Keshia Chante has been stomping through the underdeveloped Canadian urban music landscape since the delicate age of 6. She first started as a performer when she launched her career at a talent show for Black History Month at a local university in her native Ottawa. The granddaughter of a well known Portuguese songwriter, Keshia is of Trinidadian, Puerto Rican and Portuguese descent and her seemingly rapid rise to the top of the Canadian urban music charts since the age of 14, is by no means an overnight success story. Citing Teddy Pendergrass, The O’Jays, Tupac Shakur and Stevie Wonder as influences, her journey began once she ignited her passion within.
Her first major break came at 13 when Keshia caught the attention of the Head of the A&R and International departments for BMG, Ivan Berry. “He called me up on the phone in Ottawa and he said he was part of a label and he wanted me to sing,” recalls Keshia. The vocal powerhouse blew the record executive away with her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky.” Once she closed the deal, Keshia’s rising career showed no sign of slowing down. Acknowledged as one of Canada’s most talented young artists, she wrote many of the songs on her 2004 debut. In 2005, Keshia took home a Juno Award, Canada’s Grammy equivalent, for Best R&B/Soul Recording. The previous year she racked up five hit singles topping the top 40 chart including “Unpredictable,” “Does He Love Me” and “Bad Boy,” in addition to five Canadian Urban Music Awards, including Best New Artist. Her video for “Bad Boy,” directed by Mr. X (Usher, Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Nelly and G Unit) was added to BET solidifying Keshia’s appeal in her native Canada as well as introducing her in the States.
It’s no wonder that this demure, 18 year old, singer/songwriter is already somewhat of a rolling stone. Preparing to release her U.S. debut album, on Sony Urban/Epic Records in the U.S., Keshia stretched her time between New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto recording, while she continued to perform on tour with Destiny’s Child. Fully prepared for her transition to the US as a recording artist, Keshia explains “the experience of working almost 24/7 without suffering burnout, has helped me to better understand myself, both as an artist and as a business person.” This album represents who I am and what I’m going through. It ranges from first loves to first heartbreaks, from feeling vulnerable to strong and confident, there are different storylines, different moods,” Keshia proclaims.
We interview Keisha Chante!
HIP: Are you in NY?
KESHIA CHANTE: No, I’m in Toronto.
Do you live there now?
I still live here, I really like Toronto. I’m happy in Toronto.
Being a Canadian artist did hope to come to the U.S. because it’s doesn’t always happen? Did they promise to bring you here?
Definitely not. Because the urban infrastructure in Canada is not that great, we toured and all that so it was good training for me. I always hoped to do something bigger and share my music with the world. They said I could potentially get a deal but it wasn’t their priority. When we got the album and we started to shop it to American labels; at the time BET’s Steven Hill put my video into rotation and we were going to labels and they knew of me but didn’t know me. So it ended up working on my side.
If they hadn’t played the video do you think that they would have even called for you or would it have been a tougher road?
I’m not sure what would have happened, it may have been longer. Who knows, but BET was my big supporter of the transition.
Some artists from there become huge and for others it doesn’t happen.
What’s crazy is that a lot of those artists were signed by Americans, not Canadians. We tried to look at who did it last and it was Crash Test Dummies and that was eleven years ago. So the odds are so tight.I wouldn’t have guessed this in a million years. Winning the Juno Awards was when the question came up of “when are you going to America?” It came up sometimes it was pretty crazy. The main question was “do I have a boyfriend.” When I did a cross county tour the majority of my fans didn’t know that I was from Canada. They thought I was American. I thought this is crazy.
Maybe it’s because there’s not much of an accent (Both laugh). What was it like back home once everything began getting big?
It was really different; I knew a lot of people from Ottawa. My first album came out when I was 14 and I used my middle name not, Harper is my actual name. I remember sitting in class and the kids in class were talking about me and wondering why they didn’t know me because Ottawa is such a small town. I never said anything and I didn’t tell anyone. Then when the video came out they all were surprised and said “how come you never said anything?” Slowly I began to see people change. I suddenly had issues with friends. There’s a saying that artists don’t change, friends change…and that is definitely true.
You probably figured out quick who you could trust?
I find the artists that have it all together are the ones that have their families around. My mom is my manager, Mr. Barry who discovered me is one of my managers, and my aunt is also working with me. My team I built in Canada and I’ve known them since I was 13. Luckily I have my family in my team.
From the original single to today, are you writing the majority of the songs? Or are they giving you songs?
I’m still writing and early on I was writing. There was a lot of opportunity because Mr. Barry told me to start writing so that when I perform it’s me. I’m lucky that BMG Canada wanted me to learn everything. I feel very lucky. I co-wrote all my songs and I’m ecstatic about that.
Also you get paid for the publishing for writing the songs. I know in America they want someone to write the songs for them.
Which seems unnecessary. I was just happy because I was part of the process and I am the executive producer of the album. I really enjoyed it.
It seems more so that they don’t want them to write it so by the time that they get to their 2 or 3 album they are so upset and missed out on that opportunity. Is it harder to write songs as you change?
I’ve been writing since I was little. I’ll write something that will pop up in my mind and keep it. In the writing process when in studio I focus on music and nothing else matters. I think of melodies and put lyrics to get. I get into a concept and roll with it. If I have writers block I go and have ice cream and just roll with it. Sometimes I get full songs and sometimes I write to them and sometimes I don’t. But I feel like a kid in candy store when that happens.
What about the first time you heard yourself on the radio or saw yourself on video?
It was crazy. I went crazy. Seeing the video is crazy because I’m part of the writing process. It’s exciting.
You started young so when did you know you could sing?
I knew I could about six or eight. I did my first show in the back of my mom’s Mustang and she was playing Tupac’s “Dear Mama” and I knew every word. Her friend turned down the music and could hear me rapping to it. She wanted to put me into a black history month show and asked me in the car if I wanted to perform the song and I said “yes!” I got a standing ovation, I had so much fun and I told my mom I wanted to do it forever.
What’s the next thing you dream about?
Get into the U.S. market. Then of course the world!
+ Charlie Craine