South African-born singer and songwriter Jessica Chaz has just released her debut EP following the release of her single, Answer. Titled Dreamin, Chaz, who is based in Canada, started working on the EP at the end of 2015. IOL spoke to her.

What was the inspiration behind it?

The main inspiration behind Dreamin stemmed from reaching a point of frustration amidst choosing to leave a life that I had built and having to start from scratch. I was caught in a “crossroads” of having to either consider my age and the achievements of my peers and strive to meet the current standards of society, or to explore the potential of passion in my life, to go for the long shot, say my dreams aloud - to believe in myself despite the doubt from others and just go for it.

Did you write all the songs and if so where do you draw inspiration from?

I wrote Yes to You and co-wrote Cali and No More with my sister, Vanessa. She wrote the remaining tracks on the EP. The whole EP was written where there was so much change happening in our lives. There were a lot of different things that inspired different songs - it was the changes after leaving university, broken relationships, emigrating and being separated as a family for about a year.

How would you describe the lyrical content of this EP?

The lyrical content is supposed to be encouraging. We all go through similar experiences as people, we all have tough times of doubt and loneliness but ultimately it’s about holding on to hope that things will get better, that dreams are achievable.

Tell me about the sound

The sound is a bit of a mix. It relates to my childhood and the mix of music we are exposed to in South Africa. Music was a huge part of our lives, from my dad’s love of artists like John Denver, Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley, to my mum’s love of gospel. 

The EP shows influences of what I used to listen to growing up and performed; soul, pop, jazz and gospel music and some of the artists I currently listen to, like John Legend, Adele and Tori Kelly. 

There is also a song with some country and indie influences as well, which is the musical environment I have been in since we moved to Vancouver. It all seemed to come together and sounds quite natural and connected to me.

What were some of the challenges putting this EP together?

The biggest challenge I think was finding the right people to work with, and when we did it had a different challenge. We worked with musicians and engineers from South Africa, the USA and Canada, so the time difference and getting all the music together balancing people’s schedules and the time zones with deadlines was challenging.

What does it signify for you?

Releasing an album, producing, working on a project like this is something I was hoping to do for about a decade now. If I had to put it into words, it is a dream of mine fulfilled. It has been such a special experience, one that I hold dear.

What do you hope people take away from this EP?

I hope people feel encouraged like we all have tough times, we all have dreams and there are times to play it safe, but I honestly think that anything is possible.

Some dreams do take more work than others, but I think you can achieve anything in life, if you keep at it, if you surround yourself with like-minded people, focus on positive things and if you keep hope alive. 

I say that with hesitance but I think, in watching the speech Barack Obama made at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, I was reminded why I feel this way so strongly, that you could do anything, or be anything, that we all have value and have an impact in this world regardless of education, environment, race or gender. 

I have seen people all through my life do the unthinkable and the unimaginable, regardless of circumstances and that’s what the message of Dreamin is.

Why should people buy it?

The biggest response we have heard from people so far is that after hearing or seeing this, it has helped them or allowed them to say aloud some of the things they couldn’t before because they were afraid to, so we hope that this helps give them courage to do that. It also has a little something for everyone, something super cool and dance in Crossroads, some sweet reggae vibes in Cal, some country in Yes To You and a few ballads that hit the spot.

It represents the large mix of experiences we are in South Africa as well.