Shaé Universe is a Nigerian-born British singer-songwriter whose latest single titled “Levels” is a smooth R’nB proclamation of self-love and self-reliance. At first, “Levels” sounds like an anthem for heartbreak but after speaking to Shaé, she reveals that it is actually a statement dedicated to the lack of support and discrimination she faces as Black womxn in the UK music industry. She brings elements of Hip Hop with a swift rap verse that shows off her ability to delve into the different genres of music that have influenced her to this day.
Having grown up surrounded by the sounds of soul and gospel music, Shaé now cites the likes of Erykah Badu, Jazmine Sullivan and Brandy as key influences that helped shape her musical journey. After completing her American Theatre studies, she has since made waves in the UK music scene, with notable collaborations including Etta Bond, Kojo Funds, Ms Banks and Kojey Radical. She’s also had online recognition from the likes of Chance The Rapper and Stormzy. We took some time to ask a few questions about her new single and her experiences as an artist:
There are themes of self-confidence, self-love and self-belief in 'Levels', which experiences have sparked those ways of being in you?
I’ve been through various things in my life that have shaped the woman I am today but through all of those experiences I realised the importance of loving myself. Many factors dampened my view of myself growing up, from patriarchy to certain cultural beliefs to colorism within general life & the music industry, however coming up to my 25th birthday this year, I decided to take control of my perception of myself. It was the hardest change to make but once I embarked on that journey the internal happiness has been well worth that journey.
You carefully crafted the lyrics of 'Levels', to imply being about love and heartbreak, yet are about overcoming toxic behaviour in the music industry - what inspired you to construct the lyrics in the way you did?
I wanted to keep it mysterious so I could have something to talk about in interviews lol
What are some of the challenges you have faced being a Black womxn in the music industry; how have you overcome them?
And why do you think it is important for womxn to stand up for themselves in the music industry or in any industry?
I could talk to you about the trials and tribulations I’ve had from now until the end of the year (lol seriously) but one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far is being respected as a female R&B artist in the UK music industry. It’s important to stand up for yourself as a woman in the industry purely because no one else will, sadly.
What are some of the qualities you are drawn to in the women you have chosen to portray in the 'Levels' music video and how have they influenced how you navigate your career?
I believe all the Icons featured in my music video made a substantial impact in both the music and fashion industry. They were all daring, confident, and willing to go against the grain in whatever capacity was unique to them. Each of these Icons showed me the importance of authenticity and the rewards that come from honouring that.
How has being of Nigerian heritage living in the UK influenced your identity and do you feel connected to your Nigerian roots?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s affected me that much as I came to England when I was 4 and my style of music isn’t necessarily Nigerian-influenced. However I’m definitely very much in touch with my roots and always try to go back to visit whenever I can.
What are your thoughts on the current conversations around race and equality specifically from a UK perspective?
I think what we need is equity not equality. They’re similar but not the same. Equality is near impossible to achieve at this point (in my opinion) because we’ve been in entirely different boats for too long - especially when we look at race specifically and the years of history that have led to the state of things today. I think black people need reparations in direct correspondence to their historical mistreatment as a people, and I’d say the same for any other oppressed group of people too.
What would you personally like to contribute to the music industry currently and in terms of your legacy?
I’d like to normalise being real and confronting uncomfortable conversations. There are many in the industry. I’d also like to be remembered for having a beautifully penetrative aura, being a symbol of love and being effortlessly excellent.
Interview: Thando Khumalo
Photography: Karis Beaumont