Nothing can equal the dynamism of a stage of musicians blowing their horns, banging the drums, beating the bass and hitting the keys with a gorgeous jazz singer who writes her own lyrics out front with a Shure S52 in hand.
The process for live music is an organic beast: it’s a development that begins with learning the craft by stitching together the music — writing the lyrics, bringing the musicians together, laying all that work down on a track before performing it to an audience.
In this weary world where cheek has replaced charm, talent is revered at the push of a button and the word ‘band’ is often confused with a multitude of dancing singers. So, it’s a breath of fresh air when a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist blows into town with a band of musicians in tow.
And this breath of fresh air is Shameem Taheeri-Lee. Just like Sade and Madonna, this chanteuse needs only one name for introduction. Classically trained, with foundations in funk and soul and all the calibre of a jazz singer, Shameem is Australia’s latest talent heating up stages and sound systems.
With an exotic name and an equally exotic background thanks to a Chinese-Malaysian father and an Iranian mother, this melting pot of global ethnicity has formed a distinctive style in her music.
A graduate of Australia’s elite Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, music has been in Shameem’s blood her entire life.
“I started being classically trained on piano and cello. Then in high school, I got into jazz which really changed the direction of where my music was going. My parents listened to a lot of funk and soul music around the house: Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire so that was definitely embedded in my psyche forever more. The collection of all those things came together to influence what I do now.”
And what she does now is vibrant. Fresh from the release of her debut album, a stint in the UK with Grammy Award winning producer James Bryan and an on-fire performance burning up the stage of Perth’s The Ellington Jazz Club, Shameem is set to heat up the rest of Australia.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Brisbane,” Shameem promises. “You can expect the band to be really powering. We’ve been playing together for two-and-a-half years. The guys are all amazing — I’m really happy with how we’re sounding. I hope that every night we can share some beautiful stories and beautiful emotions.”
With Brisbane her destination on Saturday night, Shameem will be performing her original collection of jazz and soul tunes inspired by moments and experiences from her world.
“I get inspired by life. I think the world is an amazing place, and I think there are some terrible things happening in the world too. I like to talk about the good things and the bad things and the beautiful things and the things that should be better. My songs are all stories: personal stories or they’re thoughts and feelings.”
With lyrics musing on the red birthmark near her left eye, to pondering being a woman in a man’s world or reflections on the disappointment of friends, Shameem takes life’s topics and transforms them into heartfelt ballads, cute melodies and vigorous showstoppers.
“An idea comes to me and it’s normally a lyric idea or a topic. Then I’ll flesh out the musical ideas first and then finish off the words. Sometimes the music and the words come at the same time; most times the music comes and then the words come after.”
The response to her talent is huge, with Australian jazz icon James Morrison touting her immense abilities. But though she loves the process of creating the music, and is certainly as deft with her instrumental abilities as she is with her songwriting, it’s being in front of the microphone where she really belongs.
“Live is all about being live. Albums can be all about shaping your music and your sound,” Shameem reflects, her preference for the stage suiting her personality.
Volatile, passionate, eager and playful, Shameem is a mover and shaker, and she’s pepped and ready to go.
“I love audiences and I love the energy.”
Shameem plays the Brisbane Jazz Club this Saturday, July 28.