Shaé Universe On Claiming Back Her Faith

Shaé Universe is a steadfast source of harmony; whether that is demonstrated by her calm presence or whether that is channelled through her delphic vocals. Even as she munches a granola bar to refuel at the end of a long day on set, sweet-sounding hums sneak their way through in between bites.

“I’m very, very, very grateful to be here”, she tells us. The Londoner is marvelling at the work of her long-time friends and founders of GUAP magazine as she steps into their new offices for the first time. These are people who started their journeys alongside each other in some senses; now these are also the people who will continue to usher the UK’s creative industries onwards. And it’s this power to communicate gratitude that plays a grand role in Shaé’s music becoming an instrument for healing–A course towards self-acceptance and amour propre–a virtue–making Shaé’s music the greatest declaration of love there is.

Shaé confesses “Pushin” to be the first track that is written from fiction, a track which was inspired by subconscious thought. “It did feel very natural and it came from my spirit, but at the same time, it wasn’t necessarily relevant to what I was going through at that point in time.” she tells me, “I was seeing someone at that time, but sometimes I do this weird thing where my spirit just knows more than I do and little did I know… we broke up the day it was released”.

Just a few years ago, at the early stages of her career, the artist had shared a cover of Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”. When asked about the song she felt that at the time she was somewhat lost and in particular, lost with her faith. But as she was recentred her own faith and grew older she was able to see her voice as a gift from God. Not in the pretentious sense–but more so as a gift that she hopes to pay forward through her legacy; something she can offer others in their journey to healing.

Before she went on her own exploration in music, gospel was a large part of what filled Shaé’s ears. Growing up in Nigeria, her universe was very family-oriented and in reality, still is now. She speaks of her family with the utmost warmth, “my family, my parents, my immediate siblings, from very early on, they just noticed I had a flair for this thing. A natural gift for it. And they just nurtured it. I would not be here today, if not for the support of my family”. 

This experience has provided the groundwork needed to create the eminent artist we can appreciate today. We touch on what’s next for Shaé’s Universe and it’s clear she will continue on her honourable voyage in artistry, “I want to get to a point where I can call the shots comfortably. And people respect it.” Well, so do we. It’s certainly deserved.

From her forthcoming Unorthodox EP, Shaé has shared her collaboration with Enny titled “Sit Back”, which is exactly what we will try to do as we keenly await her next project. In the meantime, you can step into Shaé’s mind and enter her universe via the full interview below.

TOP & LEGGINGS: Marine Serre / EARRINGS: Ninka Pop / RINGS: Lagworld

Talk to me about your latest single ‘Pushin’, are there any funny or surprising stories from the process behind creating the track?

There is actually. I usually write from my experience. So when I first started writing “Pushin”, which is surprising to me because I didn’t write this song from anything I was experiencing in that moment. It did feel very natural and it came from my spirit, but at the same time, it wasn’t necessarily relevant to what I was going through at that point in time. I was seeing someone at that time, but little did I know, sometimes I do this weird thing where my spirit just knows more than I do, it knows things before I do. So that song was written during that relationship basically, And I would sing it to the guy was seeing at a time and you know we were listening to it together and then we literally decided to end it the day the song dropped.

Wow.

All of a sudden it became relevant, all of a sudden it just made sense why I wrote that. So it kind of aligned in a sense.

Your spirit is singing to you before you knew what those words meant, incredible. Talking about 2020’s “Levels” you described it as a reminder to yourself of your capabilities and having to overcome hurdles in the industry. How do you perceive those same hurdles two years down the line?

That’s a good question. I’m definitely a lot calmer when it comes to anything. Because I think now, I got to the belief that nothing can go wrong. Sometimes things don’t go to plan but it doesn’t mean it’s going wrong. I really do believe that everything is part of the plan. Everything that happens in my life, the way it happens–no matter whether it goes the way I want it or not–it’s supposed to be that way. So I kind of just let go of trying to control everything. As hard as it is. Because it is hard. but I’ve let go of trying to control everything and I think that’s made my approach to my obstacles now just a lot smoother. I think when things crop up it’s just like, ‘Okay, what’s the solution?’.

Do you feel like you’ve encountered new hurdles now? 

Definitely, with the whole pandemic thing, it’s definitely brought some unexpected challenges and stuff like that, I think the most part is within the creative industry. But also, I feel like as you climb the ladder, in any industry, your challenges and your hurdles, naturally will change. I mean, some things are easier, and other things will get harder. And there’ll be other things you have just never experienced before. Because now you’re a certain point and at higher levels.

You’re opening new doors. From my research, I found you talked about some people you felt guided you through that time. Beyond your spirit, say, iconic artists like Aaliyah and Erykah Badu. Were those artists you discovered later on?

To be honest, I started listening to gospel when I was young, my mum is a gospel singer, there was just a lot of gospel in my household. And then when I was in school, listening to whatever was on the radio around that time is when I started to discover music. I think that’s when I started to just you know, just listen to different artists. People like Erykah Badu and Lauren Hill I would hear in my household sometimes anyway, but I really started to delve into their catalogues for myself when I started in that school.

