SHiiKANE MUSICAL GROUP , UK BASED SISTERS OF NIGERIAN DESCENT SPEAK ON THEIR MUSIC, ROOTS AND NIGERIAN INFLUENCE, SEE PIX

They are sisters of Nigerian descent in the United Kingdom: Shay, Annamay and Kay. Shay and Annamay are twins, while Kay is their younger sister. They belong to a fast rising singing group known as SHiiKANE. In this interview with YETUNDE OLADEINDE, they open up on their journey to fame, memorable moments and losing their mom.

 

The music industry can be brutal and you learn pretty quickly that it is every man for himself,” Annamay, one of the twins in the UK musical group, ShiiKANE, began, as the trio settled for this interview on their experience in the world of music and more.

“Our experience with music has been a journey of ups and downs. If not for the passion we have for music, we would’ve quit a long time ago.”

The crux of the matter, she explained, is getting dedicated people to work with and fulfill their dreams: “It’s hard to find loyal people in the industry. So, when you do, you have to hold them tight. We are lucky that we have each other to lean on during the hard times”.

On her part, Shay takes you down memory lane to how it all started. “Annamay and I are twins. Right from primary school, we always used to sing. We went to school in London in a small predominantly white town. We were the only Black family on our street and one of three other Black families in the school. During school recitals, plays or concerts, they would always ask the Black kids to sing or dance because they assumed all Black kids could sing or dance.”

Luckily, the trio already had a love for music, “Our parents were always playing music in the house, so it came naturally to us. From a young age, we wanted to be Janet Jackson or Whitney Houston. Every weekend, our parents would take us to Nigerian parties; so we would hear all the latest Nigerian music and we loved it. We loved the way the music made us feel. We didn’t understand Igbo or Yoruba but we loved the music”.

Annamay takes over from her twin sister and takes you further into their world. “Whilst at secondary school and university, Shay and I joined bands and singing groups but eventually decided to be a duo. We would always ask Kay to join us but she refused”.

However, they just didn’t let go because they badly wanted their sister to be part of the big dream.

“I wasn’t really interested in being a musician. I really wanted to be an actor. So, I went to university to study for a degree in Theatre and Performing Arts,” Kay chipped in.

To be or not to be? Annamay and Shay didn’t give up on Kay; and along the line, they won her over to their singing side.

“At some point, our mom persuaded me to join my sisters’ group and that’s how we started singing together and became SHiiKANE,” Kay enthused.

Obviously, their parents who never forgot home in Asaba, Delta State, also gave them Nigerian names. Shay goes by the name Ifeanyichukwu, Annamay’s is Uchechukwu, while Kay’s Nigerian name is Nkemdilim.

Kay revealed that coming together as a brand and making waves was fun but it also came with some challenges.

“The initial challenges were learning how to work together as siblings. We argued a lot! And our mom had to settle a lot of our arguments. Shay and Annamay would always argue and I would be in the middle; but we would always fix things quickly because we wanted it to work and we had a lot of people waiting for us to fail.”

Determination, dedication and passion have kept them bonded together whilst they have also kept their eyes constantly on the bigger picture, and carving a niche for themselves.

Kay continued: “People didn’t believe in our dream at all. The only person that never doubted us was our mom. She was our biggest fan. She used to work for the Nigerian High Commission in London and would always sell our mix tapes and CDs to her colleagues. She always told us to stay focused and believe that we could do all things through Christ who strengthens us”.

Their most challenging moment, however, was working out how to finance their music: “Recording studio sessions, photo-shoots, paying producers, shooting music videos and then paying to promote the work once it’s all done. It’s been hard financing it all because we’ve never been signed to a label, and we’ve never had an investor”, Shay informed.

Instead, they have had to work day jobs to finance this passion and they all confess that it’s hard to do both at the same time.

“As an artist, you want to focus on the art and not worry about the business side of things; but since we don’t have an investor backing us, we don’t have that privilege. Sometimes, it’s hard to be in a creative zone if you’ve just finished working a corporate job for 8 hours”, Shay explained.

Happily, they also let you in on some of their memorable experiences in the entertainment sector as well as the things that inspire them.

For Annamay, a moment that stands out was meeting 2Face at the MAMA’s in South Africa.

“He was so humble and welcoming. He told us he knew our music. He actually sang our first single to us to prove it! He said he could see the effort we were putting into our careers and told us we must keep going and never give up. We were star-struck; we couldn’t believe he actually knew who we were. Meeting other musicians we’ve looked up to is always memorable, especially when they’re humble and open, because we’ve definitely met a few rude ones too”.

On her part, Kay says she gets inspired by hard working people. “It’s always inspiring to see artistes that work hard because it pushes us to work harder. We have always admired artistes like Olamide. He’s always reinventing himself and always keeps his projects interesting. He works very hard and we pray to stay consistent like him. We get our inspirations from movies, from life; we see art everywhere”.

Pain of losing mom

Shay, however, says losing their mom is a memory that will never go away.

“It was so unexpected because she wasn’t sick at all. She collapsed in the office at work one morning and that was it. She had a sudden heart attack; till today, they don’t know the cause. It still affects us because we are too young not to have her in our lives.”

That remains a major setback and turning point in their lives; but they decided they just had to move on.

