/ FACES Magazine May/June 2017
You wouldn’t be wrong to call Keshia Ottawa’s Beyoncé. Her story starts at the age of six on stage at Ottawa talent shows. Fast forward, and the Orleans born R&B singer is meeting president Obama at his Holiday Gala. Cut to the present, and she’s releasing a brand new EP called Unbound 01. Her story, from Ottawa to New York, Atlanta and LA.
FM: Tell us a little about your life growing up in Ottawa. What part of the city did you grow up in and what are some of your favourite memories from your childhood?
Keisha Chanté: I grew up in Orleans! I would have to say my fondest memory was my first performance at the age of 6 at Carleton University. That moment really changed the course of my life. The love and support from the crowd gave me the confidence I needed to go in the direction of my dreams. The talent shows, plays, and musical opportunities I had growing up in elementary and high school was also something I thoroughly enjoyed.
You’ve talked about how Toronto is the city that raised you, how would you describe the person that you were when you moved to Toronto at age 14—and how the city of Toronto influenced you personally and musically?
Ottawa born, Toronto raised, indeed. When I moved to Toronto, I was naive, wide-eyed and overall very “green”. My desire to sing and perform brought me to a bigger city, but I needed to toughen up and learn quickly if I wanted to make anything happen for myself. Toronto influenced me incredibly in that I really feel it prepared me for living in cities like New York, LA, and Atlanta. Toronto is really at the forefront of hip hop and R&B right now, internationally. There is a certain sound that I feel myself and my peers have really captured on our new offerings.
You signed your first record contract at the very young age of 14, can you tell us a little about how you got your first record deal—and being so young, was the process overwhelming for you at times?
I performed anywhere that would facilitate me, even asking my principal if we could have more talent shows. My mom would film the performances and I would watch it back, critique and work at it. One of those videos got into the hands of a family friend, who shared it with a local DJ, who then shared it with an A&R at a record label. That A&R got my contact information, called my house phone & asked me to sing over the phone. I did without hesitation. Next thing I know, I am performing in front of a record label and being sent to record songs in the studio for the first time (Unpredictable, Shook (The Answer)). The only thing overwhelming was balancing school and my career. Looking back now, I realized as an only child, I was socially awkward, so music was my outlet and way of expression. Because that was my comfortable place, I feel like it really made the entire process less daunting.
Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio? Do you remember where it was and who was the first person you called when you heard it?
I was with my family when I first heard my song on the radio. We heard a local DJ would be featuring it on a radio show and we sat there until it was played. We all screamed, cried. It was surreal.
You are only 28 years old, but you’ve accomplished more than most hope to do in a lifetime. Let’s talk a little about things you do outside of music for a moment. You have done some impressive work for humanitarian organizations, including organizing a fundraising concert with Alicia Keys for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Tell us how that came about?
It started as a lot of conversations about how we can use music to raise money and awareness for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Alicia Keys also signed on and she was absolutely lovely. She gave me industry advice that I still hold dear. The concert itself was a great experience. It always feels good giving back in any way.
How has your charitable work with CANFAR changed you as a person?
Working with CANFAR was incredible. We travelled to Kenya to help build facilities at schools that had children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. To see what the disease has done to so many innocent young people really broke my heart. It amazed me to see people who were experiencing such pain but still managed to be happy, kind, optimistic. Really inspiring. CANFAR as a whole is an incredible organization, constantly changing the landscape and working to help those affected by the disease.
You are well known for your excellent fashion sense, who are some of your favourite designers and how would you describe your sense of style?
I have a lot of Canadian fashion designers on my radar, like Mikael D, Stephan Caras, Lucian Matis, Pink Tartan. I think it important to wear Canadian and support our talented designers. Otherwise, I love IRO, All Saints, Barbara Bui…I would describe my sense of style as hip hop meets refined.
For the guys reading this, what is one fashion mistake that you see too many of them make that they need to avoid?
The fit of pants is a common fashion mistake. Either the denim is not flattering, the belt is the wrong size, the pants are the wrong length. I think that can make or break the entire look.
Can you talk a little about your experience hosting the iconic BET show “106 & Park”? What are some of your best memories from your time on the show?
106 & Park was a lot of fun. Between the live TV element, the DJs that spun throughout the show, the audience that was full of energy, the crew, my team, the guests, it was really just rewarding hard work. My best memories would have to be working with Michelle Obama—she is so inspiring!
How do you enjoy being a host/broadcaster versus a performer? Do you find that one prepares you better to be the other?
I feel like my love for performance trickles into so many different avenues. Hosting is more of a passion project for me but it really does get you comfortable on the camera in a different way, helps the way you film or create content, and prepares you more for being questioned in interviews.
How did it feel for you to be invited by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to their White House Holiday Party in 2013. What was that night like for you to be driving up to the White House that night?
I was first invited by Michelle Obama to moderate a speaking engagement she had with a high school in Washington, D.C, where she discussed the importance of education with the students. Afterwards, she came on 106 & Park and was a joy to interview. Then one day I saw mail from The White House in my dressing room. I thought it was a joke, but it was an invite. I was really touched. Michelle introduced me to President Barack Obama and we took a Christmas Photo and chatted briefly. I was more amazed that she remembered my name, let alone chatted with me. My opinion of them is that they are truly what you see on TV. They embody class and grace. They are kind, genuine, intelligent and have a great sense of humour. Such warm people. Definitely a pleasure.
Tell us about your new music and your new EP “Unbound 01”, which critics have written that it has re-ignited your R&B signature sound. How would you describe “Unbound” to your fans?
Unbound 01 is the beginning of my world without restrictions or inhibitions.
We really enjoyed the songs on Unbound 01 and think your fans will be thrilled to hear this music (which is available now on iTunes). Do you anticipate doing any touring this year?
I am working on redesigning my live show as we speak!
Looking back on your career to date, what accomplishment are you proudest of and why?
Winning a Juno at 16, interviewing the First Lady, my work as Youth Ambassador for CANFAR, having a star on the Walk of Fame in Brampton (town I graduated in), but mostly that I have had a career for 14 years that brings me the most happiness and fulfillment. Sharing my music with my fans doesn’t get any better.
Who are some of your favourite artists to listen to now?
My favourite artists right now: Bryson Tiller, Drake, 2Chainz, Post Malone, Banks, Leon Bridges.
When you were six years old, you got a standing ovation for singing “Dear Mama” in an Ottawa talent show. What advice would you give that girl and any other young girl that aspires to follow in your big footsteps one day?
I would tell her to take one day at a time and enjoy the moment. Enjoy being a kid more. Go play, go be social. I would tell her to take vocal lessons and piano lessons (something I never did as a kid) because her mind is a sponge (laughs). My advice for young girls is to finish school. Singing is fun, but there is a business behind it that can be a little dark. I would encourage them to study entertainment law, business, marketing, branding, as well. Also, perform everywhere you can, record it, watch it back, share it, perfect practice makes perfect!