With Suited, Shekhinah tailormakes her own sound for a solo single. The songstress spoke to Helen Herimbi about it
Towards the end of her graduation exam, Shekhinah Donnell – or simply Shekhinah as the world has come to know the singer-songwriter – stood on stage with a cute smile on her face. She was telling the audience, and the lecturers who were judging her, about one of the last songs she would perform that evening.
The song was about a relationship with a supportive boyfriend and as she sweetly gestured to him in the audience, I thought about how brave it was for her to not only bare her soul through the personal songs in a set she had titled In and Out of Character but to also do it in front of people who were there to, quite literally, judge her.
Now, seven months later, the song she performed back then, albeit in a strippeddown manner, is the first single from her forthcoming debut album, which will be released in September. The single is called Suited and thanks in some part to the production of Luke Goliath and Mr Midas himself, DJ Maphorisa, it’s an instant hit.
Last week, I sat down with Shekhinah at the Sony headquarters in Jozi, where she has an international record deal with the label. “Baaaaaaabe,” she says, wide-eyed with a dropped jaw, “You remember!” And so we began to unpack the song.
Suited for each other/Don’t try to move me from my lover …
I ask Shekhinah if the pre-chorus of Suited speaks about life or love, or if she’s singing both – before she cautions us to not to dare to try to separate her from her lover. “What a love,” she sings for me, then giggles and then sings some more. Flexing.
Having first burst onto the scene as an Idols contestant, Shekhinah then became a hitmaker who, along with Sketchy Bongo and Aewon Wolf, brought the spotlight back to the beaches of Durban with boundary-breaking, radio-friendly songs.
She has gone on to show her versatility from pop to melancholic dance music in the form of Let You Know (with Sketchy) and Your Eyes (with Black Coffee) but now, it is definitely this solo star’s time.
It’s cool that Shekhinah saw fit to wear her heart on her sleeve at her exam but now, with Suited, she may be revealing her relationship to the public. I ask Shekhinah if she’s ready for people to pry about her bae. “I think it’s okay for people to assume,” she shrugs and then smiles.
“He’s like all of my other friends in that they mean a lot to me and they’ve changed my life. Without those people, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you today. I would be somewhere doing the worst. Those people helped to ground me and I’m so grateful for that love.”
“He’s got my back all the time. I needed to pay homage to him and I actually wrote Let You Know about him, so Suited was a nice conclusion. It’s kind of like before something great starts, things look like they’re not on the right track. So Let You Know was about during that time of confusion.”
It’s like a “situationship”, I offer. “Yoh,” she exclaims, “Situ-ation-ship! Now we’ve transcended into relationship but it’s still art mimicking my life. I’m excited about that”.
What she also seems to be excited about is the fact that DJ Maphorisa knows her name. We get to chatting about exactly how Suited became what it is today.
We fight until a special space/I pray we never lose the faith …
Shekhinah was intent on getting a rough version of Suited to a special place and believed she would. “I first got the track from Luke Goliath – a young producer from PE,” she remembers. “Then I recorded Suited. But there was just something missing. The guys I work with – we’re really soulful – so they weren’t able to take the song to where it needed to be or give it that extra percussive thing.”
“Then Maphorisa messaged me, saying he’s really down to work. I was like: ‘You’re lying,’ ” Shekhinah laughs as though she is still in disbelief that he would want to collaborate with her. “Because that’s Maphorisa,” she exclaims.
“He asked me what I was working on and I told him I have this track but it’s missing something. He listened to it then called me back and said: ‘This thing is missing something.’ So I went to his crib and he ended up doubling the chorus and giving me that extra vibe. You know you can hear his drums throughout the song.”
“Overseas, a song doesn’t often stay with one producer from start to finish so I’m glad that Suited was this collaborative effort and I hope all of our energies will go into it and make it successful.”
I know we’re just a little too young /And having just a little too much fun …
The 22-year-old whose pen-game is perfect for the radio tells me about why she wanted to lyrically make the connection between being young, having fun and the seriousness of commitment. “That line speaks to the fact that I’m so deeply in love with my boyfriend and with my art as well,” she leans in to emphasise the art bit.
“Yes, it’s also about music,” she continues. “I’m so deeply in love with music and I know that I’m so young but it’s all okay. I know I’m too young to be experiencing so much love and attention but this is it, this is my life. A lot of people wouldn’t condone moving to Joburg straight after high school with no money to try to make this music thing happen but that’s what I did. And now look … what a love!”