“It made it harder to stay focused on our dreams; not having our number one fan cheer us on has been difficult.”

Moving on with the pieces, it has been a learning curve with lots of memories.”Going on tour with Tekno and again with Kizz Daniels was an interesting experience. It was our first time going on a tour and it was hard being on the road as supporting artistes without all our comforts. We learnt a lot and were grateful for the opportunity”, Annamay recounts.

ShiiKANE

Another great opportunity was performing at Felabration at the o2. Kay captured it this way: “It was an amazing experience and an honour to be on the stage. Fela Kuti is the backbone and genesis of the international community being interested in Nigerian music, so it’s an honour to pay homage to him and his legacy”.

Kay also talked about some of the other things that occupy their time.

“We started a YouTube channel in 2018 called SHiiKANETv, once we realised that we needed to find a way to grow our fan base that wouldn’t cost us too much money. We needed another way to connect with our fans and gain some new ones. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, we decided to add another channel called ‘SHiiKANEReacts,’ reacting to music videos. Both channels combined, have nearly 60,000 subscribers, with nearly 10million views”.

To relax, they go to the gym. Before the pandemic they used to travel a lot to unwind. “We would love to see women included a lot more in all aspects of the music industry, not just artistes – more women behind and in front of the cameras. From A&R to management to photographers, the list goes on and on. We try to hire 90% female on video and photo-shoots, as we know how important it is to be proactive about making a change”, Shay said.

Annamay added: “We would love to see more female music collaborations too. We often reach out to female artistes to work with but haven’t been that successful yet. We hope that changes in the future”.

The ladies are currently recording their debut album and one could practically feel their passion as they talked about it.

“We have taken over two years away and not released any music since our N.W.A EP in 2019; so we’re ready to release new music. The album should be ready by the third quarter of 2021”.

Sound Sultan, a huge inspiration

Inspiration come from mentors and the girls have so many mentors and role models, many of whom they admire at close range and from a far.

“The late Sound Sultan was a huge one. We met him so many times and he was always so nice to us. Always had our time and never made us feel unseen. He invited us to a video shoot he was doing in London and made sure he included us so much in the final edit. It was an honour to know him. He worked so hard right up until the end and we’ll forever be in awe of his strength and courage”.

Other role models would be people like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Niniola, CardiB, Wajé and particularly Tiwa Savage, because of what she represents in the industry.

“For a woman to be a mother, wife and still be one of the biggest artistes in Africa is a huge accomplishment in a society that doesn’t allow women to be great. All their accomplishments are amazing”.

Next, Annamay gives a shout-out to St @NigeriaMusic, who has been very instrumental in their career.

“He has supported us from the beginning of our journey into pursuing our music in Africa and has always seen the global vision. Another amazing mentor has been Latasha Ngwube aka Latasha Lagos”.

Should they have to change something in the industry, what would it be?

Kay is the first to respond: “Misogyny!! The double standards between men and women are alarming. This needs to change in order for the industry to grow. More female managers and executives will help this change”.

For young people who want to come into the sector, she has this piece of advice: “Make sure you have a budget! Nobody will tell you that this industry is a business first before anything else. Talent comes after business. If there is no money to push the product just like any other business, it will fail. The financial backing is what keeps the business consistent”.

Annamay adds: “Keep all enjoyment in moderation- e.g. partying. It’s part of the lifestyle but too much of anything is danger ous!”

Relaxation

They all agree that relaxation is important and that they indeed relax by watching reality TV.

“We don’t have BBNaija in the UK, so we used to watch it on the Africa Magic App or keep up on Instagram. It is very entertaining. We also go to the gym and spa a lot.”

Travelling is part of the fun and they love going to Spain, France, Tanzania and Atlanta GA.

“We really want to visit the Maldives and Thailand soon.”

ShiiKANE

Reading is another thing that keeps the girls going. “At the moment, we’re trying to read more books by African writers. Currently I’m reading ‘Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and ‘I am a girl from Africa’ by Elizabeth Nyamayaro,” Annamay informed.

Trendy and good looking, the SHiiKANE girls are quite experimental when it comes to fashion.  You actually wonder if there is anything they won’t do in the name of fashion.

“We can never say never o! Maybe we can never wear raw animal skin with blood, or human blood etc, but we are quite experimental with fashion. So nothing is off limits”, Kay replied.

New wave of COVID-19 brings back memories of the lockdown last year and keeping safe and as far as they are concerned, “The rules in the UK were pretty strict; so we just spent most of 2020 in the house. We only go out to get groceries; and tried to always wear a mask and sanitise our hands. It was pretty tough not travelling anywhere for so long but slowly things are getting back to normal.”

Their heart goes out to Nigerian youths in the country and all over the world.

“It was so hard watching the protests, then watching the Lekki Massacre live as it was happening. It was so traumatic but we we’re inspired by the Nigerian youths’ resilience and their desire to make Nigeria a better country for all. We advise all Nigerians, especially the youths to register to vote and make sure they organise themselves. Get behind one candidate and vote.”

Last line

Life is full of lessons, but the hardest, they insist is the loss of their wonderful mom. “After losing our mom, we learnt that nothing is promised and we learnt quickly that we only have each other. We are family and whether we like it or not, we are stuck together and we must always stick together. It’s what our mom wanted and we will never let her sweat be in vain”.

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