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London to Lagos: British-Nigerian songstress Seyi Shay

AFRICAN AMBASSADOR: Seyi Shay Convention

BORN IN London, curated in Lagos and now sitting comfortably at Island Records UK, songstress and performer Deborah Oluwaseyi Joshua better known by her stage moniker Seyi Shay is on the cusp of a major musical crossover.

Born to Nigerian parents, Shay is among the prestigious cohort of African talents who have caught the attention of major labels to secure a deal opening doors to a whole new audience.

“After releasing my album Seyi or Shay in Africa, there were some songs on the album that Island [Records] took an interest in and so they’re going to repackage and will re-release them for the western market,” explained Shay.

Her long awaited debut album was released in November last year and received all round positive feedback for its bravery and less formulaic Afrobeat sound that fans of the genre had become accustomed to.

With tracks including an anthem against domestic violence, Pack and Go and the reggae infused hit Murda featuring Patoranking and Shaydee, the final product she says, is a testament to her as an entertainer and an artist.

“I think my fans in Africa received the album really well, considering there are a lot of Western influences on there. I think they were waiting for me to just be myself.”

Riding on the momentum, the singer is intent on keeping the Nigerian elements that define her as an African artist, as she prepares for her assault on the European market. Suffice to say, she has no doubt that African artists have the capacity to cross boundaries, as has been proven by the major signings of herself and fellow Nigerian artist, Davido.

“African music can be marketable and we know this because when we [African artists] go to New York, LA or London, we’re selling out shows,” says Shay. “It’s also no surprise to look into the audience and see fans of all races at the shows.”

International interest in African acts isn’t a new phenomenon, acknowledges Shay, who points to icons such as King Sunny Ade and the late Fela Kuti as two examples. But she believes the current trend will only continue if the latest wave of acts perform well on a global scale.

“I feel like there’s going to be more interest [in African artists] depending on how well myself and the likes of Davido do – I feel like we’re test runs. There is definitely pressure, but it’s more about whether this opportunity will stunt us or propel us.”

Even with the backing of a major label, the University of East London graduate is committed to being in control of her career – an ethos she says she developed under the management of Mathew Knowles. The father and former manager of international superstar Beyoncé, Knowles also managed the now disbanded girl group From Above, in which Shay was a member.

“I would say he probably influenced about 60 per cent of the way I think and the way I work,” Shay said of Knowles. “The most valuable business principle I learned from him is to always keep something for yourself.”

Well-versed with the music industry, Shay’s credentials span over a decade and include writing credits for the likes of Melanie C of the Spice Girls and UK rapper Chip.

Additionally, Shay starred in the MTV reality series, Breaking From Above, which charted the journey of her former group. The band also auditioned for The X-Factor and it was this experience that made it clear to Shay that being a solo act was her true calling.

“The group didn’t get past a certain stage of the show and clearly, the energy wasn’t right. If the energy was right, the public and the producers would have felt it or seen something and they didn’t. To me, that was the sign that the group wasn’t working.”

The Tottenham-born singer explains that it was her move to Nigeria in 2011 that proved to be the catalyst for her rejuvenation as a solo act – and going solo has been like a new career beginning for the rising songstress.

“I’m happy that I wasn’t really known back then [when I was in the group] because to me, that was all school – I was being developed. Now, I have the endurance level and the tenacity to go through all of this. It’s like it’s brand new to me.”

Having spent 2015 securing her place as one of Africa’s fiercest female acts, the Pepsi brand ambassador is already thinking about her next musical offering – and it appears she’s keen to lean on her London roots for inspiration.

“I want to do another album by the end of this year; more mature music as opposed to the more commercial pop and dance stuff.

“I’m doing a separate project on the side as well with a few UK acts. I’m doing something with Sneakbo, Tinie [Tempah], and the rest will remain nameless until they’ve done their part!”

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