The Queens Circle
Last weekend in Barbados was a time of virtual celebration for the arts community.
On March 20th and 21st, The 2nd annual Gine On People’s Choice Awards was held; whilst on the 21st the inaugural Baje to the World Finals were also held. It is extremely encouraging to see new concepts emerge with a focus on pushing the creative culture in Barbados. I look forward to seeing the continued development of both platforms.
The Gine On Awards is the brain-child of Gine On founders, Empress Zingha and D.J. Simmons. People are able to vote for their favorite nominees across the creative community in Barbados ranging from awards in Music, to Culinary Arts, to Podcasts. A hearty congratulations is extended to the organizers, every creative who was nominated, and the category winners.
Baje to the World is a national talent show with the aim of displaying the best in Bajan talent who are assessed by a panel of Judges for a grand prize, which was ultimately taken home by vocalist Casheda Dottin. Congratulations are extended to the organizers, the finalists, and the 2nd and 3rd place winners Trinity Clarke, and Justin “Sunrokk” Taylor.
As we wrap up Women’s Month, I thought it was only fitting to get some insights and advice for you all from the female winners in the Music categories at the Gine On People’s Choice Awards, and our first Baje to the World winner, or as I like to call them “The Queens Circle”. What I found were common traits of perseverance, authenticity, vulnerability and undeniable talent in all of these women.
Your Bajan queens are:
RoRo - Reggae Song of the Year (Mood Forever)
Mahalia Cummins - R&B Song of the Year (Talk To Me - 2 Mile Hill), R&B Artist of the Year (2 Mile Hill), Hip-Hop Song of the Year (I Live in Barbados - Jabari Browne feat. Mahalia & Sunrokk)
Neesha Woodz - Album/EP of the Year (Incredible God)
Faith Callender - Soca Song of the Year (Don’t Break Yet), Music Video of the Year (Don’t Break Yet)
Shana Hinds/Pull De Trigga Boom - Writer of the Year
Casheda Dottin - Baje to the World Grand Prize Winner
RoRo’s ability to seamlessly fuse genres and make them her own is unmatched. Her sound is soulful yet distinctly Caribbean, and her EP “Mood Forever” is one of my favorite releases for 2020. Her journey is one of persistence; she took a leap of faith, saved up, and went to the U.K. to audition for the X Factor.
While she was there she met her current manager. RoRo is now signed to an independent label, Mahogany Records, in the U.K., and lists some of her influences as Chronixx, Amy Winehouse, Lila Ike and Savannah.
Leigh: What can we expect for 2021? What are some of your goals?
RoRo: My goal this year is to be more recognized and solidify my place in the industry. I want to release more visuals, I’m also going to be putting out a new project this year.
Leigh: What advice would you give to younger artists who are inspired by your journey?
RoRo: I was shy when it came to music, at first I said no to opportunities because music makes me feel vulnerable and it’s very personal to me. I have gotten where I am because I started going with the flow. I stopped saying no, I stopped doubting myself.
If you don’t make a start you’ll always be wishing you did. My journey was full of trial and error but I put my best foot forward over the years of failing, and gaining knowledge, and just stayed consistent. Every year I just want to know I’m getting a little bit further; as long as I don’t stop it’s going to amount to something. So, stay consistent and keep at it.
Mahalia is the lead vocalist in Barbados’ favorite band, 2 Mile Hill. Her platform, Mahalia’s Corner, has ingrained itself into the local music scene, with amazing features from top entertainers in Barbados and an open mic segment which is now notorious for introducing new talent.
She is also an author and has recently released another contribution to the culture with “Bajanisms” a handbook for navigating the Bajan language. She was the only female artist to win across genres this year at The Gine On Awards.
Leigh: What goes into your writing process? And who are some of your current influences?
Mahalia: Most of the time I get the rhythm of what I want to happen, even if I don’t know the words that I want to say. I find a lot of the times it works easier if I’m working with music already whether it’s just a drum groove, guitar riff, just some kind of guide.
Sometimes the song comes to me quickly and other times you start to feel like it would never happen. For example Big Love took me three years to finish, but the verse I wrote on Jabari’s song took me maybe a day to complete. I guess it depends on the energy in the universe at the time, you know?
In terms of influences I still have very strong RnB influences with people like H.E.R., Masego, Jorja Smith, and Mahalia. I also have to say Koffee, she is the closest thing to the direction that I see my artistry going in in terms of her vocal approach. She excels at bridging the gap between raw reggae, Jamaican patois, and a more international vibe which is exactly where I see myself going.
Leigh: You’ve already made your mark on the Bajan landscape with Mahalia’s Corner and now your book. What are your plans for 2021?
