“I auditioned and met Orphy Robinson and Cleveland Watkiss. That was when I was about fifteen and they’ve literally been like mentors to me. So I kept bugging them, “When are you are going to get me a gig! When are you going to get me a gig! When am I going to play with you?” And they were like, “Later! Later!” And it never happened until ‘Nu Savanna’ which was two years ago (2012).” Chantelle Nandi
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Exceedingly talented East London based singer/songwriter Chantelle Nandi is a rapidly maturing and rising starlet to look out for. Having learnt her art alongside many of her contemporaries at workshops put on via specialist creative teaching programs at the Hackney Empire, London, Ms Nandi has gone on to refine her talent performing at numerous live events alongside up and coming as well as very high profile musicians and vocalists. In February 2014 Chantelle was hand-picked by Jazz Warriors International’s Orphy Robinson to provide support vocals for Malik & The OG’s on the same bill as a Jalal Mansur Nuriddin’s much heralded Hustlers Convention gig at London’s Jazz Cafe. Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards was granted some precious talk time with Ms Nandi prior to her taking to the stage as support vocalist for headline act HKB FiNN as part of his Ensemble for Jazzmology at Club 414, London.
The Dood: Welcome Chantelle Nandi. Where were you born and was it into a musical environment?
Chantelle Nandi: I was born in Zimbabwe in the late eighties. I was born to a single mum and my mother’s family are very musical, but my grandparents are not! (Laughs) All the kids have amazing voices, and as a result so do all the grandkids. Everyone can sing, so I grew up thinking that everyone in the world could sing and it was a normal thing.
The Dood: It must have been strange, walking around the house where everybody can sing and then stepping outside and realising that there were people who couldn’t hold a tune?
Chantelle Nandi: Yeah! As I later discovered, not everybody can sing! (Laughs)
The Dood: What was your first recollection of singing in a group or a band?
Chantelle Nandi: It was myself and my cousins; we had this keyboard and a piano in the house and we discovered that if you press a button, it gets a beat going. Then my cousin was playing the chords.
The Dood: Get the hairbrush microphone out?
Chantelle Nandi: Yeah, get the hairbrush out! We’d just be jamming in the bedroom and singing to each other. We used to go to church, so sometimes they’d give us hymn’s and say to us, “Girls can you put this together?” Then we’d all harmonise because we were all cousins. We formed a girl band as well and we got all the other girls to learn our tracks! (Laughs)
The Dood: Do you remember the name of the girl band. Was it the Spice Girls?
Chantelle Nandi: No I don’t actually remember the name of it. I wish it was the Spice Girls! (Laughs) So we got all the girls that we knew from school to join our band and learn all our songs that we’d written; which were about six! (Laughs)
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
The Dood: Was there an alternative career path you may have chosen if not for music?
Chantelle Nandi: In my family everyone is a singer, but everyone is an academic. So everyone graduated from university and had, “A Proper Job,” as my dad would call it. (Chuckles) So I always wanted to be a singer, but I knew that wasn’t an option in my family, so I chose Accounting as my discipline.
The Dood: Discipline is right!
Chantelle Nandi: Yes! It’s definitely a discipline! I thought “If I’m not going to sing, what can I do?, How can I travel the whole entire world and see how other people live?” So I thought, “Accounting, numbers; there’s business in every country, there’s an economy in every country, so this is what I’m going to do.” And luckily I got away with choosing Dance and Music as my options for GCSEs.
The Dood: So were you raised in Zimbabwe or the UK?
Chantelle Nandi: I lived in Zimbabwe until I was ten and moved to East London when I was eleven – end of year six, start of year seven.
The Dood: Hence the strong East London accent?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, you can hear my East London accent! (Laughs outrageously) My friends were very creative, so a few of us went off into different disciplines; some went into Drama and Dance, I chose Music and Dance. My dance teacher gave me a leaflet for an audition for a program called ADP which is the Artist Development Programme, and it was at the Hackney Empire. I auditioned and met Orphy Robinson and Cleveland Watkiss. That was when I was about fifteen and they’ve literally been like mentors to me. So I kept bugging them, “When are you are going to get me a gig! When are you going to get me a gig! When am I going to play with you?” And they were like, “Later! Later!” And it never happened until ‘Nu Savanna’ which was two years ago (2012).
The Dood: Orphy Robinson’s band?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, Orphy Robinson. Since then the people I’ve met at ADP, Renell Shaw, Michael Antonio and a few other
creative’s were all in this industry because of that program.
