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When you next see someone on the news, in the papers, on Facebook or wherever, launch into a jeremiad about all that’s wrong with the today’s youth, I can tell you they’re wrong. And I have proof. And the best proof there is – personally witnessed, backed up by performance (recorded that you can see online, and in person if you happen to be near one of her favourite spots – midtown, South Bank or otherwise). Sherika Sherard is proof today’s youth have their head on straight. And she’s going to be huge. Normally I would add the usual caveats – barring bad luck, or catastrophe, etc – but Sherika is cut out from an old school cloth of making your own luck by working hard and perfecting your craft. The more we spoke the more impressed I was by her.
Sherika grew up in Streatham. Her mum’s from the area, dad came from Philadelphia, and she attended Graveney School where she got involved singing and touring with the school choir as it allowed her to “skip tutor periods and get out and do something more fun.” Whilst at Graveney she would also hang out at gigs at The Bedford in Balham, where shows there by Damien Rice and Paolo Nutini made big impressions on her. It was specifically watching Paolo Nutini that inspired her to pick up a guitar and learn to play. About this time as well, one of her teachers at Graveney, Diane Berry, spotted her talent and encouraged her to develop her passion for singing and performance.
Fast forward to today and I was able to catch an hour with her and meet up in Streatham’s Brickwood Cafe for snacks and a long chat. A friend got in touch saying Sherika is a semi-finalist in Fender Guitars UK’s Best Undiscovered Artist of the Year 2017 competition. She’s following in a line of local women who grew up here or lived here and went on to seek their fortune in the performing arts. It’s a wide spectrum of art, ranging from June Whitfield the famous actress, to Naomi Campbell who’s styled up innumerable catwalks, to Speech Debelle who won the 2009 Mercury Prize for her album Speech Therapy. Much like Speech Debelle, Sherika wasn’t “discovered” Cinderella-like but has worked hard for success and her work ethic has paid off.
Per her lyrics in the video above, she finished school with three A-levels, then began studies at the University of Westminster. She said an epiphany came to her one day when she saw one of her next university modules was on how to get gigs and plan them out. This was at a time when she had a dozen gigs booked and had already performed around the UK and internationally for some time. Realising university had little to teach her and would take up way too much of her time, she dropped out and began working on her career full time. It was at this point I mentioned a “time-honoured tradition” of dropping out of university to do more important things, name dropping Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, when I saw a hint of a blush and embarrassment from her. It occurred to me for someone with more confidence than a room full of investment bankers and more articulate than than a BBC news presenter, this girl was remarkably humble. Before our meeting I had been prepared for bravado but the utter lack of attitude from the time we met up was my epiphany mid-interview.
Another time honoured tradition of dropping out of uni is expense. It wasn’t possible to pay fees, room, board as well as play and secure necessary equipment, travel and play gigs when someone booked her, but after dropping out the work ethic started to pay off. Shortly after going full time she won a competition put on by the music charity “Help Musicians” which allowed Sherika to invest in quality equipment and instruments that improved her sound, and that could also withstand the wear and tear of the road. Partying would come later, but if I’m any judge of character she’ll even use it as work to pitch to labels rather than living large. A&R people, you have been warned.
Rather than resting on laurels after winning the competition. She spent 2015 busking, and after saving some money herself and with help from crowdfunding she recorded her album “Just Saying” including her video “Give Me A Job” (below). Once again she found the hard work created more good luck for her when her video for “Give Me a Job” went viral. This led to demand from clubs in the UK and throughout Europe for her to perform.
So how do your songs come about and who are her influences I asked her? Of course she said Paolo Nutini was a huge influence, but also Marvin Gaye who she said had such a way of expressing what he felt, thought about and the emotions that went with it and this is what she tries to do when she writes and performs. She said songs come from conversations with other people and lead to questions, or possibilities that need to be expressed. She also added stars of old such as John Legend and Big Mama Thornton were big influences which led to inevitable teasing about raiding her parents record collection. This was when she dropped a bombshell. Her song “We Don’t Need A Reason” had just been picked up for the upcoming TV series of She’s Gotta Have It (Episode 4 on Netflix) based on the 1986 Spike Lee film. Did I mention she’s going to be huge?