Mahalia: My plans for 2021 are to renew myself and the band’s relationship with the Barbadian music landscape. It’s all well and good to say you’ve made a mark but every day is a new day; in the space of a year the world has been turned upside down.
Right now I’m trying to write as much as I can; I have new perspectives, new ideas, new emotions that I want to explore, so I’m building a catalogue as it pertains to music. And I definitely HAVE to make Mahalia’s Corner happen this year! It must happen. (I yasssssss’d, not gonna lie)
Leigh: Any advice for the younger artists that are looking on?
Mahalia: I would say really get to know yourself, who you are deep down inside and who you want to be as an artist and a person. Do everything to be that person, and say no to everything else.
Neesha is well-known on the Bajan gospel music scene. She has been a full-time artist since 2011 and has a passion for using Caribbean genres in her music. Her father’s influence, and ultimately her mother’s encouragement to follow her dreams, helped motivate Neesha to make the plunge to pursue music. Her musical influences include Stitchie and Papa San, who challenged the narrative that Caribbean genres such as Reggae, Soca, and Dancehall are inherently “secular”.
Leigh: As a gospel artist how does it feel to win Album/EP of the Year when the nominees were spread across multiple genres?
Neesha: When you look at the tremendous talent in this category, from Ch’an to Sunrokk, it truly felt surreal. I know many people hear the term “gospel music” and think hymns or Joseph Niles but I’ve always been passionate about making sure my music reflects our culture and I’m glad to see that it is having some form of impact and resonating with people.
Leigh: What is next for you? What are your plans this year?
Neesha: Covid has really shifted things so I’m taking the opportunity to rest this year, for the first time in my career, and hone my craft. I’m letting myself be inspired. I always want my music to flow from a place of authenticity: this is what I’ve learnt, this is what I’ve been through and hopefully it touches someone. I’ll still be releasing new music and visuals though.
Leigh: What advice would you give to younger artists?
Neesha: Find your niche. In my earlier days I used to compare myself a lot and my growth with other artists and trust me that kills your creative process and your spirit. Find what makes you stand out and play on that quality.
Creatives we struggle so much with our own insecurities and we have to learn to get over ourselves first and believe in ourselves. I had to learn to push past that fear and recognize that I am talented and I have something to offer the world.
Faith Callender is relentless. In 2020 while Covid slowed down the pace for some artists, we watched her step into her own. She hosted the virtual party series Soca Lockdown, and gave us a new sound and a renewed confidence with her singles “Don’t Break Yet” and “Ten Toes Down”.
This paid off handsomely at the People’s Choice Awards as she was nominated in several categories and ultimately took home two Soca awards for Don’t Break Yet, written by Shana Hinds who won Writer of the Year. Her current influences are Shenseea, Patrice Roberts and Meghan the Stallion.
During the awards, Faith launched her latest single “Baddie”, produced by Jus D, with a tantalizing performance solidifying both her direction as an artist and her comfort channeling her sensuality and power.
Leigh: Tell me about the transition from “Refill” Faith to “Baddie” Faith.
Faith: Visually the transition has not been that different, my style is the same. But, in terms of the delivery, the music I put out, the messaging I’m pushing, it definitely came from a place of self-discovery. By the end of Cropover 2019 it felt like I was going down this rabbit hole of just running the race from one competition to the next, from one event to the next without taking time to figure me out.
Due to Covid I had a lot of time to really sit and think. I was going over some old performances with stuff I did before I touched the Soca scene and I realized that before the competitions, when I was just doing me, I performed a lot of Dancehall and I had stepped away from this person. So while I love Soca and everything I’ve become because of it, I wanted to fuse it with who I was and display that side of me that was clearly missing.
I had my doubts at first but I had to tell myself girl this is you, people are gonna love it because it is you, it just feels right. With the messaging as well, authentically being yourself I think is so so important. That’s the messaging I want to push and inspire people to just be themselves as well. It’s amazing to see the work being recognized now, the wins were surreal and it has been something ive been working towards, letting the music connect with people.
That’s what Baddie really focuses on as well. To me a Baddie is a boss babe. A strong female who gets their money, is authentically themselves, owns every part of themselves and isn’t afraid to express their sexuality.
Leigh: How has working with Shana and Paul P. played into your direction today?
Faith: They were sent at the perfect time. Paul introduced me to Shana and we had a conversation about direction and what style we like. When she wrote Don’t Break Yet everything just fit perfectly, she just understood the direction. We were definitely on the same path as it relates to owning yourself. Their help has been tremendous in not having to do everything myself.
A one-man or two-man band simply can’t pull everything together, they were really helpful in making sure certain things got done. I’m grateful for them and they’ve just added to the direction for sure.
Leigh: What advice would you give to younger creatives who are inspired by your journey?
