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Shirazee: The African Singer Carving His Path In New York

Shirazee | Image: Franz Brun

Shirazee’s personal and African twist to “English Man In New York” by the British singer Sting, captures the experiences and aspirations of thousands of African immigrants who have travelled miles to pursue their dreams in the United States. But that is not all to the talented Beninese singer.

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Born Paolo Prudencio, Shirazee speaks with The Guardian Life about his journey to finding his voice as a musician in New York.

How did the journey into music start for you?
Interestingly enough, I have memories of music being a part of my story since I was a child in Benin. I had a mother who loved music so much, she played everything in the house from Sunny Ade to The Eagles and back to Bob Marley and Otis Redding. However, my true musical journey started when I was in high school in Ghana and heard Outkast for the first time. I remember having a visceral reaction to Andre 3000’s ability to rap and sing at a very high level. I remember thinking to myself, “I want to do that for the rest of my life”.

How did you find yourself in America?
Truth is, I never wanted to go to America initially. I was content in Paris at the time making music and trying to find myself, but during that period I kept getting told “you’re not supposed to be here”, ” You’re built for America”, “They will get you there” and it didn’t help that I was only making music in English. Once I realized that the world was right and I had to listen to what the universe was telling me, I got a student visa and went to chase my dreams from being illegal to a legal alien. I don’t advise anyone to do what I did, it wasn’t and it’s not easy (laughs).

Why did you choose to remix Sting’s hit song – English Man in New York decades after?
I’m at an interesting place in my career, where I’m the new guy whose music people would find and say, “man you are so talented, you deserve to blow” or “why aren’t you more known?” or the one that woke me up “Oh man that’s your song? I know that song! Love it didn’t know you sang it” Though flattering, it made me realise I need to tell MY STORY and I wanted to do so using a vessel that would be easily digestible to anyone who heard it, so that they know me and not just the music. As an African in New York, I thought why not use Sting’s classic English Man In New York to do so, which is one of those songs I had heard my mother play growing up.

How challenging was it getting Sting to feature in a remix?
It was his choice to do so, believe it or not. I was honoured and mind-blowing because he has never done this in the past. He said he really liked my honest and fresh take on it and that it was a beautiful message for the world so we should collaborate for his duets album and here we are.

With the rise of African artists across the globe, does it make it any easier now for talented artists to get the music world to respect us?
I believe that if we keep telling our truths with our craft, we will reach heights no one ever saw coming. I’m a testament that your true voice will get you everything from respect to making your wildest dreams come true.

Shirazee | Image: Emmanuel Agbeble

What is the next project for you after the remix with Sting?
My next project after the ‘LOST EP’ on which I released AFRICAN IN NEW YORK, is gonna be the “FOUND EP’, which closes the chapter of me sharing my story and the part of my journey to finding my voice.

Are you looking to collaborate with other African stars?
Yes, I am, I have collaborated with the likes of Busiswa, Eugy and Sarz so far, but there are still some very cool artistes from North and East Africa I know I’d create fire with. It’s all about the music for me, if we can make great music together I am doing it.

When should we expect a full album?
2022. Debut Album, God Willing 🙂

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Shirazee
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