Monday, 21 December 2009

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Catching up with Ethiopian empress Sheba

LIONESS ON THE RISE: Sheba is ready to roar

Sheba Sahlemariam has quite a story to tell. A refugee from war-plagued Ethiopia, the singer was reared among the concrete jungles of New York City, Europe, the Caribbean and Africa. Named after the Queen of Sheba, to whom her family traces direct ancestry, Sheba is a cousin to Emperor Haile Selassie. And this, in part, highlights the eerie circumstances surrounding her family’s move from Ethiopia to Guyana, where she spent her early childhood and later, to Jamaica, which deepened her love and connection to reggae and dancehall.

But these days, Sheba is offering listeners an international flavour with her unique brew of world music, Afro beats, Ethiopian traditional music and jazz. Did I neglect to mention that she studied film at Cornell University, where she nurtured her passion for making documentaries and telling untold stories? Speaking with Sheba, you can ask her anything. Just don’t ask her age. She won’t say. Instead, she will chat at length about her dreams for her burgeoning career, including her plan to drop a debut album and a mix-tape in the new year, as well as promote humanitarian efforts.

TALLAWAH chatted with the reggae princess about her background, what she’s up to now and what she wants to do with her life.

TALLAWAH: How do you define yourself as an artist?

SHEBA: My music is very international. It’s a fusion, a tapestry of my experiences. I have lived all over the world – Africa, Europe, Jamaica and America – but all my experiences have been urban experiences. And a lot of this had to do with the fact that my parents and I couldn’t go back to Ethiopia. Our passports had been taken away. We had become refugees.

TALLAWAH: How did your struggles help to shape your sound and your outlook?

SHEBA: You have to take the negative and turn it positive. When you are in between worlds, you are able to see the connections between cultures. I basically gave my life over to these different cultures. And I think that’s why my voice is so unique. I’ve been on all sides of life. As refugees, we were forced out into the world and we had to do our best to survive. I’ve had to adjust to many different situations. But my experiences have also given me a lot of exposure, and for that I am very grateful.

TALLAWAH: Let’s talk a little about your music career. Bounty Killer recently did a remix of your new single, “Love This Lifetime.” How did the collaboration come about, and what was it like working with the dancehall veteran?

SHEBA: His camp and my camp crossed paths, and that’s how it came about. I love Bounty; he’s a legend. He brings more edge to the track. Few artistes are as charismatic as Bounty. He brings romance to the song. It’s a sweet, dynamic collabo. I’ll be performing the song with him at Sting later this month, so I’m excited about that and looking forward to it.

TALLAWAH: Nice. So are you happy with where your career’s at right now?

SHEBA: Well, I’m really just coming out of the gate, but I’ve been recording for a few years now in Jamaica, Brooklyn and Toronto. It’s really the love of the music that motivates me and keeps me going.

TALLAWAH: What’s the ultimate goal you hope to accomplish through your work as an entertainer?

SHEBA: We are in a time right now when the barriers to communication are being eroded more and more. People are being exposed more and more. So my goal is to bring many different flavours to the music.

TALLAWAH: Speaking of which, what can listeners expect when they pick up a copy of your forthcoming debut album, The Lion of Sheba.

SHEBA: This album will be the soundtrack of my life. [It] definitely pays homage to my lineage. I am a very multi-faceted person and that will be reflected on the album as well. It is almost complete. It will have a little bit of everything dancehall and reggae to lovers’ rock and Afro beats. I don’t think it’s too diverse. Everyone will be able to appreciate it.

TALLAWAH: Great. Can’t wait to hear it. What are some of your interests outside music?

SHEBA: I am really interested in world issues, politics and issues that affect our planet. I am all about conflict resolution and making a difference.

TALLAWAH: That’s beautiful. So what do you love most about Jamaica?

SHEB A: The culture. The Jamaican culture is one of the most vibrant I have ever experienced. Jamaicans are very creative, and you do everything with flair.

To learn more about Sheba, and to hear samples of her flavourful sound, visit

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