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Celebrity Choreographer Celebrates Caribbean Roots With Afro Soca

Marshall, a band member of Chop and Quench, “The Fela! Band” performs at a concert in Brooklyn, NY in 2014. Dexter R. Jones /

Celebrity choreographer and dancer, Shakira Marshall has taken her talents from the dance studios of Brooklyn all the way to Broadway.

The Queens, New York native has been making waves on the international stage ever since she was tapped join the cast of 'Fela!' the musical in 2009.

Since then she has danced with or choreographed for many artists including Jill Scott, Beyoncé, Machel Montano, Alison Hinds and for the last two years, Ms. Lauryn Hill— with whom she kicked off the "MLH Caravan: A Diaspora Calling" tour as a choreographer/dancer on August 27th in Philadelphia.

"I've done everything from working in the Caribbean industry to the mainstream music industry and I love it because with every performance I get to share my dance style and culture with audiences," said Marshall who is of Guyanese descent.

RELATED: Guyana Jubilee: Celebrating 50 Years of Independence

During this year's 10th annual Black Girls Rock! award show on in April, it was Marshall's afro soca dance technique that influenced the choreography during Hill's Fela Kuti inspired performance— a tribute to the father of Afro-beat music.

"There's so many reasons why this was such a monumental moment for me and my life and my career. It's the first time she [Hill] ever used dancers and my choreography was being seen on an award show stage," she told NBCBLK. "I just have to thank you Ms. Lauryn Hill for having so much faith in me and my talent and pushing me and my talent."

Shakira Marshall performs her song 'This is my country' at the Guyana Unity Concert in Brooklyn, NY. The song won Marshall first place in the Guyana Golden Jubilee Theme Song Competition. Photo by Winston Rodney

The 31-year-old, who is also known as Kira, grew up listening to soca and calypso music and taking lessons in both Caribbean and African dance. She coined the term afro soca in 2012 to describe her then Brooklyn-based dance classes, which fuse western, southern and central African movement with Caribbean traditional dance.

The term afro soca also now describes the growing musical exchanges between the Caribbean and Africa, which can be heard in the collaborations of artists like Trinidad & Tobago's Machel Montano and Nigeria's Timaya.

These days Marshall, who is now based in Los Angeles, teaches afro soca dance workshops all over the United States as well the Caribbean region—including during the annual carnival celebrations on the islands of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

RELATED: Black & Undocumented: Caribbean Immigrant's Long Fight for Citizenship

She also teaches her signature dance technique to students who participate in the Art Saves Lives Foundation on the island of Saint Maarten.

Even with all her success so far, one of Marshall's biggest goals is to use her role in the entertainment industry to showcase and share the beauty of Guyana and it's culture.

"I want to be one of those who help to shed a positive light on what it means to be Guyanese. What our culture entails and how amazing our culture and country is because people don't get to see it that often," said Marshall who frequents the South American nation to visit family and work with the country's ministry (department) of education on various school programs in the arts.

Ms. Lauryn Hill (center) and Shakira Marshall (right) backstage with dancers at the 2016 Black Girls Rock! Awards show in April. Marshall choreographed the performance using her signature Afrosoca dance technique. Courtesy Shakira Marshall

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in mainland South America as well as the only Commonwealth or Anglophone Caribbean country on the continent. And, now that she has the opportunity, Marshall wants to bring the unique culture of the country as well as the wider Caribbean region to the world's stage.

"We have others in the industry that are doing it, but I want to do it in a different way. I really want the world to see Guyana through my eyes," Marshall said.

The talented entertainer started The Value Arts Initiative in Agricola Village, Guyana where her father grew up, just ahead of the country's 50th independence celebrations this past May. The non-profit aims to use art, starting with music and dance, to inspire Guyanese youth and young adults.

"The Value Arts Initiative is going to be using art to create social change," said Marshall who hopes to bring Hill as well as other internationally known artists to teach her students in Guyana.

Celebrity choreographer/ dancer Shakira Marshall on the red carpet at 2016 Style Africa show in in Los Angeles. Courtesy Shakira Marshall

Although Marshall is currently known as a dancer and choreographer, she will soon be transitioning to recording artist and performing artist—something she credits Lauryn Hill for motivating her to do.

"I have been recording and writing music since about 2007, but Ms. Hill has really inspired me to put my music out there," said Marshall who has sung backup for Hill while on tour. Marshall has also toured as member of Chop and Quench: "The Fela Band", which is made up of members of the cast and band of "Fela!" the musical

Her first release 'This is My Country' won first place in the Guyana Golden Jubilee Theme Song Competition and her upcoming EP to be released at the start of 2017, will include reggae, R&B—and of course some afro soca tracks.

Marshall says she will also expand her community involvement across the U.S. and the Caribbean as she works to honor her Guyanese roots and showcase her culture to the world.

"I have always been passionate about all things Caribbean and I'm going to continue to enrich, share, entertain, all of it," she said.

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