Tanya Stephens explores cyclical nature of life in ‘Some Kinda Madness’
Drops first official album in a decade
When it comes to the enigmatic Tanya Stephens, the best maxim is: Expect the unexpected.
An exciting bundle of unfiltered – and one can supply any noun of choice right here – quirkily sprinkled with some kinda madness awaits when sharing the same space with this girl who serendipitously meets world. Not unexpectedly, Stephens delivers a track titled Serendipity on her newly released Tads Records-produced album, Some Kinda Madness.
Tanya Stephens, christened Vivienne Stephenson, is that Gangsta Blues chick who can Handle the Ride on a Big Ninja Bike, and it doesn’t matter whether or not she is Sintoxicated. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. A carpenter who has been making her own furniture for the past seven years, she is the embodiment of creativity mixed with advocacy and generously dipped in a fearlessness that can either be admired or shunned. There is no in-between. Writing her own material for three decades, and in so doing, opening doors to topics once considered taboo, Stephens has been able to swish her pen over a multitude of themes and layer them with lyrics that could make even the comatose sit up, listen, and marvel.
“I love music, and I love writing,” she explained simply. “Some people came to music via the church choir and cultural groups. I came to music via literature class ... first writing poems and stories and then songs. Plus, I love academics. My heroes are from the side of life who examine things, find the fault, theorise, and fix. I like thinkers … people who conceptualise ideas and then try to bring them to life. If I seem like a good writer, that is flattering because I really like good writers.”
She also heaps credit on her big sister for guiding her on this journey, and here is where another, perhaps less visible, side of Stephens pops up, the side that is drenched with that ‘L’ word. Her beloved sister is no longer with us, and the raw emotion was still visible even beyond the darkest of signature shades. And that ‘L’ word popped up again when she spoke with and about her nephew, her late sister’s son. She was seen in friendly negotiation with him for another glass of “spirits”, and clearly, he has admirable interpersonal skills and showed who was the boss. But in reality, she is the one who happily allows him to be.
“She [my sister] nurtured me … she was an English language and literature teacher at the high-school level, and even when I thought she was awful for doing it, she made sure that I was in the books. And so when I got my language and literature book list, by the time I get to school September morning, me done read dem off,” Stephens recalled with a laugh. “Big up all of mi teacher dem from St Mary High, and big up mi family because dem really place emphasis on education.”
Responding to a career question that she surely must have been asked a multitude of times, Stephens said, “If it wasn’t singing, it would be something social. When I was young, they said that I needed to study law, and I think it was so disrespectful because they said ‘because yuh chat so much’. And that is a disrespect to me and to every lawyer. And there were times when I considered it because I like to defend the underdog, but [law] is so much more than that.”
Ideally, Stephens would want to work with at-risk and vulnerable people and be the voice for children, especially those who are nervous and scared because she “used to be one of those kids”. And, in true Stephens fashion, she warmed to her topic even while warning that she can talk the ears off anybody willing to listen.
“I lend myself to any body of people who are working to advance the rights and protection of vulnerable people. If they call upon me and I am available … I do it. And when they offer to pay me, I lose respect because I volunteered. This is work that I do for myself. It’s selfish, yuh know, because it’s the little girl in me who wants justice and reparation. So everything I do is for her. Sometimes she looks at me, and she’s like, ‘Oh yuh have on name brand. Yuh think yuh big now? And I take it back off because it feels so bad. Because mi poor … mi come from extreme poverty, yuh nuh. So me a one hippie, and mi just live with what mi need. And I don’t take more from the universe, and I give everything that the universe needs to live harmoniously,” she said.
Quizzed about the advice she would give her younger self, she was almost aghast. “I take instructions from her. I don’t really like advice because advice is tailored to the person giving it. Because every person is unique, and when I give you my advice from my perspective, which works for me, it can almost be guaranteed that it will not work for you. And it means that I am going to interrupt your journey ... so I say give support. Advice is about the giver, not the receiver.”
However, in a fleeting moment of something that could perhaps be interpreted as vulnerability, Stephens did say gently, “I would have loved to embrace my younger self and tell her [to] be less scared because it’s going to be fine.”
As a singer, she continues to dominate her realm, and this new 20-track album, Some Kinda Madness, is testament to that. Her first official offering in more than a decade, the project on which she worked closely with producer Tad Dawkins Jr sees her collaborating with Big Youth, Cedella Marley, Diana King, Patra, Nadine Sutherland, Sabrina Qureshi, Kelly Shane, and Singer J.
As it pertains to the title, her raison d’être is this: “Humans are the most complex and self-sabotaging animals on the planet. We do everything that goes against our sustainability … our survival. When we do something good, it is to correct something really, really bad that we did before. So I think all of this is madness ... .”