So what does she do in the meantime, I asked? Is it laurels resting time yet? Interestingly, no. She busks anytime she can. This surprised me a bit as to some, buskers have a certain image. Whereas many want to be Mark Knopfler and be discovered in the Tube tunnels it can become tedious hearing the umpteenth Beatles or Dylan cover, I can honestly say Sherika busks for rather counter-intuitive reasons. It’s fun, of course, or she wouldn’t do it, she said, but once a song starts to take shape she gets to try it out on interesting audiences and get instant and personal feedback. You might think buskers are a bit self-conscious performing alone out in the midst of crowds but look closely and you’ll see you’re being examined yourself as you stand there, or walk by listening. Some onlookers really get into it; others are less impressed, but then no one has to pay anything. Also if you’re lucky (or not) a lyrical description of you might end up as a cameo in a song somewhere. But one thing she said was quite moving. She said when busking you get to be part of someone’s day; you get to entertain someone with live music when they didn’t actually expect it and often it’s folks who work a lot, or have children or for whatever reason can’t get out to gigs, and that’s the best part because you may have made their day just a little bit better.
But just to put some “smarter as well as harder” nuance on that work ethic, she then said she likes to choose her busking locations carefully because it can sometimes mean so much more for someone to hear live music that touches them when they can see the London Eye, or Big Ben or a beautiful location or sunset in the trees behind her.
In and amongst busking and touring (and a bit more crowdfunding), she did find time to record an EP this year titled “Patience and Fears”. She said the fears part means what she does, whether it’s writing, performing or whatever she does in life, is important to her and she wants it to be just right, and she’s afraid of not achieving that; the patience is what’s necessary to bring all of that about and make it happen.
Now, a tip for you dear readers, buy her album and her EP. They’re very, very good. But additionally, she says she tweaks her songs constantly and some of these songs may end up in a slightly different version on future records (or films, TV shows), so when she’s huge the current stuff will be collectors items. I did mention she’s going to be huge, right? Trust me on this.
So it was only recently after being accepted on Fender’s Undiscovered Artist of the Year 2017, Sherika found she knows of one of the judges on the panel and is a bit of a fan. She said she was incredibly nervous performing but all went well and she has high hopes. The competition is organised in superbly functional way – the steps the competitors go through in the competition are all relevant to, and give them experience in, issues they will face as professional performers in their career. For example the promo video below is an example of a video demo pitch a performer might use to pitch a label.
When I asked about her future she had clearly thought much about what she wanted to do and accomplish in the near term as well as further out. Landing a contract was important. She had been offered contracts in the past but was wary of being tied down ot a contract that ended up being a professional cul de sac. She had thought long and hard about what the right contract would look like and was exercising the patience in her lyrics to wait for the right one with the right label. She knew it was something she could only do indirectly affect so was concentrating on more practical matters such as honing her production skills. Once a contract is signed the clock is ticking for the label so it’s a bit late in the day to start learning the ropes; she wants to have a clear idea of how to get what she wants without being bamboozled by producers in a hurry. Along the same strand, she is working on her keyboard , bass and rhythm chops, not necessarily to do a Prince and play all the instruments on an album, but to be able to come to the studio without expensive instrumentalists having to start form scratch. She can point them in the direction she wants her music to go.
Now I don’t know about you, dear reader, but to me that’s one young woman with her head on straight. Kids today? They’re making our generation look like slackers. I asked if she had any advice to give someone like her just starting out – she said, and I quote, “Remember why you love music and why you do it. Success is doing what you want to, in the way you want to and isn’t something measured by others, only yourself.” Sage advice.
Finally I asked her who she would really like to jump onstage and perform with? Without hesitation she said Daniel Caesar (See Get You by Daniel with Youtube official videos and an acoustic version done for Fender’s Here for the Music special), or definitely Paolo Nutini. Then I asked her who would you want to open for in an arena, stadium or bigger? U2? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Kanye West? No, she said she would love to open for Tooting and Streatham’s own Lianne La Havas! After international gigs from Norway to Senegal to the Seychelles, Sherika’s keeping it local.
The semi-final of the Fender Undiscovered Artist of the Year 2017 will be streamed live on facebook at Facebook.com/FenderEurope on Thursday the 19th of October 2017 and public voting for the people’s choice semi-finalist begins on Friday the 20th. Drop out login and get voting as our local girl needs your support!
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