ZulemaBy: Shenelle Wallace 

She’s not your traditional gospel singer. She is by far in her own lane; and Mrs. Zulema Cheek is unbelievably talented. She produces her own music; writes her own songs and arranges all the melodies with complex yet incredibly captivating harmonies. Hailing from Central New Jersey, this songstress creates her music so that there is something for everyone. Founder and member of the gospel group Blayze 5, Zulema decides to step out on her own.

So Divine: I absolutely love your music! I know the first album has been out, are you working on the second one?

Zulema Cheek: Well I’m still promoting the first one, but you know my brain doesn’t stop. I’m working on the second one but it isn’t finished yet, so I’m looking forward to it.

So Divine: You started out singing in a group, what made you decide to transition into being a solo artist?

Zulema Cheek: I didn’t think about going into it as a solo artist necessarily, I just had more songs that I had to get out. I just started writing and said let me just do something with this and it just ventured off into another project.

So Divine: When you go into the studio to record, what’s the process like? Do you focus on what sells and a certain sound?  Or do you go with how you feel and what’s important to you?

Zulema Cheek: Really I go with how I feel. I used to be told to have my music in a certain style. My thing is to make sure that my music reaches everybody because I love all types of music. So I never go into it trying to be put in a box necessarily. I do whatever God gives me and however the music moves me that’s what I do. If its country I’ll do it, if that’s my feelings at the time.

So Divine: How would you describe your sound?

Zulema Cheek: I want to say neo-soul-ish, but at times it can become rockish yet R&Bish. I’m just all over the place! My vocals are more of a neo-soul/jazz sound. But when I get to the music part of it I like to change up on that.

So Divine: Usually, Independent artists such as yourself get placed in a category known as “underground” artists. How do you feel about that title?

Zulema Cheek: I don’t mind the title. I’m not looking for fame and fortune. If underground is who I am and I’m able to reach those who are underground with me, I’m great with that, and that’s what my purpose is. If by chance God sees fit to put me someplace else, then that where he wants me to go. But right now, I’m happy with being independent or underground. There are people who need us. It’s not about the fame; it’s about winning souls for Christ. I’m here to minister.

So Divine: How do you feel about the current state of gospel music?

Zulema Cheek: I think that the change of gospel music has done great things as far as allowing people to learn about God and being comfortable in their own skin when it comes to growing in Him.

So Divine: Do you think sometimes the message gets lost because we’re trying to conform so much to fit what will draw people in?

Zulema Cheek: You know, I used to struggle with that. I used to wonder whether or not I was doing the wrong thing. Especially when I was a teenager and that’s when music started to really change in the gospel industry with the Kirk Franklins and things were becoming more hip hop. I remember the older generation saying ‘Watch what you bring into the church! And, make sure you don’t bring the world into the church!’ And I thought about that, and being in the world but not of it. What does that really mean? And yes, there’s always a fine line that anyone can cross. But I think you have to use what God has given you in order to draw people in. That’s not to say dilute his word or his power, but to make him accessible to those who don’t think that he is. I was talking to a group of young people about their music and why do they like that music. And the first thing that they said was they like that beat and they like the sound, and the way it makes them feel. So if we could get to their ears then we can get to their minds and then we can get to their hearts.

So Divine: So you think there’s space for all genres of gospel music?

Zulema Cheek: Absolutely. If we were all doing the same thing, then everybody would not be captured. We need the variation.

So Divine: What does Zulema bring to Gospel music?

Zulema Cheek: Weeelll, you know! (Laughs) Well I think one of the things I can add to the gospel arena is the versatility. I feel that I can relate [to the people].  My music is my testimony. I talk a lot about life and how God can be applied to their life and how Christ is better than this world. We have generations of hurt people and a lot of them are dealing with their life issues. [People ask] how are you telling me to live for Christ, yet you’re not showing me how he can make my situation better? So it’s important not to just beat people over the head with Christ, but to feed them in a way that deals with their personal condition.

So Divine: What has your experience been walking with Christ?

Zulema Cheek: Challenging. And not so much because He’s challenging, but because He challenges me. But I know where my victory lies, and it makes the walk easier even when it gets harder.

So Divine: What makes this gospel so real to you?

Zulema Cheek: I just could never second guess God. I will always stand for Christ. There is nobody on this earth who loves me the way he loves me, forgives me like he forgives me, and kept me the way does. I will ways be his servant and represent him. I just love him, and it helps me to loves myself and to be a better person.

Zulema’s album “Progress” is out now. Learn more about her here. Look for her 2nd solo project coming next spring to a store near you!