What do you get when you mash up stadium level pop sounds, New York City's concrete jungle, the majesty of Africa, Caribbean island style, and shake it like a Molotov Cocktail? Welcome to the world of SHEBA ®, a feisty, dynamic singer/rhymer/songwriter/producer poised to set your speakers on fire with explosive beats, melodic hooks, provocative lyrics, wicked flow, and a diva-worthy four octave range. In early 2009, Sheba formed a self-financed and self-run, independent label, (S)onic Dynasty around the buzz from what turned out to be her first single, "Love This Lifetime" a song which unexpectedly took off from a youtube post, which led to a remix with dancehall legend Bounty Killer. Since then, that one little song posted to youtube on a whim has traveled the world and opened up a universe of musical possibilities for the Cornell grad and former Marketing Director, for whom music was once just a dream.
When it comes to music, Sheba wears her heart on her crown. "I was doing something totally different with my life, but my heart would not let me hear the end of it. Music was bursting out of me. I write and sing for cathartic reasons. It's how I process life. It's how I make sense of the ups and downs. Love This Lifetime was just a love song I wrote for someone, and when I put it up on youtube, I had no real plan. It was like the music in me could not stay quiet."
Some musicians are born into environments where music is all around and picking up an instrument or honing an obvious talent is a given. Coming from a decidedly non-musical family that had fled a Communist revolution in Ethiopia, despite showing signs of ability at a young age, Sheba was encouraged to take on more stable pursuits that would lead to a less precarious career. She says, "I knew I could sing very early on, around 4 or 5, and not long after that I knew I could and wanted to be someone who wrote the songs coming out of the radio. I also very vividly remember being frustrated that I couldn't spell yet." Sheba recalls racing home from school to secretly practice singing along with the Diva's: Whitney, Mariah, Aretha, Chaka. "I would record myself singing onto the same tracks as my favorite singer's and chase them, note for note. That's how I learned to sing. I would study the lyrics of my favorite songs. That's how I learned song structure, melody and began to absorb production. I listened to the radio obsessively. I had my favorite albums on repeat." She cites Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Prince, The Police and No Doubt as those that had the most influence on her musical style.
"Later on, when I got nerdier about music and I started to really dig into Fela Kuti, I saw a thread between the music he was making and the music Michael Jackson was making. It inspired me to want to make music that was about that space, where cultures rub up on each other, because I feel like I live and was sort of born into that space." Sheba knows first hand what it is like to live in a space where cultures are constantly mixing.
Born in Addis Ababa, the capital of her ancestral home, Ethiopia, Sheba arrived in New York City as a small child with her family fleeing civil war, after first spending a few years in Germany, then ending up in the Guyana, and eventually landing in Queens. In her early years growing up in exile, she learned to appreciate her rich cultural upbringing through a diversity of music and honed her voice, teaching herself to sing and write songs using her favorite songs and singers as her guide, while her parent's work as international civil servants continued to take her around the globe. It was during a return to New York in 2004 after living in Kingston, Jamaica, that she teamed up with her mentor Tommy "MadFly" Faragher, a Grammy® and ASCAP Pop Award-winning songwriter, producer in Brooklyn where she spent years honing her chops as a Songwriter in his home studio and learning the craft of producing records while creating her first album: "The Lion of Sheba". On it, you can expect Sheba to serve up her unique, eclectic and edgy brew of Pop music, Afrobeat, Dancehall and Reggae, designed to take you on a journey around the Diaspora through the eyes of a young Afropolitan, finding her inner roar.
"The Lion of Sheba" was supposed to be self-released in 2010, but Sheba made the unorthodox decision to hold off and keep developing herself. She went back into the lab to work on her skills and has recently emerged with a new album, further along her musical path called "The Queen of Hearts". "This album was bittersweet for me. I loved every minute of making it, but I had no budget and it was a real struggle to get it accomplished without one. I was also burned out from running the label alone. It was tough financially. I was also going through a lot personally. I took a break, and ended up wandering around Europe, staying with friends and family for months just sort of letting my heart guide me and tell me where to go next. It led me to make a completely unplanned pilgrimage to Lourdes in France, and a few days later, I found myself walking across Spain, to do the Camino Santiago de Compostela. I was undergoing an intense spiritual transformation. I had been debating whether to keep making music or to just come home and find something else to do with my life, but while walking I kept feeling guided to come back to New York and figure out how to make this album that kept playing in my head. I knew it was called the Queen of Hearts. And I knew it had something to do with the journey I was on and finding my way back home from it. But I had no clue how I was going to make it happen." With that, she finally headed home after nearly six months. Now with two albums under her belt, she plans to release these songs with accompanying visuals, dusting off the film degree she earned in college, over the next year. Musically, "The Queen of Hearts" is less about the broad cultural strokes of her life and more about letting the songs themselves shine brighter than the productions. "I was less interested in pushing the envelope production wise and more interested in writing songs from my heart that made me feel more alive". "Technicolor", her first single from "The Queen of Hearts" is a perfect example of this shift into a more understated and universal style. "There is a slight soca thing happening with the drums on Technicolor, but from the start, it was more about the song and the way it made me feel. We went in a housy, edm direction because I'm more interested in connecting with people from all walks of life, not just one corner of the globe. And dance music is about celebration and living it up with people, regardless of where they're from, and that's what I'm all about."
Her one-drop lovers rock tune "Love this Lifetime" and the Remix featuring Dancehall legend Bounty Killer, garnered chart love in several countries, went to #1 twice (Afro FM/ Ethiopia, Richie B Chart/Jamaica), charted on the UK club chart three times (Music Week), received video play on the likes of international networks such as MTV UK & VH1-Soul and charted in the Top Ten on Trace TV during the World Cup. These accomplishments are even more impressive when you take into account that Sheba orchestrated and financed the entire effort on a shoe-string budget while running the whole operation from her laptop.
Sheba wants to make it clear there is a lot of music coming down the pike for fans to enjoy. "I finally get it. I have to give all this music away and just let people hear it. I'll be releasing both albums this year. Once the songs are out there, they're for other people to hopefully be inspired by. And that's the real reason I make music at all. I want it to lift people up." Stay tuned for the video for "Get Yo Story Str8", expected to drop any day now, which Sheba not only directed and produced, but also self financed. The video is a clear projection of Sheba's unique slice of the world, and embodies both a visual and sonic language that is all her own. A multi-faceted auteur of her creative work, Sheba is a clear front runner in a new generation of artists that are blazing their own trail, taking full of advantage of the digital space and are able to express their artistic visions across the full spectrum of their work.