Pop star ChianoSky has a smile plastered on her face throughout our interview.
Much like her striking red hair, hers is a bold and adventurous personality. She has good reason to be this upbeat.
Her new EP, Hurricane, came out to rave reviews a few weeks ago and debuted in the Top 20 on the iTunes chart and Top 10 on the iTunes pop chart.
It’s a project that celebrates her affinity to ’70s-era soul music. “A lot of people find music and the music finds you,” she says. “That’s what happened with me at age 10. But the music I’ve always been drawn to, which excites me and makes me forget everything, has always been jazz and soul.”
Growing up, ChianoSky was inspired by legendary jazz and blues musicians like Etta James and Amy Winehouse. She also remembers singing jazzy songs like Crazy by Elvis Presley. That was the direction she took with her sound before she found her voice.
Among the pop music she’s built her career on, she still finds a way to inject that soul into her music, as she did on her new single, Forest. “I’m really stuck in that old school R&B kind of world, that’s what excites me. A lot of my friends say I’m like black inside.”
ChianoSky credits her broad musical appreciation to the exposure she received from a young age. Her dad used to listen to reggae and rock ’n’ roll and her mom was a bit of a jazz baby. She’d trawl their CD racks and explore the different sounds.
Forest is a single where she plays around with her vocal range and shows off her storytelling abilities. “It really brings out my favourite side, which is my soulful sound. The hook for that song was actually meant to be the verse, then when I played it for my producer he moved it to the hook and it just made sense.
“Then I wrote around the chorus based on being in a relaxed space with someone and knowing that the moment and this song and everything that’s happening is just for us right now to connect.
“I wrote it around that moment, to just relax, because the moment is ours and these people are just here to fill out the room for us.”
Most of Hurricane was produced by VAM, an in-house producer at Sony. ChianoSky enjoyed working with him because of his versatility and production range. While Hurricane makes the rounds, she will be working on her upcoming full-length project for later in the year. She says to expect some “really cool unexpected collaborations” with artists within the hip hop genre.
Her interest in hip hop isn’t just a phase, she says. I ask her if she’s likely to be making this kind of music for a while. “It’s hard to tell,” she responds. “I don’t think I could ever be tied down to one genre and be stuck in it. My last project before this was totally disco ’70s. I was like ‘I need to get this disco baby out of me right now’.”
In a bid to escape from the same music we hear week in and week out at various shows, ChianoSky’s been going to a lot of different shows and festivals lately. It’s also a way for her to discover new music and experience the richness of South African music that we so often miss out on.
Since breaking into the industry at the age of 18, she’s grown in leaps and bounds, and she’s yearning for even more growth. “The older I’ve become the more solid I am in terms of what my direction is and who I’m gonna be. I mean, obviously I don’t know now completely, I’m only 24.
“But I feel like without the experience of doing good and doing bad and going through the motions, I wouldn’t be here.”