Shezza Opens the Door for First Nations

Artist: Shezza
Published: 2005-07-25

Just a few months ago Shezza (Sherry Ansloos) a superbly talented singer / songwriter from Manitoba was playing broomball while on a young adult retreat. Shezza, while remembering the event giggles as she says, "I had this incredible bruise and it was like a trophy to show that I had played broomball." Fast forward to May 13th in Toronto and Shezza is on stage accepting a Shai Award in the Outstanding Aboriginal Artist category. In any other year she might have picked up an award in the New Artist category for which she was also nominated but this was not a normal year as the Christian music scene in Canada continues to burgeon. In total she picked up three Shai nominations with the third one being in the tough pop contemporary album of the year where she was competing with established artists like Amanda Falk, Kim Haller, Greg Sczebel, and Raylene Scarrot.

The Awards night gave Shezza an opportunity to showcase her rich vocals and thoughtful pop lyrics before an array of artists, music fans and television viewers in both the United States and Canada. The event was recorded by five different broadcasters.

However life was not always easy for Shezza as she and husband Paul became teenage parents to their son Jeffrey now attending a Christian college in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She is a Cree First Nations person and was adopted into an English community by a loving family, yet still struggled with her identity. During her adult years she was contacted by an agency that seeks out adopted children on behalf of the birth parents and introduced to her birth mother and prompted a flood of emotions and insecurities that had been buried for a long time.

Even the beginning of her music career was challenged by several years of delay. Originally discovered by then fledgling Avante Records at a battle of the bands competition she had to put her music career on hold due to the financial challenges of producing a CD. In 2004 she approached Avante Records about producing her self titled debut CD.

Shezza is one of those people you could sit and talk effortlessly with for hours. She wears her heart on her sleeve and isn't shy about telling you what God has been saying to her. She giggles often when recounting incidents she finds humorous and fights back tears when thinking of God's grace in her life. She speaks glowingly of her love for husband Paul and son Jeffrey. The freshness of her lyrics reflects a talented singer who is complex yet without being haughty.

Prior to winning her Shai Award in the Aboriginal category she spoke about how she felt affirmed as a First Nations person through the nomination. "I have this First Nations heritage that is beautiful and is rich and God has given me that", yet she felt disconnected from that culture because she grew up in an English community. She says, "God has really been speaking to me with the nomination in the aboriginal category it feels like an affirmation for me. It is like God is saying to me, you are First Nations. It's just a very beautiful thing. It is like God is saying to me this is who I created you to be." She is quick to point out that her adopted parents did not have the resources available to them at the time to connect her with her heritage.

At the time of meeting her birth mother Shezza encountered feelings and questions she had buried deep inside such as, who am I? Am I first Nations? Am I M»tis? "The only way I can describe it is that it was like I had boarded up that issue. It was like I took the word adoption and painted it all up to make it look okay. It really opened up a huge emotional thing and I thought at the time God is doing this. He wants to restore an identity to me."

Shezza's music belongs to the pop genre however saddling her with that label seems to diminish the quality of her songwriting. While so many songs today are written to appeal to a specific demographic and therefore are reliant more on hooks than substance Shezza's lyrics are thought provoking and the music beautifully composed. Her husband Paul and son Jeffrey appear on the CD. Jeffrey provides vocals and Paul co-wrote the song Captivated.

To date four of her songs have been played on the radio, Carry Me, I Will Exalt, In You and I Will Fly. She becomes animated when talking about hearing Carry Me (her first release) played on the radio for the first time. The morning host of CHVN, Terry Van Veen called her on her cell phone while she was driving to work. He told her that the song would be played on the radio in two minutes. She quickly phoned Paul and her mother and let them know. She says, "I felt like rolling down the window and saying (to other drivers) put the radio on." Laughing she adds, "but I didn't. I had restraint."

Although the seeds of her faith were planted by her grandmother when she was a child Shezza says she never really took steps to make a commitment to God. Her grandmother would read devotionals to her and pray for her each day before she left for school. It wasn't until she enrolled son Jeffrey in a Vacation Bible School at age six that she was once again confronted with choices to make about her faith. She thought he should go to church but she didn't have any interest in taking the same steps for herself.

She remembers while walking him home from Vacation Bible School Jeffrey said to her, "Mom I have something important to tell you. Did you know that there is a little door in your heart? Jesus stands at the door and knocks at the door and you can invite him in. Today I invited Jesus into my heart." She then remembered being confronted with the same words at a Vacation Bible School when she was a child. Shezza says it was like the Holy Spirit was speaking to her and saying, "Look what I have in store for your family. Look what I have in store for you guys. I have been pursuing you all these years."

The next week she accepted an invitation from her brother to attend a church he attended in Winnipeg (and her home church today) The Church of the Rock. She remembers looking around her at the other people worshipping and praising God and she knew it was time to turn her life over to Him. The next week Paul surrendered his life to God.

She says the close relationship enjoyed by their family has prompted others to question their own faith or lack thereof. She says others will say, 'if that is what a Christian family is all about I want that (for myself). I want what you guys have. I want to see a loving relationship between a husband and a wife. I want to see that relationship between kids and their parents.'

For the once teenage parents of a baby who stuck it out and grew together in their faith it has been quite a journey. It has been a journey of love between the three of them and enjoying God's love. Shezza expresses it best, "It's a reminder of God's grace in our lives."

Writer: Joe Montague

Photo:Joe Montague

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