freedom of speech and hope to make people think themselves, Stephens would go the other way: “Those [homophobic] artists are a small group. But you make enemies of those artists if you lock them out.” She’d rather see an open debate taking place. “Invite us over – that will allow the Jamaicans see how you live, and that will also broaden your view about Jamaicans.” The core message of a ban is not humanitarian, but rather selfish, she thinks.

Stephens kicks off her European tour in Ilosaarirock

Ilosaarirock is the first stop in Tanya Stephens’ European tour. For some other performer, this could be a moment of high pressure and stress, yet Stephens maintains a very relaxed attitude: “We are making a little tour in Europe”, she says. “I brought my family with me, so it is half work, half holiday. And I’m only going to perform in places which I like.”

I’ve walked around the festival area a bit today. This is a nice festival”, Stephens says with a genuine smile. It is time to let the star go ready for he show.

Text: Tuulia Nieminen
Picture: Terhi Hytönen

Aihe(et): In English.