Interview with Chantelle Ernandez
History has learnt that Jamaican reggae music has always been male dominated and thus women have scarcely been given space to take their place in the forefront of the genre. Perhaps Marcia Griffiths is the obvious exception as she can look back at a very successful and enduring career. However times have changed and artists such as Tanya Stephens, Etana, Lady Saw, and more recently Jah9, have taken the opportunity to establish their names.
NOTHING COMES TO LIFE WITHOUT DREAMS!
Another female artist who is working hard to establish a successful career is Chantelle Ernandez, an artist with a soulful, sensual and vibrant voice, who combines Reggae and R&B. Her ability to both move and heat up any type of audience is an indication that she is not bound to remain unnoticed. Chantelle Ernandez strongly captivates during live shows and her positive vibes emerge both through her music and by meeting her in person.
Where were you born and raised?
How was life there?
Life there was great, exciting and interesting. For sure there were ups and downs, good moments, bad moments, laughter and tears; but really there was always so much to do, so much to learn and experience. There was never a dull moment. Kingston is full of contrasts… simplicity and complexity, love and hate, convenience and hardship, war and peace – it’s a great story teller and content provider. I had fun growing up in Kingston. It’s an amazing city that no doubt helped shape me more than any place else on earth.
What was music like in your family? Anyone involved in music?
Music was everyday life for us; we danced together, sang together, listened to music together and sang to each other. For my family, it was a natural part of any day. There was no one professionally involved in music; my father came very close to it, but was turned off by the dishonesty involved. However, that didn’t stop him from playing his guitar, writing songs and singing all the time.
Sometimes artists already show signs of pursuing a musical career during their schooldays? How about you?
I did for sure. In class, I was either writing songs or poetry instead of taking notes, and that’s just when I went to class; otherwise I’d be in the music room around the piano, practicing or working on a new song. I eventually settled into my studies during the last 6 months of school and passed all my exams. Apart from that though, I sang lead for my school’s choir many times as well as for an all girl group (Essence) that was formed at school by some friends and I. I performed a lot and rehearsed a lot. But even outside of school, I was acting and dancing… I grew up on stage… I rarely went a week without being on a stage somewhere.
Who would you credit as main influences, musically speaking?
Oooh… one of my least favorite questions… this one is very hard to answer because there are sooooo many. I know many names will be left out, but I was influenced by Mariah Carey, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Nina Simone, Whitney Houston, Peter Tosh, Air Supply, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Dizzy Gillespie, Patti LaBelle, BeBe and CeCe Winans, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Candi Staton, Deneice Williams, Bon Jovi, Cindy Lauper and so many others. I grew up in a very musical household, and participated in many music activities outside my home, so music for me was 24/7. There aren’t many genres that were excluded from my listening.
How did you start off your career? Participating in local talent contests?
I was already recording when I did my first talent contest, so I’d have to say that I started off in church and school. There was always a concert, showcase or other event that I performed at. The all female group I sang in, became popular at other schools as well, so we performed at many of their events, corporate events and government functions. Also there was (and still is I believe) the annual JCDC Festival for the performing arts. Myself along with my group members, as well as the school choir racked up many trophies, awards and grand prizes performing there.
Who was the first record producer to recognize your talent?
Michael Fletcher (former bass player, and musical director to Shaggy and producer) was the first ever producer to recognize my talent as a lead singer, while I was singing background vocals for projects being produced by the Gumption Band at the time (now called Ikronik). However, the first Music Industry Executive to recognize my talent was well known manager to the stars, Sharon Burke. While I was still in school, my group (Essence) auditioned for her at Solid Agency, and in that audition she asked us all to sing individually after we sang together, then told me I should be a lead singer.
What year was that?
I was noticed by Sharon Burke in early 1999, then again by Michael Fletcher in the summer of that same year.
What tune did you record for this producer?
I recorded an R&B song, “Something Inside My Heart”
What happened after you had done your first recording? Any response from local reggae fans or other producers?
It wasn’t a reggae song and it was never released.
European reggae fans started to take notice of you, when the London based Necessary Mayhem label released your “My Forever EP” in 2011. How were you introduced to producer Curtis Lynch Jr of Necessary Mayhem?
