After a triumphant return from the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid last year, Alexander Barlow checks in with Shanghai chanteuse ChaCha to find out what’s coming up in 2012. Portrait: Benoit Florencon
In January 2010, Time Out profiled local musician ChaCha
for our Shanghai launch issue. ‘I’m not that good really,’ she told us nervously at the time. ‘My level’s not that high – I still have a lot to learn.’ Two years later we wait for the singer in a café and she arrives with an almost business-like self-assurance. ‘Sorry we’re late,’ she says briskly as she takes a seat next to her manager and husband (co-founder of The Shelter
, Gareth Williams). ‘I’ve just been sending my a cappella to a producer and it takes ages.’
We start by showing her the article
. ‘Back then there were so many questions’, she says smiling. ‘I wasn’t really sure of what kind of singer I could be – or whether I could even sing professionally.’ Now, though, she’s much more confident of her talent; happy, at last, to call herself a musician (she quit her job late last year to go full time). ‘It was very confusing, I was struggling,’ she says. ‘Then suddenly, it happened, it opened up’.
‘It’, of course, has been a heck of a ride. ChaCha has not only cemented her standing as one of Shanghai’s most feted underground singers, but has performed in Europe, produced tracks with the likes of Hyperdub
head honcho Kode9
, Finnish dub maven Desto and produced her debut album as AM444
with Amsterdam producer Jay Soul
. Last year, on her second attempt, she was inducted into the coveted Red Bull Music Academy
, a two-week workshop in Madrid for some of the world’s brightest up-and-coming musical talent.
Time Patrol-prod.by KODE9 & MC Spaceape- Feat. Cha Cha by chachachina
For musicians worldwide, RBMA is a huge deal. But she waves away the significance of being the first ever mainland Chinese to enter the programme. ‘It didn’t matter,’ she says. ‘There were all kinds of nationalities there. We just thought it was like the most amazing high-school party’.
Days were scheduled with lectures and workshops before performances in the evening. ‘We partied pretty hard. I was getting two hours sleep a night, max,’ she says. Again, it’s a stark contrast to the shy, pixie-sized songstress we met in 2010. ‘I like being quiet and staying in listening to music,’ she said demurely back then. ‘I’m not a party girl.’Chacha performing in Madrid as part of the 2011 Red Bull Music Academy
But despite now being comfortable in a club setting and the obvious highs of the past two years, the singer insists she’s stayed grounded. ‘I’m not proud of anything I’ve done just because it was with a big name from a big label,’ she says. ‘I don’t care about that.’ Instead, it’s Eye Wonder
, the jazz-tinged, trip-hop EP released last year with Jay Soul
that she says is her most important work to date. ‘It was all so confused. Before I was working with different producers in different styles. If you put them altogether, there’s no concept there, nothing that represents ChaCha’s music.’
As a self-proclaimed devotee of trip-hop before reggae and dub, Eye Wonder
was, she adds, the album she always wanted, and needed, to make. ‘For the first time I had 100 per cent freedom. With Eye Wonder
I released a lot of things I’d been carrying with me for a long while,’ she says. ‘When it was finished, I felt I could go forward, lighter.’