'Elvis' Star Shonka Dukureh Describes 'Life-Altering Experience' Playing A Rock Legend And Performing At Coachella With Doja Cat
Photo Credit: Kane Skennar / Warner Bros.
Film , Interviews

'Elvis' Star Shonka Dukureh Describes 'Life-Altering Experience' Playing A Rock Legend And Performing At Coachella With Doja Cat

Shonka Dukureh is having an amazing 2022 and all roads lead to Elvis!

The soul singer performed with Doja Cat at Coachella during the first week and she performed her own set during the festival’s second week. On top of that, she is starting in her first film, Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis Presley film. She’ll be taking on the iconic Big Mama Thornton, one of Elvis Presley’s inspirations and the original creator of the song “Hound Dog,” the song that put Presley on the map.

Appearing at Coachella with the "Say So" songstress was great synergy for the festival and Elvis. Doja Cat performed "Vegas" both weekends of the music festival, and it was announced that the single is taken from the upcoming companion album for the movie.

Dukureh told Shadow and Act how happy she’s been to express her talents both on stage and in film.

"It's been amazing and I'm looking forward to doing it all over again," she said. "It's just been a dream. I didn't even know it was a dream [of mine] until I really got there and experienced everything, but it has really been a chance of a lifetime, this life-altering experience."

Regarding playing Thornton, Dukureh said that she is honored to play a musician with such a rich history.

"You know what, it's all amazing because I know I realize that there were a lot of people who could have played the role or they had a lot of choices out there that they could have gotten to play the role," she said. "And so I just knew how privileged I was to get the opportunity. And I just wanted to want it to pay the right respect to Big Mama Thornton and to do her justice in the film."

Courtesy photo

As someone in the music field herself, Dukureh said she paid special attention to making sure she portrayed the legacy of Thornton as accurately as possible.

"I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music and understanding that I'm able to do it because she's done it and laid that foundation," she said.

To prepare, Dukureh said she consumed a lot of Thornton’s content available online, and studied her history. But more importantly, she sought to embody what Thornton's own philosophy about music was throughout her career.

"[W]e studied what and how she thought about music, and how she approached music just being a homegrown talent," she said. "[Thornton was] really raw with what she did and very honest and truthful and [made] music as she felt it. And I could totally relate to that."

Dukureh hopes that audiences will not only learn more about Thornton, but come to respect her title as one of the pioneers of rock and roll.

"Big Mama Thornton--just that name itself…you know from looking at pictures that she was a woman of large stature. But not just her stature and her physical self, but [also] her spirit and who she was as a person," said Dukureh. "And she was in a musical genre that was predominately dominated by men. And so I know that she had to have had a strong disposition to be able to navigate that."

"I want audiences to appreciate just how homegrown she was, how she was a natural talent, how she talented in multiple ways, not only as a singer and songwriter, she was also a musician, she could play the drums, she could blow the harmonica and all of those things were self-taught," she continued. "I think there's much respect that should be shown there. Her fearlessness in approaching music; she would say that nobody could sing like her. She didn't sing like nobody, and she was proud of it. And so being able to take the authority of her own self and own who she was, and to walk and present herself to the world in that way is powerful.

What can fans expect next from Dukureh? More music and more tributes to the past, including a new album inspired by Dukureh's role as Thornton.

"I am working on a blues record right now called Lady Sings the Blues, where I'm going to be paying tribute to the genre that laid the foundation for music that we're hearing today. I want to have that project ready by June for Black History Month. And I'm just so excited to be able to lend my voice to a genre that has given so much."

Elvis comes to theaters June 24. You can follow Dukureh on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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