Ahead of a three-city tour of South Africa, I sat down with UK-Nigerian singer-songwriter, Seyi Shay. The artist who was born Oluwaseyi Joshua and called Seyi for short was in town in support of her debut solo album, Seyi or Shay.
On account of not being able to say the name that is pronounced “che-yee,” the 30-year-old was christened “Shay” by Matthew Knowles. Yeah, as in Beyonce’s estranged father.
A few moments after sitting down, an unprompted Seyi Shay is quick to go back into time and unpack her history with the man who made the Beybot. “I grew up in the UK and that’s where I formed my girl group, From Above,” she starts.
“It consisted of five girls – multiracial. And we were managed by Matthew Knowles. Yes. He’s Beyonce’s dad. You know, one of my biggest inspirations is Beyonce just because everyday of my life for about four years, I had to watch videos and home videos of her.”
“We had to literally sit down and study her and Destiny’s Child as a group. It was part of our training with Matthew Knowles. It was literally artist development. We got to work with her stage management, choreographers, producers and we were media trained and all kinds of things.”
This development was filmed for a reality show called Breaking From Above which was screened on MTV. “It was a horrible show,” Seyi Shay laughs out loud before she says: “I was the only black girl in the group and I had a lot of pressure on me because I was the main singer, also.”
“I felt like Matthew Knowles was picking on me a lot,” she says matter-of-factly, “but after the show was over, he basically said to me: ‘look, the only reason I was hard on you was because you are the black girl in the group and it’s going to be harder for you because you have to prove a lot of people wrong and do a lot of things. All of that was my training ground.”
Before the group broke up, it was the opening act for Beyonce’s I Am…Sasha Fierce tour. Looking at the cover of Seyi Shay’s debut album, Seyi or Shay, the Beyonce influence is clear. One woman looks at herself in the mirror and her reflection is a sleeker, sexier version of herself. Shay is this artist’s version of Sasha Fierce.
“One represents the more reserved, laidback girl whom I like to call Seyi,” she explains, “that’s pretty much the girl that’s sitting down and having lunch with you right now. The girl looking back at Seyi in the mirror is Shay. I like to call her Shay because Shay is more of an extrovert. More the celebrity. The one you see on stage.”
Shay is the gorgeous shotta who gave us Murda featuring Patoranking and Shaydee. She is also the one who is the seductress on Mary featuring Phyno and the fly girl on Crazy featuring Wizkid.
“He decided to call me up one day and said: ‘I think you need an uptempo song and don’t worry, I’m going to do it with you. I’m going to write it, get someone to produce it and you just need to come to the studio and sing it.’ Of course I was amazed because this is Wizkid and he’s calling my phone,” she excitedly tells me.
Seyi Shay is listed under the afro-beat genre but, with songs like Right Now, she’s also a fresh addition to r&b and a nice twist to reggae. “I come from an r&b background and started singing in the church,” she says.
“I decided r&b was too easy and I was starting to get bored. I decided when I moved to Nigeria, I was going to try and fuse all the genres that I love. Like soul, r&b and reggae. London is heavily influenced by reggae music and I decided since reggae is such a global language, I would use that as my foundation. It’s easier to sing on as well.”
This artist who wrote Mel C’s You Will See is on the up and up. Perhaps that four-year Matthew Knowles bootcamp paid off. Or maybe she’s just found her voice. “I’m more confident now. I know who I am now and this is who I want to be. Now that I know, I can make a statement that I am Seyi Shay,” she declares.