That actually leads me to another question. You mentioned gospel and growing up in a Nigerian household as well. How do you feel those experiences influence your music and your creative process? 

There are definitely very strong influences. But you know what is so interesting is, I feel like I take in the influences subconsciously, they know that other people will probably be more able to spot the influences than myself, because.. I don’t know, I’m like a sponge. Because I’ve grown up in a household where there’s probably things I just naturally picked up. But I couldn’t necessarily sit here and pinpoint it. Maybe if I thought about it…

I can see those elements of spirituality in your music as well…

Yes, that’s definitely a part. You’re right, I do… I think I incorporate spirituality in my music a lot. And I think that is because, first of all, I believe that my voice is… this is my personal belief. I believe that my voice is a gift from God. I believe in God, I’m spiritual. I wouldn’t say I’m religious as much anymore. Ever since I started finding my own journey with God. But that spirituality keeps me grounded all the time. Because it’s just like: this is a gift that I have and this is the message I have to translate and communicate to everybody else. But it’s something that’s been given to me. I guess the way that I incorporate spirituality into my music is just my way of giving back. 

I think sometimes there are connotations tied in with spirituality, it’s hard to describe yourself as spiritual and especially hard when you come from a Christian background perhaps, there’s this taboo. But really, you’ve got your own understanding of your faith and perception of the world now…

You talk about your voice being a gift from God. I mean. There’s this cover you did of “Ultra Light Beam” from a few years back, I think it was like 2016 or something. 

One of my first covers!

Need I say more. What an incredible cover and song. I felt like there was a lot of heart that went into that just that one little cover that you did. So what does that song mean to you? Is there any particular memory you have with it?

I think at the time I sang that cover, I felt a bit lost. More so in my relationship with God. I think a lot of people have been born into a religion and just kind of been told how everything is supposed to be. And then you get to a certain age where you start to unlearn things and relearn things for yourself. I was at that stage, I was at that starting point of unlearning things. So, you know with that song… I think some of the lyrics where he’s like: “I’m trying to keep my faith”… it’s like a call to God basically.

You’ve said in the past that you felt that Shaé the artist and Shaé the person are the same? Now, that was a little while ago, do you think you’ve grown out of that? In a sense, would you say you as an artist has become a different person?

Absolutely. Shaé Universe is definitely not the same as my personality. And the reason why is because I just came to realise that I have to protect myself. Not even in a scary way to say anyone’s going to be out after me or anything. But, you know, as you climb, and you get more known, you get more visible, you’re going to attract all kinds of people. People have different agendas, as well. You’re going to have great people that you attract but also you’re going to have not-so-great people that you attract and not everybody deserves that vulnerability–just straight off the bat. That’s something I’ve had to learn through giving the vulnerability just prematurely and having it taken advantage of or stuff like that. But now I know better. And so now, I would say I guard my person.

Especially in this world of social media, our vulnerability is exposed to a different extent, especially as an artist I could imagine. Do you find it hard to share such a huge amount of vulnerability in your music?

In my music? Not at all. I actually find it natural to do in my music. I think what I do find hard to express myself generally in a day to day, online with social media and letting people into my life. That part. I find it quite hard and I find it quite overwhelming, actually. But when it comes to the music, I let it rip allll day.

It kind of feels like that was what this new single was about… You’re teaching yourself how you can put your guard up but in a healthy way.

Ooof. For real!

What’s your process, like with music? Do you start with a little melody and lyric? Or does it just snowball some other way?

Generally, for the most part, I start with the melody. I will listen to the beat and then I’ll just start to hum melodies and I’ll get my voice recorder out, record the melodies. And then go back, pick the melodies I like the most and then put words too. But then sometimes if it’s fresh emotions for example, and things just happened, and I have things on my heart that I want to speak about; then on that rare occasion, I’ll just sing the words and find it that way.

You’ve obviously worked with some incredible artists along the way. How do you choose who to work with? Again, I think that ties in with protecting your energy…

Mmm it does, it does. Do you know what’s funny? Most of the artists that I’ve worked with first, in the early parts of my career everyone just came to me, apart from Ms Banks who was the first feature that I featured on my own. 

You attracted the right attention.

So it’s happening very authentically and I’m very grateful. For every person who I’ve aligned with or crossed paths with so far. I’m sure there is many more to come. But yeah, it’s all happened very organically and authentically, I guess the one with Ms Banks, I reached out to her at the time, she was just so lovely and nice as well.

In some way she set the tone for how we can grow together in the industry… She was someone who championed those things early on and people can forget that. Maybe because social media wasn’t so big. 

100% agree on that. She did a lot. 

You’ve also talked about working with artists and having to play things strategically within your career as well. Do you think this is something you will always have to be vigilant about?

[exasperated] Yeah. I mean, you know what? Actually, no. Because I probably will have to for a while longer as I work, as I build, as I expand. But I aim to get to a point where I can literally call all the shots [laughs]. But that’s really, where I want to get to, I want to get to a point where I can call the shots comfortably. And people respect it. Because you’ve seen the work, you’ve seen the growth, and you’ve seen that it’s been from the ground up, you know? So yeah, by the time it gets to that point, I feel like there are certain things that I’ll be able to, you know, brush off.

