Audio

In The Lab: Shekhinah Is Working On A South African R&B Album That Could Change The Game

We hang out with Durban-born singer Shekhinah as she works on her debut album.

SOUTH AFRICA—“Back To The Beach,” the collaboration between two Durban singers Kyle Deutsch and Shekhinah and the producer Sketchy Bongo, was a serious summer hit in 2015. 


It was a perfect summer song, about taking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, and taking to the beach. It merged soul, pop, R&B and electronic music without even trying. The song won the artists a Best Pop/Alternative award at the 2016 MTV Africa Music Awards

When we meet, the 23-year-old Shekhinah is on her phone and sipping a cup of tea in her apartment in Bryanston, in the north side of Johannesburg, during a studio break. She tells me how she feels her breakout single came too soon.

“I thought maybe this year, when I finish my degree I will get that one song on radio that will be great,” says the AFDA arts and live performance graduate, who goes on to explain how her life changed in college after the song became big. “But it happened before I was ready. That's why everything has been so delayed,” she continues.

Shekhinah and her band listen to a playback of her take. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Shekhinah is currently holed up in her apartment, where her studio is, working on her debut album. She's currently six songs deep and needs to submit the master to SONY, the label which is releasing it, soon.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” she says, taking a sip of tea as she enjoys the afternoon sun rays which proliferate through her living room window. “There are a lot of breaks in between, as we have to sometimes stop to work and make money. Just like this weekend, starting from Friday, we have gigs, so we can’t really do any studio. I’m also going to Kenya for a week, so I just try to lay down as much vocals as I can, so the boys can do work without me.”

Shekhinah takes a tea break. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Even though she has exactly a month to record six more songs, and a hectic schedule, she is determined to not have any delays, because she wants to strike while the iron's still hot. “If I push it back, the demand will become irrelevant,” she notes.

Even though she has no album out, Shekhinah's been able to headline shows all over the country. “Studying performance allowed me to be able to structure my shows cleverly around ‘Back To The Beach’ when I still didn’t have many songs out,” she says.

Angelique Anthony records backing vocals. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

With serious hits like “Let You Know,” which she worked on with Sketchy Bongo, and “On It,” on which she’s featured by DJ Sliqe, the singer has successfully eluded the dreaded one-hit wonder label. Her versatility, alongside her natural voice, is one of her strongest traits. While “Back To The Beach” was more laid back, “Let You Know” is a festival-ready EDM banger. On “On It” she sings over a cloud trap instrumental with sinewy synth and pad squelches. “Your Eyes,” her collaboration with Black Coffee, sees her give your favorite house vocalist a run for their money.

Shekhinah and Michale Morare cheerAngelique on. Photo by Sabelo MKhabela

Asked if the success of “Back To The Beach” initially exerted pressure on her, her answer is a resounding “yes.”  “We had pressure to deliver—me, Sketchy and Kyle,” she says, “when that was just an organic collaboration. Then we had to go back into studio and think about the white kids, black kids, coloured kids, Indian kids... that were effected by the song, and try and include them in the next single, which became difficult, but not so difficult because we had to do what we felt.”

Shekhinah in the booth. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

If what the songs she’s working on with her band right now are anything to go by, those kids are in for a treat when her album drops. I watch her producer, Theo Seretse, go through vocals Shekhinah just recorded. “I need to add more vocals,” she says, getting closer to the microphone, which is next to the window. “We are just stacking up these vocals, it’s more work for you when you mix,” says Theo to Luthando Phihlela, the sound engineer. “It’s fine,” Luthando chuckles. They are all huddled around Luthando’s computer where all the work is taking place.  

Shekhinah and Mfundo Mbuli share a moment of laughter. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Mfundo Mbuli, who plays the piano, but doesn’t have much to do in this session, is going through his Instagram feed, and is discussing with his mates why blocking your partner on Instagram is a good idea.

“They are wanted by everyone,” Shekhinah says about her band, “Their phones are being blown up by your favorite celebrities.” The singer met the band while she was still studying at AFDA. The guys were studying at the SABC College. “It’s been a great synergy ever since. It’s been interesting watching it grow from it just being a school thing to being a real thing.”

Shekhinah takes a selfie in the booth. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Apart from her band, Shekhinah is working with different producers for her upcoming album. She has enlisted the likes of Sketchy Bongo, Main Major (Tinashe, Rouge, Da L.E.S), DJ Maphorisa (Kwesta “Ngud’,” Drake “One Dance”), Lunatik (K.O. “CaraCara”), among others. She’s also producing one song, which she will be recording in a separate studio this evening. Even though she’s keeping collaborations to a minimum, she has interesting features such as singers Amanda Black and Mariechan from the group Jamali, and a fellow Durbanite, the rapper Nasty C. “I’ve tried to avoid collaborations on this album because that’s what I'm known for,” she says.

