Tony Cummings spoke to versatile singer/songwriter BECKAH SHAE about her music and Jewish heritage
As far as radio play on Cross Rhythms goes, Beckah Shae is one of the most popular independent artists. She has a staggering 15 different songs featured on CR radio and her new single, "King" - a delicious piece of divine proclamation over a mid-tempo groove conceived by her producer husband Jack Shocklee - is well up to standard. Clearly a lot has happened to the singer/songwriter down the years, who has delivered a stream of quality releases which have taken in everything from pumping dance music, worship songs, soul balladry, children's ministry songs, Christmas music and R&B. Here's what this most passionate and anointed of artists told us:
Tony: Your song "King" has just gone onto the Cross Rhythms playlist. It's your first release for quite a while.
Beckah: "We haven't released anything since the 'Mighty' album. It's been almost a couple of years. Parenting is the main reason for the delay. Hope is my third child, and she is such a pleasure, so I just wanted to take some time to be with her. She is turning three this week. Jack and I were working on music all along. It's time now to start releasing new and interesting things."
Tony: How old are the other two now?
Beckah: "12 and 10."
Tony: Your husband is a producer, so do you have a home studio?
Beckah: "Yeah. We've been doing everything together since we've been married - really the lifetime of my career. It's much more convenient to be able to have it in our home. Whenever the inspiration flows, we're ready to go. We've got a lot of really cool, exciting things to look forward to in the future. We're super-grateful you guys are willing to share our musical journey."
Tony: Cross Rhythms, as you no doubt know, has long maintained a policy that the source of music being offered to us for airplay is an irrelevance when it comes to selecting what we play. There are many radio stations around who will only play record label-sourced music, and if they do independent artists' releases, they're put into a little cultural ghetto programme, which they'll call something like Unsigned or Independents, and keep it away from the music on their actual playlist. As an independent artist, this must be pretty disappointing for you.
Beckah: "It is. I like your way of doing things. It sounds pretty normal to me. There's so much amazing talent. Not only talent. I'm a heart person, so I could care less about the talent if the heart is pretty screwed up. I want to hear something that's pure and that is actually going to affect my spirit and my soul. But to find that beautiful balance of great talent mixed with that is rare. Record labels invest a lot in their artists, so they believe in them, but that doesn't mean that there isn't other great talent out there. We've been doing this for a long time independently, and the reason we've done that isn't because we're weaker - we are in a sense, because we don't have the machine driving and marketing us - but because we really believe wholeheartedly in the vision God gave us. If we're ever going to partner and attract a team that's going to help us, we really want to know that they're in alignment with that same vision, that they really believe in what God is doing through us. We've just never found that. It has nothing to do with validation or value, but I think a lot of times people don't realise that is the case. A lot of times people put a validation on a record label, which gets me so frustrated. We have met some really incredible artists recently. There's people out there that can really benefit from the sounds and the music and the songs God is using people to do. So I think there's a breaking point that is happening right now. I think it's going to be very surprising to a lot of people what's going to happen soon. Honestly, there's a lot of really great radio stations tired of it, and they want to play the good stuff like you.
"Unfortunately, many people are locked into a kind of box when it comes to their attitude towards different styles of music. I can remember in 2010/2011, we were pretty much the first ones to bring out a four-on-the-floor beat with a worship song. That was new. We took the risk, and the reason we were able to do that is because we don't have a box. Not that record labels aren't a great help: they have a lot of strengths because it's support, it's a team. I would love to have more of that. But it wasn't a bad thing we didn't, because we were able to take these risks. It's one of those things where I think if people really rose up and got themselves out of the box of, 'What does this person think? Are they going to play it?', and just step up in the will of God and be obedient, we would hear more things that God intended us to do. It's not that hard. I just wish people would get bold like that. Even the radio stations. They might not be making the music, but they have a choice. Be free and say, 'I'm going to take a risk and play this, because they're listening to God, and not what they think the consumer is going to do.' It's never more of a risk to obey God.
"Being able and free to do whatever God wants us to say and do, it's the greatest freedom. We can just go with it. We've been doing this 14 years, and we used to tailor our songs to the radio stations because we thought that's the only way we're going to get this played. They say, 'OK, turn the bass down here.' Our second single that was a top 10 on the radio, called 'Life', had a shofar that started off the song. The radio stations were clueless. 'What is this sound? What is the shofar? People won't understand the Biblical significance of the shofar. Take that out, and then we'll play it. Take this bass out, take this out, do this.' We used to have to tailor our songs so that the radio would play it. We figured that it's going to be more effective if the mass hears it. We want people to hear the word of God. But it was really disappointing and frustrating because we had to tailor our songs. After this many years, we just got to a point where it's like, 'Forget that, dude! We just want to make the sound that God gives us.' God spoke one word and the entire universe was created. There's so much power in sound, the things that are being released. If God has given us something, we can't dumb it down. We can't be worried about who's going to like it, who's not going to like it. We've gotten to a place now where we're like, 'God, if you want us to release this sound then you just go ahead and release it out. You put it where you want it to go.' We've gotten to travel around, go to so many different countries - it's international - so it's a huge privilege for us to say, 'God, you're going to trust us with this. We're not going to let doorkeepers tell us what we should and shouldn't do.'"
