Interview: Sherika Sherard, Voice of a Generation
“Hi, so sorry for the delay!”, Sherika Sherard says as she plonks her huge guitar down and falls into her seat with an apologetic smile. Travelling in the London heat by public transport and battling delays is a laudable triumph but Sherika looks unperturbed. For me, her courtesy text earlier gave me time to hydrate (today is an absolute scorcher) and watch her duet with Seal again so I’m very content. More on Seal later.
So who is Sherika Sherard? A London based singer-songwriter and popular busker with a voice like velvet, known for captivating her audiences with clever rhymes, smooth vocals and an infectious creativity. Her debut EP, That Busker’s CD was released in 2014. followed by Just Saying a year later.
Yet, Sherika is in no way a music scene novice. A prolific gigger and busker, she has been writing for over ten years, taught herself to play the guitar at the age of fourteen and performed her first gig aged fifteen. At eighteen, she played at London’s Jazz Cafe. She describes her music as lyrical soul, as a lot of fans connected the way she sang her lyrics to rapping. She expands, “I say soul because if I’m not feeling it or if I don’t feel what I’m writing about, I can’t physically write it. I do like to feel what I’m writing if I’m going to perform it”.
You only have to listen to one of her tracks to realise she writes from the heart. Does it take courage to sing about issues that are personal to her and share them with her listeners, I wonder? “Yes, it’s like singing my diary!” she says with a grin. She cites Marvin Gaye as one of her biggest influences, as she believes he embraced his troubled side and made talking about it his escape. Thankfully, Sherika had a very happy upbringing but believes that when a track’s subject is honest, people connect with it more than, say, a commercial song. She explains, “Where it’s a bit personal, it’s a risk; but it’s also showing your weakness while making you look stronger”.
It’s pertinent at this juncture to ask her about Give Me A Job. In 2014, Sherika gained notoriety when her performance of the infectious track – about leaving university and the challenge of finding work – went viral. ”I was really embarrassed when I first wrote that song – the amount of people that love it!” she says modestly. “I didn’t think it was that great until people started picking up on it! But people found it catchy and then I found it catchy. It felt right singing it”. It was this song, about the difficult and sometimes lonely ordeal of finding a job, that made her pursue her musical journey full time. Sherika talks openly and with humour about her experience and it’s easy to see why she became the voice for the jobless generation.
Sherika is a great interviewee; friendly and candid. As the conversation flows, I realise she is not only humble about her talent but also thinks very highly of her fans. I ask her about the production of That Busker’s CD (“basically me just recording on my laptop in my bedroom!”) and the album Just Saying, and how she made the transition from songwriting to recording to releasing. “I love performing but I hate anything that’s behind the recording! Back in the day we would just do a live recording and I would embrace all my bum notes and everything – but obviously I can’t do that now!”. Back in 2014, despite offers from producers to record an album after Give Me A Job went viral, Sherika was keen to take the crowdfunding route, so people could buy signed and handwritten copies of her material. “When you know you’ve got fans waiting, and have the first proper deadline, you realise it’s not just about you anymore. There are people who actually want to hear your music and if they’re going to support you financially then you can at least give a good album.”
Sherika is acclaimed for busking. You can find her on London’s Southbank and it is here she pours out her heart and soul through her music. “I always feel like I’m part of London’s charm in that way, being a busker”. How does she approach the art of busking? “I always think of myself as a live billboard so you have to think of a reason why someone would want to stop and listen to you. I’m constantly doing the best performance for every single person that comes past” she says with conviction.
It was this attitude, and unquestionable talent, that caught the attention of a certain multi-platinum superstar named Seal a few months back. It’s impossible to interview Sherika and not ask about the time Seal surprised her as she was performing on the Southbank – and then invited her to open for him, and 5,000 others, at Greenwich Music Time. When I ask Sherika to describe the experience, her eyes light up.
“The Monday before that happened I was saying to myself, I don’t want to do music anymore” she muses. She was wondering whether she was spending too much time on it, feeling fatigued and questioning whether busking was the right way to appreciate her craft. Fortunately, she persevered and on the day, not in the least suspicious about the cameramen or a bodyguard who said he had a friend who wanted to hear her play (“I thought it was something to do with Sadiq Khan!”) she carried on performing while Seal hid in waiting until he finally surprised her and they performed a magical duet. Was she nervous about the Greenwich gig? “The funny thing about that whole gig is that I’ve been more nervous at other gigs, I wasn’t nervous – I think it was because Seal was really chilled; he didn’t hype me up too much. He said ‘you know what you’re doing and just do it’. It went really well” she said humbly. “I think when you’ve been busking for that long, you’ve perfected your performance in that way and sometimes your body hasn’t got time to be nervous. Sometimes if you really want something and you really believe in yourself, it shouldn’t feel so alien to you”.
This approach definitely worked. Seal asked Sherika to join him on tour in Brussels and open for his gig a few days later and then to sing with him at CarFest North. “I took the tour bus back to London with him, it was crazy. They asked if I wanted a drink, Seal was drinking tea so didn’t feel I could have a proper drink” she laughed. There was no time to let the experience overwhelm her though; days later Sherika was busking again which impressed the mighty Seal. “It wasn’t me putting down performing with him” she explained “it’s just this is still going on and if I can juggle it then I will, it’s about staying grounded. I always remember one thing that Seal said to me, after I’d thanked him so much, he said ‘you’ve got to remember it starts with you and it ends with you’”.
So, does Sherika have any advice for inspiring musicians? “Be loyal to the reason you started’, she said, which was a message she received from a fan. She recounts a time when she was on the same bill as Ed Sheeran after he got signed, citing it as one of her favourite gigs as she learnt so much from it. “You are there to convince an audience to like your music but also to show them that you think you are really good”. She pauses before adding, “it’s also finding that middle ground where it’s like you’re not arrogant but you’re confident”. It is safe to say Sherika has definitely succeeded.
She is certain about her plans for the future; to release another EP and do some more collaborations. For now, we’re very excited she is on the lineup for Blogtober Festival at The Finsbury where we can expect new material. “I’ve been whipping myself to write new songs” she says brightly. “So much has gone on in my life since I’ve written those last songs. In order to show that I am getting better I need to write new stuff, as my material is personal, to show my personal growth as well as an artist”.
Later that night, Sherika was off to play at Muse in London’s Soho but showed no signs of fatigue despite the heat and a photoshoot straight after our interview. “I’m not really fussy with pictures, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” she says cheerfully with that velvety voice as our interview sadly draws to a close.
I could have chatted to her all day. Sherika is committed, humble and talented and it’s no wonder Seal fell for her charms. I did.
Sherika’s latest album Just Saying is out now.
You can catch Sherika live at the RockShot-curated Blogtober Festival night on Monday 10 October 2016 at The Finsbury, 336 Green Lanes, London N4 1BY.
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook & Photography by Rachel Lipsitz