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Interview: Chantelle Ernandez

Interview: Chantelle Ernandez

Interview: Chantelle Ernandez

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"If I can open the gates and doors for other young Jamaican females, I am so happy to do that"



I’ve always had a soft spot for friendly females! This kicked-in big time during a recent meeting with the fluent, fashionable, formidable and feisty Chantelle Ernandez - when I caught up with her after her mid-tour ROTOTOM 2013 performance. Singer-songwriter Chantelle is not ‘backwards about coming forwards’ – which makes life easy for an interviewer. Nominated for a Grammy in 2012, she continues to enjoy lengthy spells in the charts. Spotted by Shaggy’s bandleader – for whom she cut her first single – Chantelle has gone from strength to strength in her musical career. Linking with the Wailers, Sly & Robbie, Gregory, Gussie Clarke and Curtis Lynch, few should doubt that this talented artist is now in music’s fast-track, travelling via her Spanish\Catalan label Reggaeland.

Before posing the first question, Chantelle put the interviewer at ease, assuring me: ‘You can ask me anything. I’m an open book’. It’s the first time I’d been given such a license in a music business that’s madly media conscious. Respect.

Chantelle Ernandez

Anything you want to ‘get off your chest’ at the outset?

Well the big thing is that I’ve a new single out now called ‘Selfish Love’. It has been in the U.K. charts for about 10 weeks - and of course I’m now touring to promote the album.

You’re still a young woman, but greatest achievement to date?

Well if you look at it officially, it would have to be my very pretty Grammy certificate! This arose from my work with Sly and Robbie on a project called ‘Amazing’ in 2008, which was nominated for a Grammy award. So I have this very pretty certificate from the Grammy committee with my name on it. Yes, that’s my biggest official achievement to date. But the most heart melting one was a 4 year old boy singing my own love song back to me – from front to back - and asking me to be his girlfriend! I melted, really. How can you say no to that?  That’s a hard thing to say no to! And to this day I remember that more than anything else.

This is the 21st century. It’s time for this male dominated industry to realise that we women have a voice too

And you didn’t know him?

No. It was amazing and uplifting for me.

What upsets you most about the music business?

Chantelle ErnandezThere are so many things that upset me about the music business. But if I had to pick the thing that upsets me the most I would have to pick the unfair treatment of women in the business – how unrecognised we are. We’re clearly needed. The men love that we’re there to sing background vocals and they love that we’re there to take care of business. However, when they think they don’t need us, we’re disregarded and disrespected a lot. We don’t get the recognition that we should. They push us to the back a lot. That’s really upsetting. Come on, this is the 21st century. It’s time for this male dominated industry to realise that we women have a voice too and we’ve been making our contribution. We’ve been paying our dues too. We’re not trying to take over, we’re just trying to share the stage, to get our voices and messages heard, just like everybody else.

So it’s a rat race out there – especially for women?

It is, it’s difficult, very difficult. We still get sexually harassed and go through a lot of abuse. We have to work ten times harder than our male counterparts. We have to fight that much more to get our fair pay. But it’s time for it to stop now – it’s the 21st century – so it’s time to start moving forward on the equality agenda.

Greatest musical influence?

Oh! There have been so many – because I grew up in a very musical household. There was never a day without music. I wouldn’t know a day without music. I grew up listening to jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, to pop and soul  to reggae – everything really, including hip-hop and Arabian. And I’ve been influenced by every single one of them. On artists, my earliest influences would have been the jazz females like Billy Holliday, Etta James and then I was introduced to Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Marcia Griffiths, Pam Hall, J.C. Lloyd – it continues to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh – there have been a lot of influences.

I wouldn’t know a day without music

Current projects?

Well, there’s the single - and the tour is happening right now – it’s the first official tour in support of the album. And there are other projects in the pipeline that will be in the mainstream before year end. But right now the focus is on touring. I get my kicks from touring, because my key connection is through people. I do a lot of writing, singing and recording, but if I can’t connect with the people it doesn’t mean anything to me – so the touring is very important for me.

Any one person you’d say had the greatest influence on you?

There are so many people, but if I had to pick someone that’s not part of music, I would have to say my grandmother and my Dad. They gave me my first exposure to music. She was always singing Gospel songs – right up to her (recent) passing at 96 years of age! So a lot of the first songs I learned were from her, including the art of singing in harmony. Then there was my Dad, who was always writing music, playing guitar and singing – and inviting me to sing with him. Yes, those two people had a big impact early on.

Do you get time to have interests outside music?

I do. Honestly, music has taken up most of my time and life – because I started in this business at 16 years of age and it has always been my first love. But apart from the music, I used to dance and act. Recently I’ve gone back to acting. I can only hope to do more of that – because I can be very dramatic at times! I can become another character on impulse, so that’s always been a part of me. Though I stopped to focus on music and touring, I continue to act every day. Anyway, music and acting are similar. For example, even when I write a song, it might have nothing to do with me, but it does have something to do with other people or some other experience. And delivering that story, though it may not have been a part of my actual life, is a lot like delivering the lines from an actor’s script. I still have to play that part and make it believable. So acting for me never went away – it’s just been on the back seat because of the music.

I can be very dramatic at times!

Biggest disappointment to date?

I can’t think of one. Of course I’ve had bad experiences like everybody else. But like everybody else you have to move on – no point in ‘crying over spilt milk’ – just wipe it up and plan not to spill anymore!

Biggest ‘high’ to date?

I’ve had a lot more great moments than I’ve had disappointments. But I always tell people that happiness is a choice. You don’t just wake up and be happy. Things are not perfect all the time. And you can even find happiness or perfection from an imperfection – it’s a choice, much like how one chooses what clothes to wear each day. I choose to be happy. Of course I get upset sometimes, but I choose to get over it and move on quickly.

I always tell people that happiness is a choice

You’ve still got more than half of your life ahead of you, so any remaining ambitions?

Of course – as it relates to music, I hope for more connections with the people. That’s my biggest ambition – to connect with audiences. I hope that from here on out the audiences and listenership for my music get bigger. And I’d be lying if I said I’m not attracted to all of the pretty awards! To be honest, I want them all! I really hope that someday I will be the first Jamaican woman to have ever won Grammys, Oscars, Tony awards and all those other pretty things. That’s not because I’m attracted to awards or recognition, but because there is so much talent in Jamaica that goes unnoticed every day. Though I’ve paid my dues – so much already – and am still paying them, if I can open the gates and doors for other young Jamaican females, I am so happy to do that. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but I’ll take it on.

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