Shaquira Lue describes how she’s giving a vocal community a new platform thanks to the help of the Creative Futures Incubator.
Shaquira’s passion for a cappella began almost 5,000 miles away.
Now the founder of a national network for artists and groups, it’s taken her further than she could have imagined.
“I was born in Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, and moved to Birmingham with my family when I was nine,” Shaquira explained.
“My grandma’s Caribbean church didn’t allow instruments – everything was done through just the voice, so people improvised the harmonies and the rhythms from the hymn books to sing along.
“I had no idea it was a cappella, but that's where it all started for me"
“I had no idea it was a cappella, but that’s where it all started for me.”
It started in earnest.
Despite her tender age, Shaquira set up her first group with friends – “for some reason, we were called The Camouflage Girls” – and knew she wanted to perform.
“So when I moved to the UK, I auditioned for a show in Year 5 and got my first taste of the spotlight singing as Maid Marian in Robin Hood,” she said.
“Then in my first year of high school I set up a trio doing three-part harmonies, and then again at college I created another a cappella group while doing A-Level Music.
“I just love the power of the raw voice.”
A natural organiser
In 2016, Shaquira embarked on a BA in Drama and Dramatic/Theatre Arts at the University of Warwick.
Of course, she joined the a cappella group there (dubbed The Leamingtones) – but this time, her involvement went further.
“I became the Musical Director in my first year and the President at the end of the first year,” Shaquira said.
“But a lot of members wanted to set up their own groups specialising in different genres of a cappella music, so in my second year I founded the Warwick A cappella Society.”
It was through Shaquira’s efforts running the society that a bright idea came to her.
“The only national a cappella competition in the UK belonged to an American organisation,” she explained.
“It means the winning group here has to raise the money needed to fly over to the US to compete there – not exactly ideal.
“I decided to set up the Open A cappella Competition (OAC) to give British groups something of their own, and also as a way of bringing the best talent around to Warwick.”
“I decided to set up the Open A cappella Competition (OAC)to give British groups something of their own, and also as a way of bringing the best talent around to Warwick"
The first OAC was held at Warwick Arts Centre in 2020, with three judges including a member of the famous a cappella ensemble The King’s Singers, and was awarded Society Event of the Year by Warwick Students’ Union.
Some much-needed harmony
The competition’s success only whet Shaquira’s appetite.
“By this point, I was doing an MA in Creative and Media Enterprises,” she said.
“I mentioned the OAC to my tutor and she pointed out that I could be onto something special.”
Organising the competition had highlighted to Shaquira just how fragmented the UK a cappella community was.
“There was no uniting platform, no way of contacting other groups quickly and easily,” she explained.
“I had to use Facebook pages to find people and message them; I thought, ‘I can create something different to bring everyone together’.”
“I’d never heard of Creative Futures until another tutor emailed me a link to it,” Shaquira said.
The Creative Futures Incubator provides budding entrepreneurs with six months of business support worth up to £10,000.
Every six months, successful applicants form a cohort that enjoys an annual co-working membership at 1 Mill Street in Leamington Spa, mentoring from a business coach and tailored help to develop their company.
“I was graduating, and realised that everything I had been doing from primary school right up to university was about organising a cappella,” Shaquira recalled.
“By the time I heard about Creative Futures, I only had a week to pull together my application with a business plan, a budget and a pitch – but I managed to do it, and I’m so glad I did.”
Over the months that followed, Shaquira worked closely with Creative Futures Manager Clare Green to turn the Open A cappella Competition from a yearly event into the Open A cappella Community, a fully fledged company that would act as a platform for the entire UK scene.
“We had so many one-to-ones about strategy, vision and objectives, and it really helped me develop the business,” Shaquira said.
“1 Mill Street is just a thriving place; it’s office space, a networking venue, somewhere to socialise after work, so to be able to have a start-up here has been incredible.
“The Incubator opened so many doors for me and has empowered my company to support many a cappella groups up and down the country."
“The Incubator opened so many doors for me and has empowered my company to support many a cappella groups up and down the country.”
Hitting the high notes
Shaquira, who received a £3,000 grant from Warwick Arts Centre that helped fund another iteration of the competition, now splits her time between the Open A cappella Community and her role as a Creative Project Manager at virtual events firm Purple Monster – also based at 1 Mill Street.
But she has no plans to neglect her young business, and a cappella seems set to be a lifelong love.
“I might work a full-time job, but I’m pursuing the OAC with everything I have and it will continue to grow organically with the a cappella community,” Shaquira said.
“When I look back at my CV and how much I have already done, it makes me so proud.
“If you have a passion, go for it – apply for Creative Futures and throw yourself into it, like I did.”