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Issue 1088

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Feature

Shena: High Diva Achieverâ¦.

Shena @bluesandsoul.com
Shena @bluesandsoul.com Shena @bluesandsoul.com Shena @bluesandsoul.com Shena @bluesandsoul.com

Disco diva Shena is a veteran but in the very best sense of the word. The singer, just 32, has worked with everyone from James Brown and Luther Vandross to Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse, and collaborated on around 10 Top 40 hits; all following an enrolment at the prestigious Royal Academy Of Music.

Undeniably thatâs major vocal pedigree and yet Shena has never really been a household name. That, the singer hopes, is about to change with the release of her debut artist album, One Man Woman and accompanying single Nasty Little Rumour.

âDance music has given me a great career, I know that, but singers get a hard timeâ she opens. âItâs hard enough to stand out these days but then the labels that have shown me an interest are never going to sign me to do my own thing. The only way things were going to happen was if I did things myself.â

âMyselfâ also includes co-writer, producer, manager and husband James Winchester, with whom Shena has launched an independent label No Prisoners on which the new material is ready to drop. No Prisoners is backed financially by Shenaâs brother-in-law making her latest musical gambit a true family affair.

âWeâve learnt a lot doing itâ she explains. âItâs had its risks what with the current recession but everything, so far, is looking good. I have a lot more control and fantastic support from my team; that allows me to concentrate on writing good songs, and singing my very best.â

Indeed, Shena has already released two strong tracks from the pop-disco-driven One Man Woman with great success. Both Canât Stop The Rain, a neat Chic-style glide, and My Fantasy, more swish disco business, have whipped up cast iron club support and national radio plays from heavyweights such as Radio 2âs Steve Wright and, yes, Sir Terry Wogan; not to mention glowing newspaper and magazine reviews.

âIâm really satisfied with the album; itâs exactly what I wanted it to beâ Shena laughs. âThat said itâs taken about three-and-a-half years to make it and get to this point; part of me is so familiar with the material that I already want to move on to the next thing⦠something new!

âI feel like we hit upon the nu-disco sound before it really blew up in the mainstream; something that fused poppy songs with the rich values of the Seventies and the electronic edginess of todayâs clubs. Unfortunately, quite a few artists have taken a similar approach whilst Iâve been in the studio. My sound isnât so unique now, which is frustrating, but Iâm still confident we have an amazing album. A lot of time has been spent on song-writing and choices, and on how we release the music â it was originally going to be download-only, but things have snowballed on from that.â

Indeed; nu-disco remains major musical currency in 2009. In general terms, clubland is continuing to demonstrate a shift away from some of its deeper, darker territory towards more melodic, soulful climes. âMusic is all about cyclesâ Shena suggests. âJames has talked before about Adele and Duffy re-inventing the 1960s; people are basically re-visiting the 1970s now, but with that punchy dance music edge.â

Shenaâs dextrous vocals give her retro sound an added punch in their own right. A listen to One Man Woman and youâd forgiven for wondering just how she hits the fiendishly wide-range of notes expected of her. Well?

âItâs a pop-orientated album, sure; an accessible album,â she says. âBut itâs also a very challenging album. There are some big and tricky notes on there; I wanted to push myself and really take listeners on a ride.â

Those kind of vocal gymnastics need plenty of preparation; their performer, plenty of TLC: âThe discipline of a singer should be no different to that of a professional athlete. If you want to rock it at a live show, or when youâre recording, then youâve got to look after yourself. Iâm teetotal these days; I look after my tonsils. With discipline you can continually out-do yourself.â

Classical training at the Royal Academy canât hurt either. But then Shena did, after a time, ask to leave the Academyâs classical classes and switch to commercial music; an early reflection perhaps of her current, staunch desire to push a very individual disco agenda. âI told them that I couldnât stay any longer unless they changed my course. I didnât want to end up sounding like Kiri Te Kanawa, I wanted to sound like Whitney Houston.â

Shenaâs mix of classical and commercial training would stand her in good stead for what was to come. A âdevelopmentâ deal with Columbia Records, would lead onto regular contracted work for Virgin via their VC club music subsidiary. It was here, during the late Nineties, that sheâd enjoy dancefloor success with the Paul âTroubleâ Anderson-remixed single More Than Woman and bigger, Top 30 follow-up Let The Beat Hit âEm.

There would also come high-profile opportunities to sing on stage, notably in Jesus Christ Superstar and Little Shop Of Horrors. And all whilst the varied offers of club work continued piling in from labels including Manifesto, Azuli and Full Intentionâs imprint Dtension. Most recently, Shena has put her voice to club tracks for key imprints Defected and Hed Kandi.

âI do still do club collaborations but itâs not the same as being your own bossâ the diva concludes. âI mean people keep ringing me to check if Iâm the singer on Calvin Harrisâ [recent number one] Ready For The Weekend, but itâs not me! Collaborations arenât so rewarding after a few jobs; you have no identity or influence. I feel older and wiser today. Itâs time to make a real name for myself now; really move my career on. I have my platform and Iâm really excited about it.â

Ahead, Shena plans to tour her album âproperlyâ with a live 20-piece band, as well as start work on a âdifferentâ second album. More immediately, however, she has a string of international singing commitments in cities ranging from San Francisco to Frankfurt.

Shenaâs name really is set to travelâ¦.

Shenaâs new album One Man Woman is out now on No Prisoner Records. The new single, Nasty Little Rumour, is released October 5.
Words BEN LOVETT

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