This month we’re joined by multi-talented Bahamian bassist and singer Selah Poitier, an upcoming artist with an eclectic musical style influenced by fresh sounds from modern jazz/hip-hop fusion, blues, neo-soul and R&B to funk, gospel, Afropop, and reggae, as well as traditional Bahamian music. Poitier is also a songwriter, poet, composer, actress, activist and recent graduate of Berklee College of Music. To her, music acts as a powerful tool for emotional healing, social change, spiritual transformation and to explore the profound aspects of the human experience. Selah describes herself as a storyteller and uses her music to not only relate to listeners from all over the globe but also to reflect the times.
We were first drawn to Selah Poitier by her original song, “I’ve Learned to Love Me,” which has reached more than 100,000 views on YouTube since it was released in December 2015. The engaging performance has drawn praise from everyone involved at the studio and thus we wanted her to star in our first edition of “On Air with NRG”. It just so happened to be, that Esperanza Spalding is one of the reasons why Selah starting playing bass. After we hosted Esperanza Spalding’s 77-hour live stream here a couple of weeks ago, Selah was even more excited to come out here. After a few emails back and forth she hopped on a flight to LA and we were able to shoot this incredible performance.
At Berklee, Selah Poitier majored in bass performance, finishing her degree in just two years by taking on extra classes and studying straight through the summer. An obligation to her family and her son drove her to finish her education as fast as possible, but even getting to Berklee was a challenge in itself.
“I was supposed to audition in Florida, but the first time I didn’t raise enough money to go,” Poitier says. “The second time, I finally did raise enough money to come, but when I was boarding the flight, the pilot literally came off and said, ‘You’re not coming on this plane with that bass,’ and I watched him close the door on me. I missed my audition, and I sat in the airport and cried the whole day.”
Poitier didn’t give up, and she was accepted to Berklee after her third audition attempt, two years after her first try. She was intent on learning jazz on upright bass because of the lack of jazz programs, teachers, and resources in the Bahamas.
“Berklee was tough for me because I didn’t have any background in jazz and I had horrible technique,” Poitier says. “My teacher would call me ‘frog hands’ because my hands would jump all over the bass,” she said.
Despite these initial obstacles, Poitier was able to mature at an accelerated rate by pushing herself. During that process, she learned that, both as a musician and as a human being, “we should strive to be our most authentic self, not to try to sound like everybody else or impress everybody,” Poitier says. “You want people to feel your music, and the most important thing is for them to be able to identify. They want to feel you for who you are and hear you speak to them in your own way.”
That transparency clearly translated through her music both at the Summer in the City shows in Boston and her breakthrough Berklee video. Just as her path was marked with challenges prior to Berklee and throughout her time here, Poitier explained that everything was going wrong for her before the video started seeing success.
“It was crazy because I was getting evicted and I lost my job,” Poitier says. “I was calling my mom and she said that I had to stay in the U.S. The last thing she said before I hung up was, ‘You should know, before every breakthrough, what happens? Everything goes wrong. There’s a huge storm, and you feel like you want to give up. How do you expect God to come through for you if you don’t ask him?’”
After that phone call, Poitier said she prayed and shortly after that, the calls started coming in about her video. She is now working towards recording her music through a management/production deal she secured while continuing to perform in the Boston area. Through her faith and perseverance, Poitier has now begun to gain traction and forge her dreams into reality, making every sacrifice she has made along the way worthwhile.
We want to thank Selah Poitier and all the musicians involved for coming out and performing for our first edition of “On Air with NRG”. If you like our series and would like to see more, please don’t hesitate to contact us for suggestions. Previously we invited our Joey Ray to join us for our very first concept edition of “On Air with NRG”. Since then we’ve developed an amazing video experience for our viewers.
Below you can find a short interview we did with Selah right after her performance of “Queen Arise”:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR START IN MUSIC
I’m Selah Poitier I’m from the Bahamas. I grew up in a musical family and my dad is a preacher, I’m a preacher’s kid. My mom, is a minister of the gospel, my sister is an evangelist and everybody sings, plays various instruments and are involved in music, so I couldn’t escape doing music. I discovered the double bass in high school at the age of 14. My teacher wanted to start a string ensemble and nobody wanted to play the double bass. There were a couple of old upright basses in the corner and he said who wants to play this? Nobody raised their hand, so I jokingly raised my hand, but I ended up being really serious about it and I chose this as my main instrument.
My song was “I learned to Love Me”. The melody came to me when I was on the train and I didn’t have any way of recording it. Immediately I jumped off the train and ran the opposite way to go back home so that I wouldn’t lose the melody. The song flowed just like that. It’s a very emotional song because it’s a true story about my life about an abusive relationship. This was a big breakthrough because it was the song during a time period of my life where I really learned to love myself and not to settle for less.
Queen Arise is an anthem for women across the globe. Every political climate, social religious background, everywhere it’s made to empower women and girls all over the world.
I don’t just have one. I grew up going to Church, so I was exposed to Gospel and a lot of other genres of music like Funk, RnB and all of these different sounds. The people that influenced me the most in my artistry are Prince, James Brown, Christian McBride, Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone. I also love Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spalding. Those are just a few. I have a lot of inspirations.
My music is really like a gumball of all the things that I was influenced by growing up and the music/artwork that I was exposed to when moving to the United States and attending Berkley college of music in Boston.