Faith: Don’t give up! Sometimes things may not always go your way but with every lesson there’s something to be learned and you always come out stronger. Take some time to figure out who you are. Don’t be too distracted by what’s going on around you, sometimes we get lost in using people as inspiration and don’t bring ourselves into what we do.
Also, be comfortable in whatever you do, there are all types of people in this world and you just have to find your tribe. As it relates to expressing your sexuality, be comfortable with yourself first and that confidence will shine through and everything else will kind of fall into place.
Shana "Pull De Trigga Boom" Hinds
Coming from an entertainment family, Shana has been around the music industry from an early age. She grew a love for music, how it made her feel and how it makes others feel. Writing was initially an outlet for self expression that eventually grew into a way of life.
Leigh: Why writing instead of performing?
Shana: When I was younger I thought I wanted to be a singer but I had terrible stage fright and didn’t enjoy performing on stage. But I knew that I wanted to do music. In many ways I’m an introvert so I don’t talk much unless I’m close to you or comfortable with you. I started writing in secondary school as a way of expressing my feelings.
I may not have been able to say it outloud, for instance if I had a crush on someone, but I could put it into a song. When Shontelle started writing professionally, I would see her around the tents and it made me think about writing professionally, as a separate entity. My dad encouraged the idea and started making me write a song per week.
It felt ridiculous at the time but I see now what he was doing. My main goal this year, and every year, is to affect people in a positive way, make people happy through my music and also to empower women especially while doing so.
Leigh: Tell me about your experience working with Faith.
Shana: Faith inspires me, I feel like she is my voice. We are very similar, so now if I write a song for me I no longer have to just hear it in my room anymore because Faith can sing it. She is a really hard worker and generally a great person. We were introduced by Paul and we met up, sat and talked and it was fireworks since then, we had a lot in common with our journey and we had a lot of similar things to say.
When I showed her Don’t Break Yet, it was my way of trying to get my foot in the door because I felt like people didn’t take me seriously as a writer for a while. Now I feel like she’s my Elton John, she’s my artist. I’ve been told before that my process is too slow because I enjoy talking to the artist first and getting to know them. For me, when I write you a song I want to know it truly embodies who you are and you’ll enjoy singing it for years to come.
Leigh: What advice would you give to younger writers?
Shana: Write all the time, write every day. Write for yourself, find out what you like. Don’t become discouraged at the first No that you get. The people who win are the people who endure to the end. I have had unbelievable rejection for so long and it was very hard at times but I persevered. Always take the opportunity to network, and get a mentor who can help you to learn the industry. Be curious, be humble, be talented, and practice!
Do what you can do until you can do better.
Casheda is a promising vocalist with an infectious personality. She took her first step towards becoming an artist in 2019 by performing in the Open Mic segment at Mahalia’s Corner. She then went on to participate in Honey Jam Barbados, an all-female artist development program and showcase, which she credits for building her confidence.
Just under two years later, she is now the winner of the first Baje to the World Competition. Some of her influences are Alicia Keys, Take 6, H.E.R., Lalah Hathaway and Anita Baker. She is now the winner of the inaugural Baje to the World Competition.
Leigh: Tell us about yourself, who is Casheda?
Casheda: I’m 24, I like to paint, write, and read a good book. My favorite author is Stephen King. I like psych thrillers. Massage is my other passion outside of music. I don’t really have an exciting life, I love home, but it’s fitting because everybody is boring thanks to Covid now. Everyone has caught up to me.
While I’m at home I also like to do my Cozy Corner Covers on Instagram. My sister is my number 1 fan in my family. She puts me together, she makes my clothes, does my hair and makeup and gives me a pep talk when needed. My mother keeps me grounded, she reminds me to stay humble. My dad is a cheerleader so it’s a good balance. I currently have one track out titled Still There, but there will be more music to come. My genre is Gospel, Inspirational, Love.
What made you try out for Baje to the World?
Everything happened in 2019. What made me try out for Baje to the World was Honey Jam. What made me try out for Honey Jam was Mahalia’s Corner. Mahalia’s Corner was the first time I stepped on a stage of that nature. Ebonnie, who is the founder of Honey Jam, heard me sing at Mahalia’s Corner and reached out to me about participating in the Honey Jam program.
I’d thought about auditioning for Honey Jam before but I was too nervous. This time I said yes. After my experience at Honey Jam I felt more confident and decided to try something else. When Baje to the World announced their auditions I said to myself why not? And I went for it.
Any advice for the artists who may be inspired by your journey?
You have to figure out what your sauce is. It’s one thing to say you want to do something but not understand what you’re working with. Test out different things with your vocals, be willing to sound bad while you find the right thing for you. It’s not about the right song, it’s about the right sound. Be passionate about what you do and be patient with yourself while you enjoy every step of the journey.