Dixie-Ann Joseph

Dixie-Ann Joseph

AFTER a long hiatus, the exceptionally talented rapso artist Dixie-Ann Joseph, better known as Shakeela is back with new music. With some prodding from the youths of her Back Ah Yard Youth Development Programme she penned the words of her latest track “Irie Christmas” which was officially released on Wednesday on Wack Radio 90.1 FM.

The song pays homage to Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) and the late Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) . Both men are not only cultural icons, they also played a major role in Shakeela’s life as mentors. Over the years, they threw their full support behind the remarkable work that Shakeela has been doing with at-risk youths in Point Fortin. The emphasis of her Back Ah Yard programme which targets youths between the ages of eight to 18 is on literacy, creative expression and advocacy. Young ones are taught to express their emotions in a positive way. The tight bubble she has created has resulted in an increase of confidence and self-worth among the youths so much so that some of the students have referred their peers to the programme.

The idea to work with vulnerable youth was born out of Shakeela’s love for children and her own personal experiences. She grew up in a single parent home and was raised by her grandmother. Life was not easy, during her adolescence she searched for a sense of worth and value.

“No matter what experiences I went through my family held on to me, not many people have that, but I can afford to say I had their support,” she says.

There is a long history of drummers and singers in Shakeela’s family. Her maternal grandmother had a beautiful singing voice which Shakeela inherited. But she kept her talent for singing hidden until one day when her teacher looked her in the eyes and told her “you have a talent, stop pretending that you don’t” and gave her the responsibility of leading the school choir.

“I went home crying because I didn’t think I was worthy of taking the lead,” she recalls.

A bus ride to fate

Besides singing, Shakeela also had a gift for songwriting which she kept as a secret. From the moment she heard Brother Resistance’s “Ring De Bell,” Shakeela knew that rapso held a special place in her heart; the song awakened in her a desire to sing. She wrote the stirring song “Weep Not My Child” and someone recommended that she search out Lutalo Masimba who went by the famous moniker “Brother Resistance”. So with $47 in her bag, Shakeela, who was 19 at the time, boarded a bus to Port of Spain with one goal in mind - find Brother Resistance. There was just one problem, she had no idea where to look. Eventually, she found the rapso artist at the People’s Mall sitting on a stool.

“My name is Shakeela and I came from Point Fortin just to see you,” she told him.

He listened as she belted out “Weep Not My Child” on the spot and invited her to showcase her talent at the Spektacula Forum. On the day of the performance, who else could Shakeela see but Black Stalin, Ras Shorty I and Andre Tanker at the venue. She became so overwhelmed that she hid in the bathroom when Brother Resistance called her name on stage and missed her opportunity to perform that night. The following year she was back to Spektacula Forum where she sang with Ras Shorty I and the Love Circle. Convinced that her voice was not up to par, she dashed off the stage in tears at the end of the performance. A few minutes later, Errol Fabrien called her back on stage where, to her amazement, she received a standing ovation.

She later took on soca with her song “Fire in de Engine Room’” which got a lot of flack from her peers. On a visit to see Ras Shorty I at Southern Medical Clinic, he made her promise that she would never again strip herself and “buss a wine to get something”. It was the wake-up call she needed. Shakeela decided to follow her mentor’s lead. The same way he changed his lifestyle and went to live in Piparo, Shakeela decided to create something like Piparo and take time to find herself. She became an underground artist and worked with Corrosive Recording Studio and Don 1 Recording Studio in Brooklyn, New York. She had the opportunity to vibes with the likes of Luciano, Sizzla and Bushman.

“It was like being in a cage with lions, you needed to know your place but it gave me the opportunity to learn from other artists and graft two genres of music– rapso and reggae–while honing and weaving my own style,” she says.

What resulted was autobiographical music that touched a nerve in those that listened to it. Shakeela produced the critically acclaimed albums Naked with Strings, Acoustic Diary and Four Dollars and Some Sense - the latter which she dedicated to Ras Shorty I.

“It became clear to me that it is not about ‘cents’ but ‘sense’. I wanted to cultivate music that could be used and infused. I came to accept that I couldn’t do pop, I was a rapso artist,” she says.

Pillar to post, then back to music

Shakeela describes her music as a melée of reggae, jamoo, blues, jazz, soul with rapso at its core. As time passed, her career as an artist took a back seat as she pursued other ventures. She became an entrepreneur and pizza chef and in 2006 she established the Back Ah Yard Youth Development Programme along with Poetry in the Classroom which is available in nine primary schools and four secondary schools in Point Fortin, as well as primary and secondary schools in Grenada. The Poetry in the Classroom programme has already made a tremendous difference in the lives of children. She also organises cultural exchanges between T&T, Grenada and Jamaica. During the pandemic, Shakeela moved her after-school creative arts programme online where students are given a platform to express themselves and come up with solutions to problems. Her Back Ah Yard programme has won the support of artists including Damion Melville, Black Stalin, MX Prime and SuperBlue and organisations such as Atlantic LNG, The Ministry of Tourism Culture and The Arts, The Ministry of Sport and Community Development,The Point Fortin Borough Corporation and Mayoral Office, Masimba Publishing and so much more.

This year, Shakeela, who considers herself a ‘reluctant artist’, was motivated by her students to return to her roots and put out new music. On December 18 she will host a production which will feature skits and performances by youths of her Back Ah Yard Youth Development Programme.

Throughout the years Shakeela has had mentors who made a difference in her life, now she’s paying it forward by mentoring youths who are in need of guidance.

“I have found so much joy and fulfillment in helping children,” she says. “Over the years it is the children who have helped heal me.”


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