It’s Wednesday! That means a new WCW post! This week I am happy to feature Harlem born musician, Chanese Elifé. I met Chanese at my friend's video release party and we hit it off right away. Isn’t it rad to make connections like that!? Positive vibes, late night jams, and great times were had that night! Chanese is a very talented musician, who started teaching herself the keyboard at age 5, the guitar at age 9 and has been performing and songwriting ever since. But being raised in a strict home, her parents forbade her to play anything outside of Christian based music. At the age of 17 Chanese exploded onto the NY gospel scene and rapidly soared to popularity, while touring hundred of venues and being featured on several albums (many of which she coproduced). For years as a successful minister of music she thrived on connecting with her audience, but eventually grew frustrated by the constraints of organized religion. In 2010 finding herself at a personal and professional crossroads, Chanese went on hiatus and moved to Sydney, Australia to pursue a degree in sacred music and find herself spiritually, absent from familial pressure.
A rebel by nature, in her first year of bible college, Chanese began to question theology and the repression often associated with it. Deciding she'd seen and had enough, she dropped out at the end of the semester and left organized religion all together. Pending the loss of support from family, friends and followers back in the U.S., she stayed in Australia and taught herself how to survive as a solo musician, without the comfort of communal support.
Excited, but not really knowing where or how to start life over as a mainstream artist, she began by arranging soulful acoustic covers of top 40 songs and busking in the train stations of Sydney city which lead to many pub and house party gigs. It was through those often rowdy and culturally shocking experiences that Chanese began to feel alive again and reconnect with what she had loved about sharing music in the first place; the excitement of having an entire room united, dancing and singing to the same as one. After three inspiring years abroad she began to long for the raw creative energy that only NYC could offer and returned home in 2013. Since then Chanese has been performing live at various venues around the city, loving her new life and writing about it all. She is currently in the studio recording her first studio project, which is due to drop fall 2015.
Between my cray week and her recording schedule, we manage to do an amazing Q & A:
O.C.O: What was the first tune(s) you learned?
C.E: First song I taught myself by ear was "Go Tell It On The Mountain" on the keyboard at age 5. We couldn't afford lessons so my favorite game at that age was trying to recall songs I had heard at church and figuring out how to play them on the keys. I started teaching myself guitar at age 9, but the first song I learned on paper from another person with standard tuning and chord shapes was "Basket Case" by Green Day at age 11 by the school band teacher, Mr. Richard Cohen.
O.C.O: Describe your personal style
C.E: It's like a finely aged hobo stew really. A little bit of this and a little bit of that I've picked up from here and there. Little messy and spicy with lots of different textures that traditionally haven't been thought to go together but somehow wind up working. I think it comes with being a native New Yorker and musician. I've been (artistically) hustling since I was a kid so I'm a product of that environment. I daily find myself in the most random situations, hearing all kinds of music, chatting with the most fascinating and interestingly dressed people from all over the globe, so I pick little things up along the way, toss them in my trolley and keep moving. Life is too big for boxes. If I like something I rock with it. If I don't like it I toss it. That goes for my music, my fashion and my life.
O.C.O: Imagine you’re watching a concert and one of the band members/musicians spontaneously combusts. You get called to the stage to replace them. Who’s the band/musician?
C.E: That sounds so painful! Oh my. Well, while I hope she'll live forever(or at least never spontaneously combust during a performance I happen to be attending), I would quickly bum-rush Beyoncé's stage, grab a guitar and rock with her 10-piece all-women band, the Sugar Mammas. And it's not just cause they're women. It's because they're all masterful musicians who happen to be women. As a band, they're really versatile and can play virtually any style and do it with an energy that supports their front woman. That's all I've ever wanted in a backing band because my music fuses several genres and I love to see everybody moving with me. *strokes imaginary beard* Hmmm suddenly spontaneous combustion doesn't really sound THAT painful after all. JK cause everyone knows Queen Bey (and all of her pieces) would just magically regenerate, kick my ass of the stage and slay the most epic finale ever!
O.C.O: Do you think that online presence is important for fans to find you and critics to find your music to write about?
C.E: This is such an exciting time to be a an artist of any sort. Our ability to connect through technology is amazing and beautiful when done responsibly. There is an entire planet of people craving music that doesn't exist where they are geographically. But through online presence they can access the art that truly speaks to them. I'm really looking forward to releasing my first studio project in the fall because I'll finally have something of my own to share with the world that I truly believe people everywhere are going to want groove to (stank face and all). I honestly don't know who my streaming audience will be and that thought alone ignites me. I cannot wait for them to say hello and connect with me online. I can't wait to jump on a plane and go any and everywhere people will want to rock with me. I can't wait to put on epic shows to express my gratitude for their support. And when I get there, I will try my hardest not to spontaneously combust on stage ;)
O.C.O: Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
C.E: Man like just 2 weeks ago I got amped AF like an angst teen all over again when the beat dropped on "Violet" by Hole! And, I may or may not have air-guitared and fake-moshed in the privacy of my own room.
O.C.O: Rock on, love Hole! Since everyone was a startup once, can you give any smaller or local bands looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
C.E: Practice daily. Nail every first impression. Never allow yourself an "off" public performance, regardless of the size of the audience or venue and you'll always be sought after. Word of mouth is always going to hold its own weight (social media sharing is just an extension of that principle when you really think about it) because our reputations precede us.
O.C.O: What is your most valued material possession?
C.E: Definitely my signature Ovation guitar; The Big Lady. She was a gift from the musical director at the college I attended in Sydney, Australia because I couldn't afford to bring mine on the plane when I moved there. When I got back home to NYC I met my good friend, the incredible artist Sarah Coffman who burned the mind-blowingly beautiful designs into The Big Lady. She was the first guitar that Sarah ever burned. I suspect that her beauty will always move me emotionally.
O.C.O: Any upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?
C.E: I can be seen semi regularly at Grill On the Hill in Harlem, check my social media pages, I perform all over the city and following me would be the best way to keep up!