Tanya Stephens wins over the hearts of reggae fans

The Jamaican Tanya Stephens plays laid-back, pop-influenced reggae. A happy mood takes over the Rento Stage beach as she kicks off her set with upbeat love songs. It feels so good to be in love! Stephens reminds me of Whitney Houston – or, more precisely, a reggae version of Whitney. Stephens has a Jamaican accent, and it takes me a while to get used to it and to start to understand the lyrics.

The joyous songs are followed by some slower ones that prove how multifaceted Stephens is. The Ilosaari line-up includes Jamaican artists every year, and amongst them Stephens is worth her penny. Of those that I have seen, she communicates with her audience most. Gradually, the meaning of the lyrics starts to dawn to me, too. The song is about a hot ride, and Stephens asks her audience about the kind of bikes they ride… I don’t think we are talking about vehicles with pedals and two wheels here!

The journey with Tanya Stephens continues. Love has died, and after being painfully cheated on, divorce is the only option left for Stephens. Again, Stephens shares her innermost experiences with the audience. I could have either gone to see a therapist, or hit the bottle, she explains. So next we learn all about her favourite bar, where she drowns her sorrow… and when she no longer feels the sorrow, keeps on drinking just for the fun of it. By now, the audience is totally smitten over by her  storytelling skills.

With her partner gone, it is impossible to eat, sleep, or breathe, Stephens moans – and wishes for an equally torturing situation for the cheater. This song is a personal favourite of mine, and even as the gig continues, it keeps coming to my mind. Stephens knows how to build variation to her performance with different types of songs and emotions. An audience member is so mesmerized he proposes Stephens, who thanks the man but explains that she is already married. This prompts Stephens to ask who amongst her audience are single. Hands are being raised, so many of them that Stephens finds this answer implausible. “You can’t all be single! If this is the way you take care of things over here, I think I’m gonna move to Finland!” Stephen says jokingly.

Eventually, anger gives way to forgiveness towards the former partner. Hatred is pointless: if you truly love someone, you love them even if they no longer want to be with you. It is better to let them go and wish them well, Stephens concludes. The storyline is now complete: first the love, then the break-up, and, finally, it is time to let go and get on with life.

At the end of her gig, Stephens broadens the topic to cover relations between all human beings. Stephens thanks us for being our unique selves and wishes for more respect for the differences between people. If everybody suddenly became like me, the world would become so boring that I might just as well shoot myself, she concludes. With her last song, Stephens sends love to all oppressed people in the world. I love you too, Tanya Stephens!

Text: Petra Linden
Translation: Tuulia Nieminen
Photos: Terhi Hytönen

Aihe(et): In English.