A beautiful voice is on the horizon, breaking through the Jazz scene with a fresh new sound. Chantae Cann hails from the South Side of Chicago but has called Atlanta home since her childhood, relocating there with her parents at 8. She’s created a name for herself over the years throughout the burgeoning music scene in Atlanta, traveling on the road as a background singer for R&B singer India Arie and eventually breaking out on her solo career.
Cann’s freshman album, “Journey to Golden,” is a critically acclaimed CD that garnered her accolades and collaborations with Snarky Puppy, The Foreign Exchange and Gospel Grammy nominated artist Jonathan McReynolds. The CD topped iTunes Jazz charts at #1 and the Billboard Jazz charts at #1 in March 2016. Her follow-up full-length, “Sol Empowerment,” released in October 2017 and has brought on some familiar features including artist/songwriter and musical mentor PJ Morton.
She continues to build her following by joining J Dilla’s Donuts tour as one of the featured performers. The Chicago Defender had a chance to chat with Chantae during the tour’s stop in Chicago.
You have such a beautiful voice. Who inspired you and how did you start out in the music business?
I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to be an artist. My mom was a music teacher at a school I went to, so I did everything musically from the chorus to the band–every single thing because I had an affinity for it. But I had no idea what I was actually going to do… maybe [become] a teacher like my parents. I was shy. I never wanted to sing in front of anybody. I wanted to keep the musical “goodness” to myself. In my early twenties, I joined a youth group in my church and they forced me to sing outside of my will. I wanted to sing but I didn’t want people to look at me. It took a long time to get over that until people mentored me, helped to develop me and helped me to cultivate my sound. At the same time, I started sneaking out to these open mic events in Atlanta.
I fell in love with the live music performance aspect of it all. The more I did that, the more genuine heartfelt responses people gave me. People were responding in the way that I would respond to someone I truly respected and admired. I’m inspired by so many genres of music especially Lalah Hathaway. My inspiration vocally is Bobby McFerrin because he’s a musical instrument within his own self as well as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. There’s too many to list.
What motivated you in the music business because there’s two different sides, you’re a vocalist but you have the flip side of the business itself, which can be a bit scary?
It was a gradual transition. I started out singing background for local Gospel artists in Atlanta and I ended up singing for India Arie. I did background vocals for her for over 10 years. All of those experiences and in being in the industry—behind the scenes. I was able to learn so much and gather and soak it up like a big sponge. Being able to travel with an artist I was already a fan of was a huge blessing.
Once I started getting comfortable in my element being a live performer and falling in love with what I knew—I knew was going to do something in music.
Walk us through your project “Sol Empowerment.” Did you write any of the songs?
Yes, a lot more than my first album. The two main differences between my first album, “Journey to Golden,” it felt like it took so long to come out because it was so many things it took in order to produce it. With that particular album, I gathered my musical friends. This one [Sol Empowerment], I literally tapped into myself. I asked God, “What do you want me to say?” I went to myself and the songs that I know that were about me first and allowed my friends to accompany me. I played a lot more of a foundational piece in making this album.
“U Gotta Love Ya” is about self-love and making time for yourself. Loving yourself through the good, bad and ugly. “The Light” is a favorite of mine. I wrote that song a long time ago and had different versions of it. I was able to revamp it. I did a duet with PJ Morton called “Craters.” We go way back to the music scene in Atlanta.
What has been the challenge for you?
The main challenges can come with holding myself back…in a way. The other doors have been opened. I haven’t had to push or fight for anything. I’m not saying it’s been a 100 percent perfect but when I tapped into my purpose and why I do what I do, the path continues to open. Anytime there was a hindrance or hiccup, it was probably me being intimidated or not realizing “hey this is you, you don’t have to worry about what others say.”