Passenger Profile: Shu

By Kenny Kerner
Taxi Member Success Shu
Most of you are already aware that TAXI members come from all over the world. This month's Passenger Profile will focus on someone who came from Kenya, but, strangely enough, was influenced by the R&B and Rap music being broadcast on the radio there! Shu, as he prefers to be called, is going to fill you in on how being a world traveler has helped him network as an independent artist and TAXI member.

Judging from your bio, you are a true international traveler. Born in Kenya, living in Brooklyn, New York (my home town), by way of Oxford, England. Has your music been influenced by your world travels and if so, how?

Shu: I think my music is staunchly in the R&B/Soul vein, and has remained so throughout my travel experiences. Growing up in Kenya, funny enough, R&B and Rap predominated on the airwaves. Once I developed an appreciation for these very urban American forms, I started to search out similar music everywhere I traveled. What's been most interesting about my travels is the fact that there's a global community of R&B/Soul lovers that all draw from the same general musical memory, grounded in American Soul of the '60s and '70s. Inevitably, though, I've also been exposed to indigenous African music and quintessentially European/British genres like drum-n-bass. Although this exposure hasn't explicitly changed my music, I think it's opened my mind to new melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic possibilities that I try to bring in to my music whenever I can. In other words, traveling has given me a broader palette of musical options to work with, although the final painting is always R&B/Soul.

When did you first begin playing and what instruments do you play?

Shu: I started playing the piano when I was about 6 years old. My dad brought home a small 4-octave electric keyboard one day and I was obsessed with it, so he enrolled me in a music school, and I took classical piano lessons for the next 12 years. After a year of jazz piano in college and another couple of years accompanying my college gospel choir, I really began to focus on self-accompaniment. I had always composed songs on piano, but I began to think of the piano as an important component of my own performances. It's really helpful (and cost-effective!) to be able to do self-accompanied acoustic gigs on the road, that still provide a full musical experience. The only problem is I can't carry a baby-grand around on my back like those lucky guitar-players do with their instruments!

You spend a lot of time trying to succeed as an independent artist. What kinds of business things do you do every week toward that end?

Shu: Less than I should, even though I was an economics major! But I'm fortunate to have a management team that helps me to stay on top of all the business aspects. At the weekly level, I just make sure to keep track of expenses accurately, monitor Web-traffic, sources of Web-traffic, CD sales. Also, I compile a list of weekly to-dos that involve sending mailings to radio stations, flyers to colleges, following up with gig requests or CD orders, and potential publicity (interviews, reviews, etc.). My manager and I speak every week to make sure all that stuff gets done.

How much time every week do you devote to the creative side—writing and recording—as opposed to the business side?

Shu: Because I just recorded and released an album, my focus in the past month or two has been performing and otherwise publicizing the album. So I've prioritized gigs, licensing deals, album sales, and that kind of thing over writing new material. But performances are also creative, so I get my creative "fix" by focusing on how I can improve my show, or writing new piano arrangements/re-mixes for existing songs. Generally I spend at least half an hour every day rehearsing at a piano somewhere. And I'm always open to writing new material, so sometimes inspiration comes out of nowhere and I get a new song.

What was it that made you become a TAXI member?

Shu: I felt that it would open up more possibilities for me and my music, and allow me the chance to meet some experienced folk in the industry that could give me useful tips.

How has TAXI helped your career?

Shu: Without TAXI, I probably wouldn't have focused on recording and releasing an album myself. Instead, I would have been busy shopping demos to labels, rather than trying to start my career on my own. Obviously it's challenging to try and do this without major label support, but I think it's a much better way to go about being a musician, because you learn what works and what doesn't, your songwriting and performance improve immensely, and you establish your own audience way before you have the pressure of suit-wearing executives breathing down your neck. It's still rare in R&B to release an album and tour before getting a deal, but I think it's allowing me to take my destiny into my own hands and become a better artist. I met a mentor during the Road Rally that encouraged me to do this—his advice was invaluable. Also, Cathy Genovese (TAXI A&R Director) and Michael Laskow have been very supportive of my efforts.

Have you attended a TAXI Road Rally and what do you think of it? Has it helped you?

Shu: I've attended two rallies. I thought they were great. It's always nice to perform in front of peers, and to get to hob-nob with some very experienced folk in the business. Because of the rallies, I've been able to avoid many mistakes that I would have undoubtedly made.

What are your plans for 2006?

Shu: I'm going to continue supporting Shusic (my album). I just signed a deal with one of Japan's top R&B/Soul labels to release the album there, so I'll be traveling to Japan and hopefully Europe, where another deal is in the wings. Although these foreign territories are very exciting, my focus is the States and I'm working with a radio promoter to get my songs on more stations, and with my management team to do a string of performances on the West Coast. I also hope to partner with an established booker and publicist, both of which I think are crucial to really make something happen domestically.

Well there you have it. From Kenya to England to Brooklyn, New York. Another happy TAXI member who learned to do it himself instead of sitting and waiting for nothing to happen. TAXI offers its members incredible possibilities—all we ask is that you take advantage of them like Shu did!

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