Review: Shekhinah Avoids The Sophomore Slump With ‘Trouble In Paradise’
With her newly released album Trouble in Paradise, South African singer, songwriter and producer Shekhinah has achieved the rare feat of avoiding the sophomore slump. Asked whether she actively planned to overshadow her debut while making her sophomore, she clarifies, “I didn’t want to outdo Rose Gold per se, but I did want what I did next to feel like I’m on a new level. I didn’t want it to feel like I hadn’t grown or that I didn’t put any effort into it. So, while I can’t say I consciously wanted to do better than Rose Gold, I can say I certainly wanted to show growth.”
Rose Gold was released in 2017 to resounding success. After enjoying moderate success with the 2015 Kyle Deutsch duet “Back To The Beach” and Sketchy Bongo’s “Let You Know”, on which she was featured, she surpassed all expectations as Rose Gold spawned hit after hit — propelling the album to platinum status in less than a year of release. It turned Shekhinah into a household name, earning her well-deserved plaques and awards. She walked away with Newcomer of the Year, Album of the Year and Female Artist of the year at the 2018 South African Music Awards (SAMAs). Since then, her legion of fans has waited eagerly for her sophomore album.
It was worth the wait. Trouble in Paradise is a formidable album that affirms Shekhinah as a thoughtful, multi-faced and proficient singer and songwriter. Based on how vulnerable she gets on the songs, Shekhinah is comfortable in her skin. “I think Rose Gold was like a younger version of myself, a college version of me and I really just spoke to all the good and fun times. Everything was looking up and I was feeling super positive,” she shares. Trouble in Paradise, on the other hand, can be likened to the three or four years after college, where Shekhinah is experiencing life as an adult. “Things like experiencing new heartbreaks for the first time; things changing and shifting. So it really illustrates that shift from young adulthood to adulthood,” she explains.
The Search for Self-Love
The track “I Love It Here” is a gentle nostalgic anthem on which she reminisces about the innocence of youth. As the penultimate song on Trouble In Paradise, it bleeds into the closing track “Beautiful”, the main destination of an album punctuated with the search and yearning of love — only for it to finally be found through self-love.
Shekhinah – Fixate Short Film
Choosing to close off the album with “I Love It Here” and “Beautiful” is a masterstroke on Shekhinah’s part. She reaches the conclusion that, even though the most intense love we feel is usually the overwhelming romantic feelings of longing and sentimentality between two love interests, the ultimate love is experienced in the simplest forms. Perhaps through the memories of where we come from (“I Love It Here”) as well as in ourselves (“Beautiful”).
Yearning For Love
One of the 12-track album’s major themes — the yearning of romantic love and being fully open and surrendering to it — is advanced by album opener “Tides” in which she sings:
“I’m drowned in, in my surrounding, don’t want no one to surround me, only you ’cause you crowned me, you lift me up, keep my head above water when the tide is high, I been swimming with the sharks for a while, been a little while, been silly like a child, and I know I let you down, please come back around…”
For Shekinah, it’s important that her lover understands exactly how she feels. She is not afraid to communicate her feelings as they are, acknowledging how much she needs love. She goes as far as taking accountability for how she may have contributed to the decline or compromise of said love at times. “Not Safe (Intro)”, where she laments a love that feels like it’s slipping away, explores a similar sentiment.
What Shekhinah does incredibly well is present an outlook of love that considers both subjects in a relationship. On “Questions”, she asks:
“What happens if we let this start, we go too far and you just don’t feel it? What happens if you drop my heart, if it falls too hard and we just can’t put it back?”
She manages to capture the anxiety and uncertainty two people feel when they are at the threshold of love. In doing so, she acknowledges the fallibility of both parties in a relationship to hurt and disappoint each other — even though that was not their original intention. Her continued use of “we” throughout the song reinforces the idea of duality. “It’s intentional,” she explains. “I got to a point where I realised that I was writing only from one perspective, just mine. I feel like there are two sides to every story, but I really do think I was writing from a selfish perspective. Especially during the early stages of working on this album. I tried to introspect more and see how I could include another person’s perspective of the situation because we are both experiencing similar sentiments.”
Ever the hopeless romantic, Shekhinah is not shy to admit just how much she loves love. “Miserable”, where she declares how miserable she is without her lover, is the upbeat ode to being a sucker for love. “Fixate” featuring Bey T is another cut where she boldly declares her near-obsession for her significant other. “Wedding Song” is where her hopeless romanticism is taken to the max. On the track, she talks about adoring her partner so much that she would want to marry them, even, in the next life.
Defining A New Direction
While the writing reveals a lot about Shekhinah, her musical choices also shed light on her prowess as a musician. The soundscapes she writes to compliment her vocal tone and timbre, an aspect that also stood out with Rose Gold. Similarly, Trouble In Paradise boasts incredible sonic compositions that blend perfectly with her vocal performance.
The production on the album is handled predominantly by Michael Goofy Morare, who produces all but three songs. Goofy, a producer, engineer and pianist in Shekhinah’s live band also worked on Rose Gold.
“It was just easy and convenient to work with him. We work so well together. He’s really efficient and is someone who’s nice to be in the studio with. Even the songs produced by other people on the album were all engineered by him,” Shekhinah says about Goofy. The album’s soundscape draws from a variety of electro-centric sounds — the Kaskade-esque “Miserable” and “Insecure” — to ballads underscored by hazy synths and percussions — the Una Rams assisted “Pick-Up” and “Tides” — as well as volleys of drums that dominate a track like “Wedding Song”.
Even though Trouble in Paradise may not give birth to mammoth hits like Rose Gold did, it is truly the definitive Shekhinah album. Echoing these sentiments, she expounds, “I think there’s so much more to having big stadium status hits. At first, that’s what you want when you’re trying to break into the industry. I don’t think that’s what I want anymore.”