The armies of club-goers sweating to the fusion of hard hip-hop, exuberant pop and complex, sensual dancehall rhythms in CHE'NELLEs double debut UK single, I Fell In Love With The DJ and US single "Hurry Up", are ahead of the curve in discovering her, as the club underground always is. But her new album, CHE'NELLE, makes it abundantly clear that CHE'NELLE is a multi-leveled talent, a beauty, and a personality who will soon prove herself irresistible to the massive mainstream of the worldwide urban and pop audience.
Already a hit songwriter in her home country of Australia, where she is set to open for Kanye Wests upcoming tour, CHE'NELLE, 22, signed her first recording deal in America with Virgin Records, discovered by club DJ and radio vet Sir Charles Dixon. She completed her Virgin debut album -- almost entirely self-written -- with production help from hit-making A-listers including Sean Garrett ( Beyonces "Ring The Alarm", Pussy Cat Dolls "Buttons", Ciara's "Goodies, Chris Brown's "Run It"), Rich Harrison (Amerie "1 Thing", Beyonce's "Crazy In Love") and a list of hot up-and-comers from New York, Toronto, London and Australia. A satisfying combination of compulsive rhythmic music and soul-deep, intimate ballads, CHE'NELLE serves notice that a major new singer-songwriter is on the scene. And it announces unmistakably CHE'NELLEs unforced yet irresistible knack for drawing lines between every form of contemporary rhythm-based music, creating a fresh, essential music for the new urban world of the millennium and beyond uniting both music and listeners.
CHE'NELLE, born in Malaysia and relocated to Australia at age 10, was raised in an environment where music and singing without notice of genre boundaries was a daily feature of home life. Her father, a civil engineer and architect, loved the classic pop balladeers of the Sixties, and her mother brought home every kind of rhythmic dance music, singing her daughter to sleep with her favorite new R&B and reggae songs. As every child does, CHE'NELLE charmed her parents with her singing, but she also amused and astonished her father in his karaoke lounge when she ignored the flashing lyrics to improvise her own, and invented her own words so that she could sing him songs shed heard just that day in a video. I was so young I didnt even remember it until he told me that recently, she laughs. He said he knew it wasnt how the songs went, but then he noticed that the words made sense. Maybe thats where my lyric writing began, subconsciously!
CHE'NELLEs hometown, Perth, is a city of over 1.5 million residents on the western coast of Australia, on the opposite end of the continent from the countrys largest city, Sydney. Despite the countrys distinguished history in pop and rock, which claims such international stars as Olivia Newton-John, Peter Allen, Men at Work, INXS, and, more recently, pop-dance icon Kylie Minogue and the rock band Jet, the Australian music business had never launched a major international star in any urban-related idiom.
Without any local role models (but, consequently, without any suffocating formulas to unlearn), CHE'NELLE was drawn naturally toward the music that fulfilled her most: hip-hop, reggae dancehall, neo-soul ballads, and the new R&B. Whitney Houston, inevitably, was a key influence, but so was the local club scene, which thrived on hip-hop and dancehall. Something in me was hungry for that, because I wasnt brought up with Motown or R&B, she recounts. I was looking for Luther, Mary J., all the jazz cats, Ella Fitzgerald. There were a few of us who used to go to the one under-age hip-hop dance, which was once a week and on school holidays --maybe 200 people, cramped up in the room. CHE'NELLEs brief but impressive professional history and her music itself are living proof in microcosm of the influence of hip-hop as a universal grounding force a force as natural, powerful and essential to global youth as gravity, or sunlight.
At age seventeen, CHE'NELLE was initially confused to walk into her university music class and find it filled with electronic keyboards and computer equipment. She had performed with a top 40 cover band on weekends since her mid-teens, honing her skills as a live entertainer, but began to long for the satisfaction of singing her own songs. In order to make her own song demos, and without money for a producer, studio time or vocalists, she mastered the technology so well that she set up a bedroom studio at home, working with an outdated computer and borrowed software. At the same time, she knuckled down to learning music theory and song structure, and taught herself the demanding art of arranging and singing background vocals. Finishing her degree in music, she signed to a music publishing company as a staff songwriter about two years ago.
At the time, CHE'NELLE considered herself primarily a ballad singer, finding kindred spirits in India.Arie and Musiq Soulchild, whose life-like, conversational works are paralleled in the album highlights My Pledge and 2nd Nature. But she also began writing songs in the hard club style of hip-hop and dancehall, following the footsteps of such empowered female singer/songwriter/producer triple-threats as Arie, Missy Elliott and Alicia Keys. She cut vocals prolifically for local hip-hop and reggae mix-tape producers, winning competitions across the country, establishing her voice on the local urban radio and club underground, and attracting notice as far away as Sweden, London and the U.S. west coast. One of the songs she co-wrote, Hell, No! was chosen as the debut single of Ricki-Lee Coulter, a finalist in the second season of the Australian Idol competition, and it scored CHE'NELLE her first national top 5 hit as a songwriter, with an impressive 21-week run in the Australian top 100 chart and a gold single certification.
Although CHE'NELLE counts that hit as a relatively modest start, Things started happening really fast after that, she says. My production manager, Sir Charles Dixon, found my website on myspace.com; we were in contact about seven months, and he flew down to see me in Perth. Within a week after he went back, literally, he told me that Virgin Records wanted to bring me over to New York. They had a deal waiting for me.
Now, shes fashioned an album of genuine accomplishment and emotion, confidently working across the wide, eclectic spectrum of the new urban music. Although her personal history could be called a reflection of urban musics own best multi-cultural instincts, which have surfaced recently in everything from the crucial South Asian elements of Jamaican dancehall and Caribbean soca, to the massive eruption of Spanglish bilingualism in reggaeton, the truth is that CHE'NELLEs ethnicity is transparent in her music, and its her personality thats crucial to her lyrics -- as any individuals would be. Perth is a laid-back, relaxed place, and straightforward. Thats the Australian part of me, she says. The storytelling my issues, feelings, relationships, how I see myself coming up as a person, thats the side that comes from my Malaysian upbringing.
But its only CHE'NELLEs philosophy and outlook thats laid-back, judging from her compelling and magnetic work on CHE'NELLE: in this debut, the unbounded joy of music is front and center. What youre seeing now is seven or eight years of work, she says. Recording is like my physical release, and songwriting is my mental release -- the stories and issues Ive heard about and want to express. Performing is the product of those releases. Every artist is given a blessing to release their feelings through music.