The full band: Michael Morare (lead), Mfundo Mbuli (piano), Shekhinah Donnell, Angelique Anthony (backing vocals), Luthando Phihlela (sound engineer), and Theo Seretse (producer). Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

“It’s very special,” she says when asked about the name of the album, which she can’t share yet. “I'm hoping it can be an R&B/pop album from Africa that actually stands out everywhere. I'm just trying to do everything as systematically as I can. If I'm not recording at Sketchy’s then it’s here, and I want to do everything at home so that I'm most comfortable.”

But even when she’s working away from home, Shekhinah is still comfortable, as she is always in the company of her bandmates, who she has enviable chemistry with. There are a lot of chuckles and laughter in-between takes and playbacks. A serious conversation can ensue in-between the jokes, too.

Mfundo Mbuli messing around on the piano. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

The crew’s second studio session for the day, which takes place at a studio in Randburg, is for the only song that was recorded with full live instrumentation. There are also two backing vocalists—Angelique Anthony and pianist Mfundo Mbuli. Reno Zeelie, who runs the studio which doubles as a rehearsal space for bands, is the recording engineer for the session.  

And the studio selfie. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Shekhinah and the rest of the band are giving tips and cheering Angelique on as she lays down her backing vocals. Michael Morare, who plays the lead guitar, is improvising on a ukulele, on the mixing desk side of the studio as the vocals are being recorded. It’s all an easy and fun process. Shekhinah high-fives Angelique upon leaving the recording booth.

The song has a jazz influence, but is still not far off from the pop and R&B sound Shekhinah is gunning for. She tells me earlier: “I managed to incorporate the working sound, the one that’s familiar to the people that know me. It exists, and the first single is definitely like that. But I kind of, like, want to cater for everyone. So if you like one song on the album, I'm happy with that. I'm just hoping that there’s a song for every emotion.”

With the two songs she’s working on today, you are guaranteed to have at least one favorite.

Listen to some of Shekhinah's hits below, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

popular

Listen to Hymphatic Thabs’ New Album ‘Centre of the Universe’

Hymphatic Thabs releases his first album in 12 years.

Legendary South African lyricist Hymphatic Thabs hasn't released an album since 2007's The Age of Horus. Last week, Thabs was one of the 26 pioneers who were inducted into the South African Hip Hop Museum's Hennessy Wall of Fame.

Today, the rapper shared a new album titled Centre of the Universe on his bandcamp page.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

14 Cultural Events You Can't Miss this December in South Africa

OkayAfrica's guide to must-see events during South Africa's festive season.

South Africans will tell you that December is not just a month, it's an entire lifestyle. From beginning to end, it's about being immersed in a ton of activity with friends and family as well as any new folk you meet along the way. Whether you're looking to turn up to some good music or watch some provocative theater, our guide to just 14 cultural events happening in South Africa this December, has something for everyone.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief
Ethiopia's Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali poses after being awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony 2018 at Oslo City Town Hall on December 10, 2019 in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Erik Valestrand/Getty Images)

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Accepts Nobel Peace Prize Amidst Wave of Protest

The leader, who has been called a 'reformist' has been met with criticism from those who believe his efforts have not brought about tangible change.

Following the announcement of his win October, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed formally received his Nobel Peace Prize during the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway on Tuesday for his efforts to "achieve peace and international cooperation."

During his lecture, Ahmed addressed the ongoing quest for "peace," which he has been credited for fostering between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea following two decades of hostility between the two nations.

"For me, nurturing peace is like planting and growing trees," said Ahmed in his speech. "Just like trees need water and good soil to grow, peace requires unwavering commitment, infinite patience, and good will to cultivate and harvest its dividends." Ahmed was praised by chairperson of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, for representing a "new generation of African leaders who realise that conflict must be resolved by peaceful means."

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

South Africans Are Angry After Load Shedding Leaves the Country in the Dark

The national power utility, Eskom, has implemented stage-6 load shedding which effectively means it has lost close to half of its generating capacity.

Since last week, South Africans have been experiencing stage 4 load shedding which saw 4000 MW being shed from the national grid in an effort to cope with shortages.

Eskom, the country's embattled state-owned power utility, has recently implemented stage-6 load shedding which is reportedly meant to end today but South Africans are not having it.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.