Sat | Apr 1, 2023

Duane Stephenson back in the songwriting lab - COVID-19 forces him to put down the mic and pick up the pen

Published:Friday | April 3, 2020 | 12:13 AM
Duane Stephenson
Duane Stephenson

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered no gifts, except perhaps the opportunity for some people to slow down. As harmful as that may be to the economy of the entertainment space, it may also turn out to be extremely helpful, particularly for those who will transmute their slowed pace into focused creative pursuits. Take, for example, reggae singer and songwriter Duane Stephenson.

Between now and May, all Stephenson’s performances have been postponed or cancelled. He has even had to push back the release of his newest album, which was scheduled to hit shelves in March. While understandably disheartened at the global crisis and its muting effect on his gigs, the recording artiste has opted to stay the course by focusing on songwriting in ways that busier times did not allow.

“Usually, you just kind roll with the first draft because of time and other constraints. But now, that’s not the case,” Stephenson told The Gleaner. Instead of rolling with it, with quarantines, social-distancing guidelines and curfews in place, time now allows for a demo after the draft, followed by subsequent listening sessions, and then finally, actually applying improvements.


For this period, Stephenson is writing for three vocalists simultaneously – Gyptian, Jo Archer from Trinidad and Beniyah from Florida. Now, there is time to focus on the talents’ idiosyncrasies, to produce as fitting a product as possible.

“You have to, because it’s three different people. I know all of them. I know their ranges, and just their vibe. You can’t just write a song for an artiste like that. If I’m doing something for Gyptian, I know it’s going to be a little bit on the sexy side. It has to be something that represents Gyptian. And for the other people, it’s the same,” Stephenson explained.

Songwriting used to be a big part of Stephenson’s package, but he did take pause at a point. “It was becoming a little bit problematic, because a lot of time you put in the effort and usually the producers try to rip off publishing and all of that. But that will not happen with me. I register everything. I learnt early lessons,” he shared.

With lessons learnt, Stephenson is back in the lab. He’s even crossing items off his songwriting bucket list. Before picking up Gyptian, Jo and Ben, the last project Stephenson worked on as a songwriter was Alborosie’s 2018 release, Unbreakable: Alborosie Meets The Wailers United. “Mackeehan did some writing on that also. I managed to write a song for Beres Hammond in the process – which knocked something off my bucket list as a writer,” he shared.

Another person he always wanted to write for was the late South African musician Lucky Dube. “I wasted my opportunities early. That’s how it is, man. He was one person, one voice that I always wanted to write a tune for.”