Having long outgrown her Idols fame, home-grown talent Shekhinah is keeping our fingers clicking and hips swaying with her meaningful, soulful tunes.
Shekhinah Donnell is a nervous but optimistic 16-year-old standing in front of a panel of hypercritical judges, about to sing her rendition of sultry songstress Amy Winehouse’s hit single, ‘Valerie’ on the first round of Idols South Africa auditions. Well, long story short, Shekhinah blew them away. In fact, the judges were so swayed by her velvety-smooth voice that she fast-tracked herself to the top 32 with a Golden Ticket. Unfortunately, it was here that her journey came to a halt, but the following year, she showed up at auditions in Durban once more to prove that she had what it took to reach the top. The singer managed to sing her way to the cream of the top-six crop, and later left the show determined to make her mark in the local music industry.
Today, Shekhinah is an accomplished 23-year-old artist in her own right, boasting collaborations with some of Mzansi’s finest hitmakers. After months of gracing our ears with Sketchy Bongo’s dance-chart dominator ‘Let You Know’, her catchy pop track ‘Suited’ started to gain major traction on our airwaves. ‘Suited’ was a small taste of her long-awaited debut album, Rose Gold, released in October last year.
YOUNG AND GIFTED
Shekhinah Thandi Donnell was abandoned at Addington Hospital in Durban in 1994, when she was just two weeks old. She was adopted by a young couple, Philip and Deborah Donnell, eager to add to their brood of two.
The new baby was named ‘Shekhinah’, a Hebrew word referring to the symbol of God’s presence on Earth. The family later moved to Pietermaritzburg for a few years, but moved back to Durban in 2001, when Shekhinah was seven.
Her own interest in music was moulded by her parents’ eclectic tastes – she was exposed to a variety of artists growing up, from Cher to Snoop Dogg. She was also influenced by her brothers, who held regular Sunday jam sessions at home, and also spent some time singing in her mom’s church. ‘Singing was always a passion of mine, it was always something that I felt I was meant to do,’ she says.
Her first taste of small-scale fame came in high school, after she joined what was then known as the Rainbow Chicken Young Performers, a talent club that served as a springboard for learners wanting to take the arts seriously. ‘It was such a big deal for youngsters in Durban. If you wanted to pursue acting or singing, you joined Young Performers,’ she says. Shekhinah landed the lead role in the musical Hairspray, which was shown at the established Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. ‘It sounds like a pretty insignificant accomplishment, but some of our greatest Durban artists have come out of that club – the likes of Khaya Mthethwa, Minnie Dlamini and Zanda Zakuza. It was such a beautiful opportunity for kids from Durban to be involved in theatre and experience a professional set-up from a young age. I loved it.’
Read the full interview with Shekhinah in your July issue of ClubX.