VANCOUVER'S Elaine "Lil' Bit" Shepherd has been busy collecting award after award since entering the reggae music scene.
Less than three years into her career she has already picked up a Juno for her endeavours.
"I didn't really start doing my own thing until about 2009," she says. "So it was even a shorter span of time and it was very rewarding knowing that I could accomplish quite a bit in such a short time."
The 25-year-old has been hard at work since winning a Juno Award in 2011 for Best New Reggae Recording for her song "Likkle But Mi Tallawah." This week she releases her debut album Move Ya online.
"It's been a long time coming," she says. "There is a fusion of jazz, soul and R&B, with some folk and a bit of rock and I think this album is a nice blend of all the different styles that I have been influenced by. I think it will reach a wider audience. It may turn some people onto reggae that may have not initially have been a reggae fan."
Shepherd originally grew up in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain but moved to Vancouver in 1997.
"I stayed there until I was about ten years old . . . It was more of an exciting adventure for my brother and I to come out here to Vancouver."
Shepherd's singing career dates back to 1994 when she was in The Big Bang (Batibot) Gang.
"Bahrain is where I got most of my musical start," she says. "I was performing in a little kids group at the age of five and I carried it on when I moved out here."
While attending Richmond High Shepherd sang and learned how to play the guitar and piano.
"I used to sing a lot of country music when I was in high school," Shepherd says. "My dad is a really big country fan and I listened to a lot of country music growing up . . . the very first compact disc I ever bought was a Patty Loveless album, Trouble with the Truth."
It was during her time at Vancouver Community College, where she studied voice, guitar and composition, that Shepherd became immersed in reggae and hip-hop music culture.
"I wasn't really into reggae until I was in college," she says. "I met some people that were really into the reggae and hip-hop scene."
Shepherd once tried out for Canadian Idol but was rejected and told she couldn't sing. In 2009 she released her first EP titled Lady in the Streets, which made an immediate impact.
"'Lady in the Street' was my first big single off that EP which gave me my first push and opened me up into the reggae market," she says. "It really took off in the Toronto market."
In June 2010 she was named Most Promising New Artist at the Reggae Music Awards.
Last year saw Shepherd bring home a series of awards including her Juno and Best Female Vocalist award at the West Coast Reggae Caribbean Music Awards. Shepherd was also nominated for Best Female Vocalist, Best Reggae Single, and Artist of the Year at the 2011 Reggae Music Achievement Awards. In 2011 she also took home the best reggae recording for her song "Sensimilla" at the Global Marijuana Music Awards.
Shepherd says she doesn't feel outside pressure to achieve greater things in her career after winning the Juno. "I am a bit rebellious. The management company that I am with is called Rebel Vibez and it's very fitting because I am rebellious in a sense. I've never done things according to people's standards. Yes, I have accomplished quite a bit in a short time but ultimately I make music for me."
In fact, she says almost the opposite has happened to her.
"In some cases some people showed a little more hatred and jealousy towards to me as opposed to love and appreciation because of how quickly it came about," she says. "Some of these people are a lot older than me and have been doing it for some time and I, having just come into the genre and the culture and having my career take off so quickly, it kind of stirred the pot a little bit for some people."
The name "Lil' Bit" was a nickname given to her when she was singing in an all-female gospel group called Joy in 2006.
"I never wanted to drop my name completely," she says. (Ray Carroll) used to call me Lil' Bit because I was the youngest in the group and the smallest. It just stuck."
In March of 2011 Shepherd and Tinga Stewart recorded a single, "Four's a Traffic Jam," which was released by VP Records on the album Covers for Reggae Lovers Vol. 2.
Shepherd and Stewart have only worked with a handful of artists including Juno award winner Moka Only, Glen Ricketts, Choclair, Luciano, and Zukie Joseph.
"I feel like you have to earn your respect as an artist and I feel like I have been able to do that," Shepherd says. "As long as I am challenging myself and I am doing more according to my standards then I am happy."
She has performed at a variety of venues in the Metro Vancouver area including The Shark Club, and The Fairview Pub where she performed with country artist Jimmy Baldwin. She has also performed at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and other venues across the Greater Toronto Area.
She says her next album may be more of a blend of reggae and country music together.
"If you listen to really old school reggae tunes they are essentially like country tunes," she says. "It's very similar with the story line and that old school feel."
Shepherd dreams of performing in Nashville one day.
"I would really love to sing at the Grand Ole Opry House and sing an old country tune," Shepherd says. "Believe it or not I would love to sing there."
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