The Dood: Is the program still on-going?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Chantelle Nandi: Yes it is, I think I might be teaching this summer! So that has been my home since I was fifteen and that was like the hub that sparked all this. I didn’t know you could have a creative career and have a house and have a mortgage and pay it off. It was so far removed from my family; it was something that I saw on TV. And with meeting Orphy Robinson and Susie McKenna (Creative Director), that’s how I was able to say, “Actually, I’m going to do my accounting, but once I finish that Degree, I’m gonna do the music, because that is what I really love.
The Dood: Follow your heart. That’s your true expression?
Chantelle Nandi: Yep! That’s my true expression.
The Dood: You’re here this evening at Club 414 as support vocalist for the HKB FiNN Ensemble. What are your thoughts on HKB FiNN as an artist and a person?
Chantelle Nandi: For me it kind of feels like it’s been very educational in terms of the way he approaches the work, the way he approaches people. It’s insightful, because I work with loads of different bands and I get to see the way different people react to each other. He’s very steady… In terms of all the plans, he’s made them, everything that he wants to do; he’s already made the decision. Everything you see around him is a manifestation of what he’s thought about already.
The Dood: How does that feel for you as an artist, when you come in and he’s already got a game plan, but still allows you to freestyle within that as it were?
Chantelle Nandi: It’s really weird, because it feels like it’s a manifestation of what he’s already thought of, but he’s very free in the sense that he allows every person that he brings into the project to be exactly what they are and to express themselves as they would, so that it becomes an extension of what it is in his mind. You become an extension of that, so it allows you to take the stimulus and make it what you would. So it’s not necessarily the case of “I want to sing A-flat, G, E,” and that’s your formula and you have to stick to that, it’s more a case of, “This is what’s here, what can we create together now?” And it’s very liberating in that sense.
HKB FiNN & Chantelle Nandi – will Jazzmology @ Club 414
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
The Dood: Liberating, that’s exactly the word I was going to use. It also keeps it fresh?
Chantelle Nandi: It is fresh and challenging as well! (Laughs) Because sometimes you learn something and sing it just the way it is… And it’s over. But here you kind of like get to push yourself as well.
The Dood: And are you represented on his new ‘(Prelude) Urban Roots’ album or the full album released later in the year?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, but I’m not sure which, if it’s going to be part one or part two. For me, I know the music so much now that it feels like it’s already out there, so I forget that everyone else hasn’t heard it yet, unless they’ve been to a live show. It’s really exciting seeing everybody else’s reaction to it.
The Dood: Are you happy with your career at this moment and can we expect an album from you soon?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, I’ve been writing and while I’m writing my own stuff I’ve been working with a group called ‘Universal Mind Systems,’ with Renell Shaw sure and Michael Antonio. And that’s an EP which has got thirty songs, so were kind of finding what we’re going to do with that. And then out of that I’m writing my own stuff with another group of producers. So I’m just writing and creating and seeing what comes out.
Also, I was doing backing vocals a lot and doing live shows and touring; and last year the artist I was working with, Maverick Sabre started writing his new album. Some people know him, some people don’t – He’s signed to Universal (Records). He’s music is packaged as Pop, but it’s got a lot of Indie, Reggae and Soulful influences, so it’s very interesting.
The Dood: Again, it’s another musical flavour?
Chantelle Nandi: Yeah, different layers. So he started writing his album, so there wasn’t much live stuff that I was doing with him; so I got the chance to work with Jessica Lauren – an amazing keys player at the ‘Jazz Meet’ in Shoreditch and I started working with the Jazz Warriors International again, Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss and co.
The Dood: So you’ve come full circle?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, full circle. And they were doing ‘Freedom Jam’ and ‘Improv’ which is how I fell in love with music, and kind of getting into that again was pretty amazing! (Smiles) And also Nexus – One World Music, I would love to perform at. So it’s ‘Improv,’ just the pure essence of ‘Improv.’
The Dood: So all this writing and collaborating should crystallise into a Chantelle Nandi album soon?
Chantelle Nandi: Yes, eventually.
The Dood: What sort of style can we expect on the album?
Chantelle Nandi: That’s what I’m kind of deciding on, but at the moment it’s very electronic. In the past I’ve always worked a lot with live, live, live bands, but this is a change-up. I’m really happy with it, but it will be condensed for a live version, where it will be live instruments along with samples and technology that we have, along with our live voices.
The Dood: I’m looking forward to that. Thank you so much for your time Chantelle and all the best for the future.
Chantelle Nandi: Thank you for having me.
Michael J Edwards
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