• Rachele Viard

Grammy-nominated Songwriter Shontelle: Sharing her Stories through her Music

From a young age I’ve had an appreciation for all genres of music, one would certainly call my taste eclectic. Everything from country, to Kompa, to Jazz and Pop music depending on my mood. Though it was in my teens that I developed an even deeper apparition for Soca music. I think much of that had to do with attending events like the St. Kitts Music Festival, the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival as well as the St. Lucia Jazz Festival. At these events I had the chance to see some great Soca performers up close and personal. Artists like Alison Hinds, Arrow, Destra, and Machel Montano just to name a few to name a few.

Photos provided by Shontelle Layne

And so it was only fitting that I reach out to artist Shontelle Layne when I found out that she wrote one of my favorite Soca songs of all time ‘Roll it Gal’. She is not only a great and accomplished artist in her own right, she is behind some great and recognizable hits that you’ve jammed to like “Slow Wine” by Machel Montano featuring Afro B.

Born and raised in Barbados, Shontelle was a shy child who hid in closets to sing. One of the first songs she wrote Roll it Gal, a Soca anthem, gained her notoriety and became a battle cry for Caribbean women. And the rest as we say is history. Shontelle’s debut single "T-Shirt" was released in July 2008 and reached number thirty-six on the US Billboard Hot 100, however, it reached the top ten charts in Belgium and England. Her debut album Shontelligence was released her in November 2008. Two years later her second album No Gravity, was released in September 2010.

You can imagine the excitement, when I the chance to interview, the Grammy nominated songwriter, Shontelle, and discover more of her story and what inspires her music.

CE: Aside from the encouragement from your mother, what made you make the shift from pursuing a career on entertainment law to entertainment itself after you obtained your degree?

S: I always wanted to do Music so once the opportunity presented itself for me to realize my dream that was it for me! I just took a leap of faith.

CE: What was your youth like growing up in Barbados?

S: Fun!! Lots of beach days, swimming, surfing and diving. I represented Barbados and Harrison College in Sports and was in Cadets as well so life was full! I grew up with two younger siblings and lots of cousins near my age so I always had company.

CE: You wrote ‘Roll it Gal’ a song which became a big hit for fellow Bajan artist Alison Hinds, did you have a feeling, that it would become a Soca anthem?

S: I could only dream. But when it actually happened I had to pinch myself hard! Still feels good.

CE: You co-wrote Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ which earned you a Grammy nomination as a songwriter. How did the song come together?

S: Rih (Rihanna) called me when she was on tour with Kesha in New York City. She said she needed my pen for a specific song and invited me to a show. When I got to the concert we (Rock City - writers and Sak Pase - producer) were taken to her studio bus and we got straight to work. We were finished by the time she finished her set. She came straight on the bus and said "Lemme hear!!" We played it and she was ecstatic! Another unforgettable career moment for sure.

CE: What is your song writing process and what inspires you when creating new music?

S: I like to run the track and just let it play in the background. Then suddenly melodies and ideas start flowing. I hop on the mic, start freestyling, and then I just build from whatever comes naturally. Sometimes songs just come to me in dreams or randomly throughout the day and I'll grab my phone and record voice notes. Then I perfect it later in studio.

CE: How would you describe your music for those who have yet to discover it?

S: My music will always tend to have elements of Pop, R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca. Even sometimes a little rock. I don't think my style can be put in a box. It can be palatable to people of all cultures I think. And that's always been the goal. To be genuine and just create what comes naturally to me be on my musical influences.

CE: You released two-well received albums ‘Shontelligence’ and ‘No Gravity’, do you plan to release another album in the near future?

S: Most definitely. Soon come!

CE: You were part of Beyonce’s ‘I Am …. Tour, please tell us what sharing the stage with such a super star was like?

S: Unreal. Bey cannot be human. This woman is beyond incredible. Work ethic on point! Total pro. I learned so much and she was very kind and supportive. After that tour I knew I had to step my hand up to be able to truly succeed in this game.

CE: Your song Battle Cry, a moving song was handpicked by former President Barrack Obama for his Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement. What was that like?

S: Needless to say my mom is very proud and "fussy" as we Bajans say to mean "really proud or excited". I have an autographed vinyl copy and I will treasure it forever. Knowing my song is a part of major US Presidential history, but also Black History in general. It's very humbling.

CE: You recently released a single ‘Tomorrow’ a thought provoking battle cry dance song. Please explain how and why and the meaning of the lyrics?

S: Tomorrow is a freestyle from top to bottom. But the lyrics can be applied in general or very specific to particular social issues that affect POC communities and our People as a whole. Whether it's battling racism, classism, poverty, discrimination, or the Pandemic. The point is we need to get up and get active because future generations are in trouble if we don't. "All d children suffering and they can't wait for tomorrow..."

CE: You’ve written and been a part of some great recognizable hits including Toco Loco, Slow Wine, You Don’t Have the Right, Feel It, can you share some memories on what these experiences were like?

S: All of the artists and writers I worked with on these songs, I look up to and idolize. So coming full circle to being friends and writing for them is quite mind blowing. Hearing crowds of people singing lyrics and melodies that you created is a feeling that can't be matched by most things. Being able to touch people's hearts with your words using your favorite artists as vessels for delivery, is truly heartwarming.

CE: How did you get into acting and land the leading role in the feature film Joseph which won an Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Film?

S: I always wanted to try acting. Marcia Weeks reached out saying she developed a special character just for me to play. Dahlia. I rose to the occasion and gave my best effort. I give thanks, the movie (and my acting chops) were well received.

CE: You launched your own line of boots, how did that come about?

S: The Brand Director of Caterpillar reached out to me as they were trying to target a new demographic. They were launching a new aesthetic for young girls and women and wanted to bring brand ambassadors on board to get ideas from us and to attract this new group of consumers. I was offered the opportunity to design my own line of boots. Another thing I always wanted to do. I couldn't believe it just landed in my lap!

CE: What are some experiences and or achievements, thus far in your career that stick out?

S: Touring w Bey, working with Bruno Mars, writing for Rih and simply just the fact that despite all odds, I was able to do the impossible (pun intended.)

CE: What is some of the best advice you’ve received both personally and professionally?

S: Music is Business. Learn it all or surely fall!

CE: Who is an artist you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance yet?

S: Alicia Keys.

CE: How would you describe Barbados for those who have yet to visit?

S: Paradise. Period!

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