As you say, some things get easier, and some things get harder. And there’ll be new challenges.

Sometimes I think about someone as famous as Drake and I’m like… someone who has as much money as Drake, and all that kind of stuff. You must live a relatively easy life, but then there must also be challenges that we can’t possibly understand. 

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If there was one artist that you could work with, who would it be? And what would it that track sound like? 

That’s a really hard question… I have so many. I mean, this is not in like, this is not the top one necessarily. This is just one of many. Brandy. I would love to work with Brandy. 

That would sound incredible. And would it be playing on that nostalgic vibe?

Oh, absolutely! The harmonies to the structure of the song, to the layers, everything. Me. and Brandy on a song would be.. Phenomenal.

To say the least I think that would be groundbreaking. 

On my vision board I have on there that one of my goals that I’m doing, I don’t lknow if it’s going to be a first r&b album, but hopefully. If not the first one and the second one. I definitely want brandy on one of those R&B albums in my lifetime.

I’m going to keep that in my thoughts too , that would be incredible. And then going back to your past, what has your family’s reaction been to your journey in music?

My family are amazing. Literally. I’m Nigerian, originally. But usually, in terms of Nigerian households, they don’t really class creative careers as real careers. Because they just feel like they don’t really make enough money and you know, in Nigeria, money’s a big thing. So it’s just like, no one wants their child to be 28/29 coming on 30 and you’re still not really earning enough. But that’s the risk that you take with the music because it takes a bit longer to build and break through. But my family, my parents, my immediate siblings, from very early on, they just noticed I had a flair for this thing. A natural gift for it. And they just nurtured it you know, and honestly, I would not be here today, if not for the support of my family. Not only have my family supported me, my parents have even invested in my career. Obviously, I’m a self-funded artist but sometimes my parents will help me out, if I’m stressed if I’m stressed or if I’m like, they will actually come through for me. It’s real. Their support is real. And I feel like in a way that motivates me even more and just really makes me realise I really have to do this because I’m meant to give back to you guys for everything that you’ve done for me.

It’s easy to get a strong sense that you’re about family and keeping the right people close to you and having those valuable relationships.

Absolutely. And that stems straight from my family. They are very, very closely knit and in love. I’m blessed to have a family where we’re a unit.

What does having a legacy mean to you?

Wow. I’ve never been asked that question before. That’s a deep question. Everything. Like, honestly, if, God forbid I die anytime soon; but when I do, I really want to be remembered for just love and light on a global scale. And everything I do, from the way I’m choosing to independently navigate my career to just the feeling that I leave with people–even if it’s from short encounters, maybe if you see me perform at a show. Yes, it’s my project but in whatever form it comes. The legacy that I leave, I want to be strong. I want it to be impactful. That’s crazy. I feel like that’s actually why I’m making the decisions I’m making right now. And choosing to do things in this way independently and self-funded. That’s all part of the legacy

Recently on Twitter, you mentioned not wanting to settle down for someone who doesn’t reciprocate your efforts in understanding them and I felt that like two tweets. I guess the question would be from that. Do you believe in soulmates?

[laughs]. Yes, I do believe in soulmates. I mean, I do believe in soulmates because of my parents, you know, my parents are my first example of love. And still now, they are like teenagers in love still no, they’re still in touch with their inner child, and they’re just happy and I feel like that has a lot to do with how their love healed each other. I mean, their love really healed each other. 

It’s incredible that you’ve been able to appreciate a healthy relationship as well. Props to your parents for that because I think that’s a rarity these days, as you say. And I have faith that you will find that one day for sure. 

Yeah, I’ve seen that live and direct. So I believe in it, because I’ve seen it and I know it in close proximity. You know, sometimes people find it harder to believe something if they’ve seen it or if they don’t know anyone that’s ever experienced that. ‘Okay, maybe it does exist but I’ve never seen it’, I’ve seen it so I do. I do believe in it. This generation though… it’s a bit… [laughs]. That’s just a different story. I do believe in it. But the generation now..the dating pool now… Umm.

You have a song with Enny coming out, what led to the collaboration?

I made this song with these producers called Sons of Sonix, they’re based in LA but they grew up here. We made the song, it was a hit straight away, it was just a banger. And we were just brainstorming who could jump on it because at that point I had only written one verse and he wrote one best. And we thought, either ENNY or 6LACK. 6LACK. I actually ended up getting in contact with his team but it just kept being long. You know? and expensive. And it’s just like, you know, I’m sure that I’ll work with 6LACK at some point, but I think it will be organic. Anyway, I asked Enny and she was down and she jumped on the track. So she literally killed my verse. And yeah, that’s literally going to be out around mid-March.

And one question to finish off… What would 10 years old Shaé think of what you’ve achieved now?

Oh my days, she’d actually be so proud. Oh my gosh. You know when you have to be asked the question to actually deep it. Wow. Yeah, she would be so proud, that’s given me such a heartwarming feeling.

TOP & SKIRT: Sshiqi / EARRINGS: Ninka Pop

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