Shai Soul-Wright embodies an nostalgic UK soul sound. Singer-songwriter, musician and actress, Shai blends elements of soul, reggae, funk and jazz. The intimacy of her storytelling and melodic vocals gives an uplifting and warm vibe.
What is your background, has this influenced your sound? So my parents are both Jamaican. I am a self confessed Island girl although being first generation British. Mainly because Jamaica has always felt like home to me, and my upbringing although in Britain was staunchly Jamaican. I am heavily influenced by my Jamaican roots (of which I am very proud) in everything from my values, spirituality, the food I love to cook and of course music. My fondest memories growing up were Sunday afternoons with mum throwing down in the kitchen the smell of seasoned chicken cooking, fried dumplings frying and rice n peas with creamed coconut simmering, with sounds like Freddie Mcgregor, John Holt, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, of course Bob Marley, man like Yellow Man (the list is endless) bumping loud! My first record at eight -nine years old given to me by my mum was Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket on 12 inch vinyl. So of course you will hear reggae nuances in my music whether it’s a soulful track like ‘Out Here’ from the Seven Seventy Seven EP or The Hip Hop infused track ‘Elevate’ from the same titled EP and the straight up dub banger ‘Stay Righteous’ released on limited edition 7 inch vinyl in 2019.
Who are your major influences? This is never an easy question for me to answer because it’s hard to narrow it down. I’m influenced by artistry, creativity freedom of expression in music and performance period. I started out in dance and theatre age four then started learning to play the acoustic guitar at six, the piano at 11, then progressed to the drums at twelve. By the time I was thirteen after trying to rap like The Real Roxanne “the lady devastator” (I love that line) and The Cookie Crew, LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane I saw Whitney Houston singing “saving all my love” and just started to sing. Life kind of “happened" around this time and my circumstances drastically changed so I wasn’t able to continue playing those instruments I had fallen in love with. The only instrument I had left was my voice and my ability to perform so I started studying female vocalists like Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, Chaka Khan, and Ella Fiztgerald. Again the list is endless, Sade I adore, Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige was my sound track of the nineties, the velvety chocolatey tones of Lala Hathaway. Not to mention the late great Donny Hathaway. Rahsaan Patterson is everything to me and my mentor in my head. D’angelo, Bilal, Maxwell - Jheeze! Seriously I could go on and on. I’m just a lover of greatness and still on my way to mine.
Where do you find inspiration? Really just in everyday life and experiences and allowing myself to live as truthfully and presently as I can. My experiences have really formed the basis of my songwriting and creativity in general. I am a story teller by nature and have always been very clear about the stories I want to tell - they need to be truthful and able to resonate with the listener on a real level. Sometimes the melody alone is enough to evoke a feeling of hope or fearlessness and/or happiness or heartbreak etc and then the words find you and almost write themselves or vice versa. This is the same approach I take as an actor when studying a script for a particular character, I’m always looking for parts of myself in that character in order to bring them to life truthfully. Could I present myself as an addict, a serial killer, someone cheating on their husband or being cheated on. What would that feel like to me, How would that present itself in my characteristics, how would I interact with others having made these choices and so on? When you can do that the words will meet you magically in your truth and you have a fully actualised believable character. Our lives and experiences are our greatest gifts. Sitting in a coffee shop overhearing a conversation can inspire your next song, script, or give you the courage to leave that toxic relationship you’re in. Or reach out to that friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Seeing somebody you care about achieve their goals/dreams can inspire you to fight for yours.
What impact has expression had on your life? Freedom of expression is EVERYTHING to me. Having been in situations where expressing myself has been ridiculed or challenged, from rocking my natural curly hair, wearing a Melaninaire T-shirt to speaking about my experiences with colourism through my song Brown Paper Bag. Speaking out to defend and protect myself and others. Just being empowered everyday to express myself freely and authentically as a human being is a definite must. For my creativity, mental health and general well being to thrive it’s important for me to surround myself with like minded people and situations that nourish and encourage freedom of expression. Whether that be artistic expression, spirituality, political expression through peaceful protest and demonstration to posting my views on equal rights, black excellence and BlackLivesMatter on my social media platforms, and just having the freedom to express my truth in any given situation. To use one of my mantra’s and favourite quote ever to sum up the impact expression has on my life: “My Life Is My Message” - Mahatma Gandhi I’m just an island girl living in the city standing in her truth, telling real stories through her artistry chasing her dreams and keeping it real. If that inspires one person, gives encouragement to one person or makes one person believe anything is possible - I’m good.