Shal Marshall - The Thinking Entertainer
Shal Marshall greeted me with an announcement that he’s tired. Minutes later though, that weariness seemed to become a distant memory as he launched into an animated re-enactment of his performance at Woodford Café the night before. His producer and friend Garrette Greenidge, was his rapt audience.
This Shal, the hyped up, energetic, gesturing character before me, is the public persona we’ve gotten to know well over the years on radio, on television, on stage. But it’s the quiet Shal, the one who sits in deep contemplation backstage at fetes, that I am here to know. Turns out, he’s no Jekyll and Hyde. Away from the limelight, he simply puts on his thinking cap.
“I know when to turn it out, it’s like a switch, if I have to perform I understand it’s time to come out of the thinking mode, because I’m always thinking, always thinking about what’s next, what can I do now...when you see me quiet or like I am in another world it’s because I real thinking,” he revealed. In his contemplative state, Shal thinks of strategies he can employ to enhance the brand he is fast becoming.
Turns out, Shal is more than a VJ/DJ/radio announcer/ television host/MC/promoter/singer/father/husband. He’s also a businessman and owner of AMA Studios in Woodbrook where he and his team produce commercials and where we met for this interview. “It’s a lot for me and I have to give all avenues the same respect and same drive,” he said, rationalising his constant strategising.
Singing is the one aspect of Shal’s career that seems to be really benefiting from all that thinking. No longer just a DJ who sings soca, Shal can easily be classified as a bona fide soca artiste thanks to past hits such as Girl Farm with Kerwin Dubois, Motorbike, Wine and Bend Over, Love Somebody with Destra and Doh Drag the Flag. His 2012 release, Trouble, is already mashing up the airwaves, a little fact that many fete promoters have probably taken into account as they draw up their performance rosters.
Each year, Shal challenges himself to improve on his craft. For him, it is all about maintaining a consistent quality that fans would respect and which would give him longevity in the business. To lift the standard of his game he has turned to the almost magical powers of GBM Studios, the Brooklyn-based outfit responsible for some of Machel Montano’s hits, as well as Kernal Roberts, Madmen Productions and Kerwin Dubois’ KNS Studios in Canada.
That people often mistake his songs for Machel’s, especially since they sometimes sound alike, is proof of the hard work Shal has put into his music. “Now as my name out there people listening. I upped my quality and I am going by the right producers who giving you that sound. We have grown so accustomed to Machel giving us that quality but now we are doing it at that level. I give him a lot of credit, he has opened a lot of doors and put his foot down; he is all about developing his quality and craft.”
It’s actually thanks to Machel and Destra that Shal is enjoying such tremendous growth. In 2009, when they were both absent from Carnival, Shal was one of those who benefitted from the searching spotlight with the very energetic Police in the Session, a collaboration with Screws. The duo placed second in the Power Soca Monarch competition. “That was the year I went from DJ to soca artiste. That was the year I realise Shal, you could do something in this business. I realised consistency is the key and that applies to anything in life.” One major advantage that has also helped Shal to grow as a soca artiste is his ability to read crowds and to tailor his performance to appeal to his audience.
That is a trait he credits to his early career as a member of the Jugglers Sound System. As a Trinity College student, he joined a group of other students from Fatima, St Anthony’s and QRC to form Jokers International, a promotional outfit. Jugglers Sound System, a DJ crew, evolved from the group and Shal became a hype man, communicating seamlessly with the DJs to keep crowds entertained.
“It’s those sound man instincts that I now incorporate into my being as an artiste. You have to be smart and understand different crowds and know what would appeal to them. You could sing the same song but in a different way,” he explained. Recognising their talent, Anthony Chow Lin On, popularly known as Chinese Laundry, hired the Jugglers Crew to work on his radio station. Shal said his progression from DJ to singer was a natural one. “I started to do songs to try to contribute and be a part of the Carnival because what happened to us is that we were big all year long but somewhere in January/February we no longer relevant and the promoters were saying they need to hire bands first.
“What helped me is my ability to host. I could DJ and host an event for the entire night. In those days we would do the lil segue between bands and mash up the place so I said yo, I could do this artiste thing.” It was Zan who wrote his first song, I Shall Mash up the Party. After a couple years, Shal began to get serious as audiences warmed up to him. He introduced dancers to his routines and learnt from the more experienced around him.
Despite his recent successes, Shal is not content to rest on his laurels. He is looking to expand beyond Carnival to become an artiste who releases music year round. He is also experimenting with new melodies and sounds that would appeal to different audiences and plans to put out his first album in 2013.
Ten years from now he envisages himself as a mentor to younger artistes, helping them to develop their talents and navigate the rocky road that is the music industry.