Tony: Tell me about "King".
Beckah: "A lot of times we focus so much on all the things that are happening around us in the world, and God was calling me to a place where he's like, 'I'm a fire! I'm the king! I'm on the throne. I rule over the heavens and the earth. I'm the alpha and the omega.' He was like, 'If you focus on me, it will lift you higher.' We just need to honour who he is. He's the king, he's the Lord of lords, he's sovereign. There's so much separation and deception and hopelessness and confusion happening all over the earth, but there is the king, and he reigns. He's the Lion of Judah, he's coming soon - he roars. When he opens his mouth to speak, it's almost like there's this roar that reaches every corner and makes the enemy tremble. It's just the reality of hope. We sing 'Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha Olam'. Creator of the Universe! What is bigger than that? He put all the stars in the sky and named them. There's nothing greater than the King of the Universe, the Creator of the Universe. It's not really that deep. To me, I'm just honouring the king. I could walk around all the day long singing all kinds of different songs, but I really wanted to start this project. We're going to make a full project, obviously. We've been working on different songs. Passover was coming up, and I thought, 'For the first single that we release, I really want to bring my firstfruits to God and honour him. I want to release this on Passover, because he is the king who parted the Red Sea, who made a way out, who does the impossible. He's the God of miracles.' So I'm just going to release this song first. That's how it came about."
Tony: Could people call you a Messianic Christian?
Beckah: "Yes, they could. I grew up in a Jewish background. My mom was saved before I was born, praise God. I had a supernatural encounter with Jesus when I was really young. I grew up around my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, my cousins. I grew up celebrating all of the Jewish feasts and the holidays. It was something that I was exposed to, but I didn't understand the depth and the richness of its meaning until after I was saved and more mature in the Lord. Now it's completely different. I actually don't want the fact that I'm Jewish to get in the way of people receiving this song, or anything Hebrew or Jewish. It isn't about me being Jewish doing it. It's about the fact that our Messiah, Jesus - Yeshua - is Jewish. That's what I want to share."
"Growing up, we started prayers off with, 'Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha Olam' - 'Blessed are you, O Lord our God, creator of the universe'. It's like the Lord's Prayer starts, 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.' Jesus says, 'Start all your prayers this way.' In the Jewish culture, prayers start like that. If you go to Israel, you will hear that. This is so powerful. I believe that God is breaking forth some things. Our Messiah wasn't American, he wasn't European, he was Jewish. This is his language. We want to know him, we want to know more about him, but sometimes it's like we make him fit into our box. I'm done with the whole box thing. I love my Saviour, I love my Messiah. His native tongue is Hebrew, and it's the most beautiful language. It's powerful. Radio stations are not going to play this, but I really don't care. This is something people need to hear because they can awaken their ears to the native language of our own Messiah. I go to a congregation that does worship in English and in Hebrew. We always start with the Shema, which is honouring God: he is the one true God. So when I was writing that song, I was imagining I could go into the streets of Israel and sing this song. I don't mention Yeshua, I don't mention the name of Jesus one time, but he's totally weaved throughout this song. I was really thinking, 'How can this song reach someone with his Spirit?' We're not called to go preach to people, we're called to go live it, and to shine that love and that light and that truth in a way that people can relate to it and find that love themselves. I'm in a different direction now. Everything I'm writing is in that vein where I'm thinking, 'This is probably going to be the song most directed towards God, but most of it is going to be acknowledging the pain and the process, and really wanting to reach people.'"
Tony: We are sent a lot of different music at Cross Rhythms, including what they call Messianic worship which sounds like "Hava Nageela" with Christian lyrics. My tastes are more contemporary.
Beckah: "Honestly, I think there's a new sound rising up, and I'm just going to go for it and do the things nobody has done before, because I feel like they need to be done. We need to hear this tongue; we need to hear fresh sounds; we need to hear something new. It's time. God wants to speak to his people, and it's not always going to sound the same. Aren't you tired of it? Sometimes I feel like I'm listening to the same thing for, like, three years! I'm done. For a long time I was frustrated because I wanted so badly for it to just be accepted. But I really feel like that's a deception. It is accepted: the people who hear our music, they send us life-changing testimony emails. They are being transformed. I'm more about that than anything. I'm all the way on the other side of the world in Papua New Guinea! I don't know how. I'm going to Paris. I don't know how it got heard there. We didn't do that. We didn't have marketers, we didn't have people calling radio stations over there. The Holy Spirit just went over there and made it happen, and all of sudden I'm on a plane all the way across the world doing concerts for two thousand, three thousand people, all because God did that. In America I'm a little peewee, because all these radio stations are so convinced that these 10 artists on a record label should be the ones that are played. But that's not how God works.
"We're just holding ourselves in when we do that, because there's so much greater and richer things that God wants to release in the earth. I think we should just be free and keep doing what we're supposed to do. If God sets something on your heart to play because it sounds good, you need to know for yourself that it's good, and then just do it. Watch what God wants to do. He'll part the water. If it's not something that's powerful, why would you play it? They do that, though! They have this pressure like they have to play this because it's so-and-so. But play what God says, 'This is anointed. This is powerful.' Then watch God release his Spirit and his power and his presence - if we're just willing."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.