By NATANGA SMITH—
- Tessanne Chin has been living out a suitcase for quite a while now. But there doesn’t seem to be any end to that anytime soon. If you don’t know who Tessanne Chin and why she is living out of a suitcase (no, she isn’t homeless), there is a backstory.
Tessanne, who was battling from Team Adam Levine camp, won the trophy, the title, recording contract and US$100 000 cash prize.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Tessanne was born into a musical household with both her parents doing music. She picked up a mic at age five and started singing with her parents’ band backing her. Fast forward to Tessanne as a backup singer touring with Jimmy Cliff for three years. She then released her first single Hideaway, topping the charts in Jamaica and doing duets with soca artist Kes and others.
But things were not all rosy and just as she was on the verge of giving up, long-time friend Shaggy, (a Jamaican artist who had a huge cross over appeal on the US music scene) told her to audition for The Voice. That was in 2013 and the then 28-year-old was at her wits ends with a career that seemed stagnant.
“I was literally at the end of a road, you know, and coming to a place in my life where I was like, am I going to keep doing this and feeling like I’m not getting anywhere? Or am I going to give this another shot? And thank God, thank God I was able to give it another shot.”
It is now October 2015 and two years after winning The Voice, there’s a fire burning in Tessanne’s soul that won’t be extinguished if she has anything to say about it.
She has been touring a lot, in the Caribbean, Canada and the United States, just recently returning from Singapore and only on Friday she performed at the 2015 Humingbird Gala in New York.
“I am at the point where I have found the balance. It was very tough at first. I love what I do but to go at that pace was maddening and very very stressful.
“You kinda feel stretched at a point but I have to say I am getting the hang of it and I have a good team that care about me and want me to be happy and help me take care of myself.”
The hot buzz though is about her new single Fire which was released in May, followed by a video which premiered in August. Since its release on TessaneChinVEVO, it has racked up over 70 000 views. The song features a classic rhythm and blues theme to match the original 1970’s R&B-sounding track.
“I feel so happy about this song. It is a special one. Every woman needs a power anthem. This is a tongue-in-cheek song for them to feel good about themselves.”
She said many people believe that the song has to do with the break-up of her marriage from husband Michael Cuffe who was right there on the ride to winning The Voice.
Chin delivers sass and soul while supported by a live band, all while serving her empowering lyrics: “Ladies don’t forget who you are / Don’t you ever stop believing just keep raising the bar / And no matter who can see it, keep your goods in the jar.”
And as for her guy, well, she burnt his clothes: “You’re playing with fire / Hot just like an oven / You played with my lovin’ / It’s gon’ cost you something,” Chin belts out.
“The song isn’t about my break-up . . . . It is about to remind yourself that it is okay to stand up and be yourself and own your stereotype. Own your fire and to own your worth.”
The song was written in Atlanta and released on the Justice League Music Group label. It was featured on the soundtrack for Tessanne’s ad debut for Clear Scalp and Hair in March.
“They heard it and loved it and wanted to use it.”
The song was produced by Justice League and going back to basics was one of Chin’s favourite parts of writing and recording it.
“What I love about the song was the organic process. It started out with just a piano and incredible writers Balewa and Perry. It is one of those songs that was easy to write and easy to get through. We had an amazingly good time recording it. I am a lover of real instruments and horns and I was thrilled to hear all of that come into it.”
In terms of recording, it took her back to people she looked up to such as Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and Tina Turner with its throwback vibe.
Speaking of throwback the video had costume changes, a Betty Boop hair and make-up style and scenes moving from black and white to colour.
“The video (with director Nathan Patrick) is unlike anything I’ve ever done. We really wanted it to focus on the music and the song. We had amazing visuals and the video could have gone the usual boy-girl route but that is so expected. So we wanted something fun and to honour the feel of the song.”
Tessanne also used her band members to do the video which was shot in one day and she did her own make-up. Her hair was done by hairstylist Leiane Evans, who works in a blow dry bar recently opened by her and her sisters called Blow By Blow.
Tessanne said she was glad to use the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston as the location which “captured the look and feel that we were going for – a vintage old school type of vibe”.
More new music is being worked on and Tessanne is currently in studio between breaks doing her second album.
“I have actually done some recording already and hoping to finish up by end of October.”
Her first album had on ten songs and she said the most special one on it to her was Lifeline: “I wanted to write a universal love song that you could sing to anybody. It was close
to me that I actually thought about my nephew and my fans when I was doing it and I dedicate it to my fans when I perform it.”
Her younger sister, Tami, who is the “backbone” in her business, is also a talented singer and Tessanne is hoping to persuade Tami to do a duet: “I might have to coax her out”, she said, laughing.
She remembers when she was about to give up and said what kept her going were family, friends and her fans. She said the people who believe in her have brought her to where she is now.
“I have the best set of fans in the world. I have never seen people that push for me like that and continue to support me no matter what and defend me”, she said, chuckling.
She said when she has bad days, (yes, she does have those) she goes on social media and there are messages that “kinda put you back in line and make you realise, ‘hey, there are so much more to life than what you are thinking about right now’.”
Tessanne is a fan of other artists, and was in awe when she met Labelle and Franklin when she came to perform at a White House gala for President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and other VIP guest.
“I was so nervous. Out of my mind nervous. I remember thinking ‘I didn’t know they were going to be so close to the stage’. I said ‘do Tessanne, no bada drop down in dem high heel boot dem’”, in her sexy Jamaican accent, “and I didn’t want to fall in front of the women I had looked up to all my life.”
She said she realized that this was the time to deliver and she did, doing Last Dance, the song picked by the organizers to honor legendary singer Donna Summers.
She also gushed about meeting her idol Celine Dion and doing a duet with her on The Voice.
From the rehearsals to the actual performance was an “incredible experience”.
“It is not often that you meet someone that is as gracious as you hope for them to be. Because sometimes you can meet people that you look up to and you will be like ‘Oh, OK’. But for me meeting her was incredible. A gracious lady and I can’t compare her to anyone.”
Tessanne said winning The Voice did change her life, a cliché expression many say.
“It did change my life . . . .I have made many sacrifices (biggest being away from family) but it is an amazing thing to do what you love and be successful and to be able to make a living from it.
“I know the other side of that too. I know what it is to struggle, to be feeling that you are doing something and not really getting to where you want to be.”
Tessanne said she “toughed it out” and looked at the positives, and while she has severed ties with her old label, she can’t disclose where she is now.
“I am happy to say that although there are things that it has changed in my life, my life is still pretty much the same – I am still the same person and the people that are around me I love. I am grateful for that and it is a blessing.”
She has more on her plate than just music and we might be seeing her on a bigger screen – the silver one in HD or 3D.
“We have stuff in the pipeline. Movies take a lot of work, dedication and time so when the right opportunities meet the right time we will see.”
She will be working with coaches on acting and “I definitely have to get a dialect coach (with a hearty, deep laugh) because I have a strong Jamaican accent. Not all parts are written for Jamaican women (more laughs) so it may be a problem.”
She said she is also a huge fan of Broadway, growing up on musicals and she wants to be on that stage.
Tessanne said she has had an amazing journey so far “finding out who I am as an artist, as a writer, as a performer. It has been an interesting evolution.”