Curtis introduced himself to me actually… he found me. He was working on many projects at the Anchor Recording Studio during his visit to Jamaica at the time. We crossed paths there a lot because I was also there doing many background vocals for a lot of other artists and producers. However, on one occasion he was in the mastering studio and heard a track that I did backgrounds for. He thought my backgrounds sounded more like lead vocals, he got my name, then asked around for my number, and called me shortly after. I recorded my first song for him the following day.
How was working with Curtis Lynch Jr? Working with Curtis is my most memorable working and recording experience to date. He is very collaborative and most times has an unorthodox and risky approach to his art, therefore the end product is unpredictable. The studio environment with Curtis is fun, exciting, thought provoking and a big learning experience.
Why wasn’t the critical acclaimed “My Forever EP” followed by a next project?
The “My Forever” EP will have its follow up in the coming year. An immediate follow up wasn’t made available because both Curtis and myself began working on other projects almost immediately following the release of our EP; however the follow up was never out of mind and it will be out soon. I think it’ll be even better than the “My Forever” EP.
Then you linked up with Barcelona based production house ReggaeLand. How did that happen?
I met the label owner (Marcus) years ago while touring with Max Romeo as a background vocalist. He used to receive regular updates about my music, as well as my most recent recordings. We started working together during the time that I began breaking away from my role as a background vocalist. The “Gimme What’s Mine” album is a product of that union.
Marcus is ReggaeLand’s producer. What’s the difference between his approach and Curtis Lynch Jr’s?
Both Marcus and Curtis own and operate their own labels and so they both perform the roles that a label owner would and should. The difference is that the higher percentage of Curtis’ time is spent with the creation of the music, while the higher percentage of Marcus’ time is spent on the business and administrative side of music. Genis ‘Genius’ Trani is the person on the ReggaeLand team that spends the higher percentage of time on the creation of the music. Also, Curtis’ company mostly focuses on productions, releases and distributions, whereas Marcus’ company also focuses on promotions through the organization of tours and media activity.
ReggaeLand released your debut album “Gimme What’s Mine” in 2012? What can people expect when they purchase that album.
Expect a variety of topics that are approached from different angles, expect really good music, expect amazing fusions between Jamaican music and other international genres, expect to laugh, think and wonder about the world we live in, dance, fall in and out of love and for sure a feeling like they’re witnessing my stories for themselves and taking note of my messages.
“Reggae Reasoning” is one of the highlights. What’s this song about?
Reggae and the music industry in general is many times difficult to survive in. “Reggae Reasoning” really highlights just a few of the pains, but mostly the joys of why I love Reggae Music so much, why other people around the world connect to it, and why it’s so unique; it’s really a conversation about the sentiment of Reggae.
And how about “If Women Ruled The World”…
“If Women Ruled The World” was originally meant to be a joke. I was really trying to be cute, funny and a bit mischievous, but instead it took on a life of its own and became a song that highlights some strengths of women, how we affect the world and how we could influence really big changes. It turns out that the song is very empowering for females… I didn’t expect that… it wasn’t my intention, but I’m happy it happened.
Other songs on the album that need a special mention?
“The Change” with Dutch artist Joggo is an amazing track and has a good message. The riddim which shares the same name as the song has just been released this week and is currently at #11 on iTunes. “Touch” made it to the Top 10 of a very important chart in the USA and was also used for the pitch for a TV show. “Take Them Down (A Billion Stones)” has been an airplay favourite for many radio stations globally and did well in the USA and Europe at #7 and #8 on a top 15 chart; “Sweet Spanish Man” (for which the official video will be released soon) spent 12 weeks on the Top 10 charts of Radio Galaxy Gold in the UK; and “Selfish Love” which was released as a single this summer (but isn’t featured on the album) stayed on the Top 10 for Radio Galaxy Gold for 7 weeks.
Which tracks are your personal favourites and why?
My personal favourites (which have nothing to do with their individual successes) include “Touch”, because I love ballads. The song has a softness I don’t typically express vocally, but the R&B styled vocal arrangement is what gives it the edge that I like; “Sweet Spanish Man”, because I love to tell stories with music, but more because everyone who hears it thinks that the story is real even though it’s not; “Hypnosis”, because it is unlike any song I’ve ever recorded and is the most unique and internationally fused track on the album; “The Change”, because even though the message may sound very familiar to many people, Joggo and I took a different approach to it, and spoke some simple truths that people generally think but don’t say – also, I had so much fun working with Joggo… he is an amazing, talented individual with a uniqueness all his own; and “Song of Redemption” because once again I spoke up for a group of disenfranchised people, that mostly don’t get the opportunity to speak up for themselves.
