From GT&T Jingle Champ to thriving Gospel Artiste – Shawn English holds his own
By Sharmain Grainger
With chart-topping talent which has the unbridled potential to transcend all generations, Shawn English has been making a massive imprint in the local gospel-singing industry. However his vocal skills are certainly not limited to these shores as he has already been able to penetrate the Caribbean market and even a few in North America.
With youth evidently on his side, there are some who are of the firm belief that he hasn’t produced his best material yet, although those already available are easy best sellers no doubt.
Maybe it is for this reason that he was recently given the break of a lifetime to become associated with one of the leading global gospel producers, Selah Muzik Production Inc., of Conyers, Georgia, United States. It was just last year that representation from the production company travelled all the way here to sign him onto the high-profile label.
This movement, which has Guyanese Seon Sealey as its principal, has as its mission to create a sort of a global sound hence efforts are made to sign artistes from around the world and the Caribbean, with Guyana being no exception.
This, according to English, whose performing name is ShawnE, is nothing short of divine intervention.
English shot to fame in Guyana when he won the second edition of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T)’s Jingle Competition in 2006. His calm, cool and collected demeanour, backed by his belief in God, probably sealed the deal for him when he outshone hundreds of contestants to claim the coveted title.
He remembers during a conversation with me that by the time the contestants were down to 10 he was the lone male vying for the top spot.
“I was very nervous most of the time…it was nerve-wracking for me throughout the competition. Every time I performed I was nervous,” English recounted, before belting out his winning jingle without skipping a single beat.
Although he ponders on what would’ve been his fate had he participated in the competition today, which has considerably evolved over the years, English is sure that his winning back then was a divinely guided move. In fact he has been making some of the right decisions for his gospel-singing career since copping the title almost seven years ago.
He certainly didn’t see it at first, but a world of opportunities opened for him. Though some of them could’ve taken him down a path of unrighteousness, he stuck to his Christian beliefs, which he embraced since the age of 14, and today seeks to only honour God with his talent.
In fact his talent was on display last week Saturday when he among other outstanding local talents performed the role of backup vocalists for a number of local gospel artistes who performed at the recent Fulfilment Gospel Concert at the National Stadium. That show was headlined by renowned American Grammy Award-winning Gospel Artiste CeCe Winans.
Speaking of preparation for that show, English recounted that it was no easy task since, according to him, it was characterised by days of learning exactly what each artiste wanted. “Somebody might want an ‘ooh’ while another might want an ‘aah’,” he noted, adding that he literally “lived the music” for days on end.
And when he wasn’t practicing, his ears were subjected to the various lyrical pieces via earphones plugged into his BlackBerry with an always active playlist. He’d consumed himself with gospel music in order to get it exactly right. His efforts paid off, because there were only good reviews that followed the Fulfilment Concert.
According to English “this society that we are living in is an image-based society and the image that you carry is what people would think about you.”
It is for this reason he said that he will continue to ‘rep’ Jesus.
Considering himself ageless, English disclosed that he plans on remaining relevant as long as God will allow him to, even as he pointed to the fact that all that he tries to do must somehow bring honour to his creator.
Hailing from a family entrenched in gospel-singing, it was no surprise to many that Shawn opted for this path himself.
“I have always been singing; music has always been a part of me. It has been a part of who I am as a person.” Both his parents, Rosen Menezes and Adrian English have impressive backgrounds in the gospel-singing arena and there is no doubt that the singing gene resonates among his six younger siblings too.
Standing at six feet, four inches, the Paradise, East Coast Demerara resident said that he didn’t see his life taking any other course. However, he reflected that it was in fact one of his favourite uncles who channelled the path of his signing career.
“I was always motivated by him in terms of his lifestyle. He introduced the jingle competition to me and even warned me that there wasn’t much opportunity here and insisted from the inception that I could really do it,” English reflected.
At the time he was pursuing studies at the University of Guyana in the field of Marketing. Previously he attended the Golden Grove Secondary School.
Having signed on and achieving his heart’s desire, English related that it was indeed the jingle competition which helped him find himself a bit more.
According to the young man, it allowed him to embrace an old-fashioned style of singing while at the same time being able to remain relevant.
Although winning the competition brought with it new opportunities, English said that, “I “really didn’t know how to play the game. For me it was because of my newness, and I had my own arrogance… and I was saying I really don’t know what these people want…I even thought I wasn’t good enough for this thing.”
However, he would soon accept the feat as a stepping stone and certainly did not forsake his talent as he has been making waves in the local Gospel industry. He was given the chance to produce his first single in 2007, compliments of GT&T, entitled ‘Blinded’. And even more recently he released his first Album. Dubbed ‘Focus’, the 10-track album has selections that are blended with the vocal collaboration of other young outstanding gospel artistes. However, English’s unique vocal resilience is not allowed to go unnoticed as he is definitely able to effectively hold his own range.
He explained that the Focus Album, which is currently available at Giftland OfficeMax, was in fact inspired by “my love for young people and my need to reach out to them…I believe music is a powerful medium which we can use to influence decision-making, and I deliberately want to influence the minds of youths, parents and educators to remain focused on their purpose and on leading fulfilling lives.”
It is his view that Jesus and his teachings are the best thing for any society, and “if we would only allow him to guide us, our world would be a much better place.”
According to English, each track on the album represents his feelings on various topics and there is something of value in each song for each listener. He insists that his style is different and unique and there is a personal cry in every verse.
“It’s my first album and so it may bear the mark of a first-time writer, yet as I develop intellectually and in confidence, my style will become even better.”
Currently, the Number One request on the album is Track Six – ‘Awesome God’, followed Track Two – ‘Focus,’ and Track Four – ‘Attention’, and English says people generally express love for this project since it really represents “ what we all want and should do to stay focused.”
The album also offers a bonus track ,which is in fact an even newer single produced by Selah Muzik. English also has plans to produce two music videos later this year, even as he fully embraces his Christopspeaker role. Christospeaker, English explains, is a move by mostly Christian youths to honour God with their talent.
The phrase, according to him, was coined by a Trinidadian rapper who English expects will be here in Guyana for the launch of his videos.