New Voice, New Chords: An Interview With Singer Sherlee Skai
Singer Sherly Debrosse goes by the flashier name Sherlee Skai. Her voice warrants it. Her vocal style is a cross between a 1990s R&B diva and that of an 80s-era Caribbean songstress.
Skai remembers that a song entitled “Tu es Toujours La” by Tina Arena was a favorite of hers, growing up. It’s one of those songs that she just could not stop singing. These days, her musical tastes have changed only slightly. “Gravity,” a ballad by Sara Bareilles, ranks among her favorites.
As for Ms. Sherlee Skai herself, she isn’t lacking anything in the vocals department. In the song “Jwe’m” for instance, her voice does all sorts of gymnastics. The song, which uses musical instruments as stand-ins for a woman’s body parts, is layered with prose-like lyrics. A melancholy ballad, “Ou Manke’m” has a dual role; it conveys the loneliness of a Haitian immigrant living, while also echoing the sentiments felt by a passionate woman separated from the man she loves.
When did you first realize that you could really, really sing? That the sort of voice you had was meant to be heard not just in the privacy of your shower, but on a stage for the whole world?
My friends in sixth grade made me realized that I had a good voice when they kept asking me to sing during cultural activities at my school. I was thirteen years old then, and it was the result of my participation in the kids choir in church. But I was 16, when I realized that I would be happy doing this professionally after I played Sarafina in my high school musical.
How did you get the name Sherlee Skai?
From my first name Sherly and—my favorite motto—that the “sky is the limit.”
When you’re in the music business, there is so much emphasis on the look factor…on cultivating a look, on maintaining a certain weight and look. How do you handle such pressures?
While I’m fully aware that particularly women are pressured to maintain a certain look in the industry, I can’t really complain that it’s been a challenge for me. I have always been thin naturally, and for health purposes I try to eat as healthy as possible and exercise a little. My hair though has been an issue; for a long time I thought I could not be pretty enough with my natural hair. Finally in 2011, I cut my perm off and I’ve never felt more beautiful, confident and real.
When was the last time you went to Haiti?
I’ve just spent five amazing weeks in Haiti for the summer! I was working on my album with the producer Poppy Duverne who is now based in Haiti, and spending time with my family.
How do you personally define beauty?
Of course some people are very attractive physically, but I truly believe that beauty goes way beyond that. Beauty is being confident, being genuine, and having a kind soul.
In terms of image, do you think that there’s way too much emphasis placed on it, as opposed to actual talent?
Definitely, and it’s ridiculous. I don’t care how good you look, if you can’t really sing, then keep your day job. Unfortunately, the reality in the industry is different which is unfair and quite backwards I esteem. This is a money-making business, so if the consumers are going for the talentless, booty shaking girls, well the industry will surely deliver.
Do you happen to play an instrument?
My guitar helps me write, but I would never play it in public. I still have work to do. [Laughter]
When you were little, were there some singers that you especially admired and tried to emulate…whether it was their musical style or their vocal range?
I knew all the Yole Derose songs on TV. [Laughter] Emeline Michel is one of my favorites, and Celine Dion as well. The one person that I really try to imitate is Lauryn Hill; she is my idol.
Do you write your own songs?
Yes! Lyrics and melodies come from me, and my amazing producer Poppy Duverne is responsible for the musical arrangements.
Who taught you how to write songs?
[Through] trials and error, and encouragement from my good friend and fellow singer-songwriter Stanley Georges. When I look at the things I wrote five years ago compared to now, it’s a huge difference. Practice is the key.
When you work with a producer…do you present ideas on how the melody should sound? Or do you just ask for a certain melody?
I have big input in the musical arrangements. I have a sound in my head and the producer has to bring it to life, which I do very easily with Poppy Duverne. My songs are written with the melody. I sing it, and from that, Poppy figures out the track. If I want a particular sound, I tell him, and we go from there.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
The first song I wrote was for my choir in church. I was sick and tired of having songs writing by the boys only, so I decided to start writing too. It was horrible! But hey, I’ve always been a feminist.
With the spotlight on you, and having such tremendous talent, you naturally draw people to you. How do you distinguish between true and untrue friends?
A friend is a part of your personal life. He [or she] helps you built your career whether with [some] advice or [lots of] encouragement or anything that he [or she] can contribute, and of course, you do the same in return. Time and circumstances are the best way to recognize a true friend, and in this industry having true friends is crucial even if they are few; the spotlight can be a very lonely place.
What is your parents’ reaction to your singing and your having a singing career?
My mother would surely prefer that I sing gospel, and she is very concerned about the incertitude of this career path, but she respects my choice.
I think that every singer has a long-term plan. What do you hope to accomplish over the course of your career?
The long-term plan is to have a fulfilling career in music, which normally includes multiples albums, tours, meeting other great artists, and getting recognition for the work that you do. For now, I’m really focusing on finishing the first great path for my future steps. One of my dreams is to record a song with the amazing orchestra Malavoi.
Check Sherlee Skai out on REVERBNATION.