Do you write all your songs by yourself?
Yes, at the moment I write all my lyrics. Maybe someday, someone else will write for me – but at the moment, it’s just me.
How’s your approach, lyrically speaking? What inspires you when you write a song? My approach lyrically is to stay honest with what and how I am feeling at the moment… I never have a plan with regards to topic or content when I’m about to write a song. I hear each melody for each line before the lyrics come. Basically I leave myself open and vulnerable to music and my emotions, then I go where they lead me, never the other way around. I am inspired by all sorts of people, their lives, experiences and situations, the news, personal experiences, movies, books, life in general or whatever madness is happening in my head at the time.
Who, would you say, was the first to expose you to the power of music?
As I said earlier, I grew up with music as a part of my everyday life. So I’d have to say my parents and my grandmother. My father especially was always playing vinyls from Earth, Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, The Temptations, Al Green, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and music from Ladysmith Black Mambazo among many others. He also played his guitar, wrote songs and sang a lot. My mother and him sang together in a group at their church, then after their divorce I was raised by my grandmother, who as far as I can remember was always singing an old church hymn or chorus. I learned how to connect to music and the lyrics from them; the soul and honesty that I express when I sing is something they developed in me from very early.
This summer season you’ve performed on some of the biggest reggae festivals in Europe. What was your overall impression?
I can see that Reggae is definitely growing across Europe and it’s collecting more listeners and lovers of the music, so that made me very happy. I love that the Sound System culture is very appreciated here as well, because it is a very important piece of Jamaica’s history as a nation and the history of our music. The global economy and in particular Europe’s economy, has had some major struggles and that has affected the scales of how much more new music can be presented and exposed; however I’m hoping that in the near future, more new acts will get the chance to present their music with a live band, which is always a stronger, truer and far better representation of Reggae, than track show performances. I am grateful to all the promoters for giving me and others like me an opportunity to present our music.
We met you twice at this year’s Reggae Geel festival… the person Chantelle on Friday and the artist Chantelle Ernandez on Saturday. What’s the difference?
I was born Chantelle Ernandez. The artist and the person are far more similar than different. I am always interested in improving my artistry so I hope to create more differences between the 2 in the future.
What can we expect from you in the near future? A new full length album?
Yes, my next album release will be the project with Necessary Mayhem. There is no official release date at the moment, but it will be released in the coming year. Otherwise, I’ll continue to grow as an artist and hope to connect more with fans as much as I can.
At the end of this interview… is there anything else you want to point out or say to round it off?
First, I say a big THANK YOU for this interview and your support of my talent and music. Next I say THANK YOU to the ReggaeLand team for their hard work, many sacrifices, efforts and all they’ve done in support of what I do, and to all the labels, producers, artists and musicians I’ve ever worked with during the tenure of my career. The experiences (good and bad) and the lessons I’ve learned are ones I could never get any place else or from anyone else, and these experiences and lessons have left indelible marks on my life and has shaped me into who and what I am today. THANK YOU also to all the Radio DJs and Sound Systems that have been playing my music; because of you all, listeners and lovers of Reggae have heard me, and I am honoured to have as many opportunities to connect to and with them… without your dedication to the music and your hard work, myself and other artists would suffer a bit more battling this crazy business alone.
To all my fans, A VERY BIG “CHANI HUG” with tons of love for you all; over the years, I’ve realized that what I do is so much bigger than me, and really is about you. You are a big part of the reason I write, record and perform; I get the chance to not only express myself, but to express many different things from your perspectives and your inspirations – without you, there would be no me (the artist)… you make my joys and pains worth the roller coaster ride we call music. Finally, I must say something to all the “DREAMERS”. Don’t ever let anyone or anything deter you from dreaming. There is no such thing as a realistic dream or dreaming realistically; don’t put limits on your abilities, and don’t accept the limits that others try to impose on you. The source of all new creations, inventions and manifestations is a DREAM. If the people around you don’t share your vision, align yourself with those that do. There is no such thing as impossible, unless you believe and accept that as YOUR TRUTH. The general reality isn’t as important as YOUR REALITY… and only YOU have the power to create YOUR OWN. NOTHING comes to life, without DREAMS (dreams breathe life into all things)… so keep the faith and DREAM ON!!! One love to all and many blessings.