If Shekhinah Thandi Donnell had the opportunity to speak to her younger self, she would tell her to take her vocal training lessons more seriously. “I would tell her that it’s bigger than you think,” said the 23-year-old singer-songwriter.
Shekhinah’s rise to fame began on Idols SA in 2011. She didn’t make it to the live stages, but in 2012 she went all the way to the top six.
Shekhinah went on to finish matric and moved from Durban to Joburg the next year.
“I started to pursue an independent career. It did not really work out, so I enrolled at college in 2014, studying live performance."
She did her major at AFDA School for the Creative Economy and graduated last year. It was during this phase that she started to take her music more seriously.
She wrote more songs, returned to Durban for a visit and reconnected with Kyle Deutsch, who was a contestant on Idols SA with her.
“We went into the studio together and we would always write together. We had a writing relationship before Back to the Beach."
The song Back to the Beach catapulted the star’s music career. And she went on to be part of other songs that have become anthems, such as Let You Know with Sketchy Bongo and featuring on Black Coffee’s Your Eyes.
Coming into her own, Shekhinah said it was easy for her to shift from duets to making her own music.
“I guess you always want to be known for who you are, and that is what pushed me. I’ve always wanted to give my truth and tell my story or interpret things in my own way.”
She credits her sister Elizabeth for pushing her and encouraging her to believe in herself.
The hard work she has put in to create a name for herself in the industry is paying off. Her debut album, Rose Gold, has been nominated six times for this year’s SAMAs.
The Female Artist of the Year contender also stands a chance to become the Newcomer of the Year. Rose Gold is up for Album of the Year, Record of the Year for the hit track Suited, Best Produced Album and Best Pop Album.
The nominations have made her feel proud and honoured.
“We worked really hard on the album and everyone involved gets to feel their work paid off,” she said.
Elizabeth was the close family support she received while producing her album.
“My sister shot all the album artwork. The Suited cover took us all day to put together the mirrors, and the Rose Gold cover is a forest in Durban. I wanted to have the nature theme. It was kind of like home. We pushed it, we got broke together and it was the craziest time of my life making this album,” she said.
She was aiming for the Best Album category because the body of work she put out to the public was a team effort.
Describing her style of music as a fusion of R&B and pop-soul, the songwriter said her desire has always been to have her own input in her music career.
“I have a song on my album that is from 2015, but I started working on the album properly in 2017 in my last year of college. We had to graduate with an album with 40 songs, and it worked out,” she said.
Shekhinah said she transformed her apartment into a studio, where most of her latest tracks were recorded.