A couple years ago I sat down with Tessanne Chin righ after she won the popular NBC TV show the Voice. I wrote the article below for the Caribbean Today Magazine. I decided to republish it again.
A CHAT WITH TESSANNE CHIN
BY Jason Walker
Tessanne Chin is one of the most amazing and powerful voices to not just come out of Jamaica, but come out of anywhere in a long time. In the early part of this century this daughter of two musicians and the younger sister of a popular artist in Jamaica had begun to build her career by singing backup for the legendary Jimmy Cliff and soon after began making her own music where she would make Rock laced Reggae songs which caught the fascination of the younger audiences throughout the Caribbean, however it was her voice that shone through that helped to take this Jamaican-Chinese songstress to the top of the charts in the Caribbean. Songs like “Messenger” and “Hideaway” soon became favourites and anthems in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily translate into financial success for the Jamaican artist who would win one of the most popular talent competition shows in the US. Tessanne also has a sister Tami Chin (AKA Tami Chynn) who was doing well for herself in Jamaica and internationally, even scoring a deal with the Universal record label.
Tessanne soon started working with international superstar and recording artist Shaggy where they did the duet “Never Let Me Go” but more importantly she would sing on the three very important choir like Shaggy orchestrated songs which involved major artists from throughout the Caribbean that spoke to major issues in the Caribbean such as helping save the lives of children at a Children’s hospital (“Save A Life”) and the earthquake in Haiti (“Rise Again”). The third choir-like (shall we say “We Are the World) type song was a celebration of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, “On A Mission”. At this point Shaggy was managing Tessanne and he saw an opportunity to change the course of her career and not a moment too soon for she was just about ready to give up since she really did not see financial success yet. Shaggy arranged for her to be a contestant on NBC’s The Voice.
By now the world knows Tessanne became the most popular artist on the show because of her amazingly talented voice, her performances, her humility and the way she showed herself, her Jamaican culture and the consistent support of Jamaicans in Jamaica and the Diaspora. During the weekly run of the popular American talent competition she became America’s darling and a uniting cause and force for Jamaicans and those who love Jamaica worldwide. With the mobilized support of Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans Tessanne Chin became the first Jamaican to win any of these current American Talent competitions. Jason Walker caught up with her recently when she was helping Food For the Poor on a fundraiser Gala. Here is an excerpt of the conversation that ensued.
Jason Walker: Tell us about your vocal skills and your development.
Tessanne Chin: I just sang everyday to the point where it drove my family nuts until eventually my mom got the message, put me in Little People and Teen Players club (both in Jamaica) which is like a theatre based club then moving on and singing everyday she finally put me in proper training with Ms Lecie Wright who I credit to this day for giving me the grounds for proper technique and how to use your voice and how to protect your voice, I owe her a lot.
Jason: There was a time you spent in England, tell us about that and how that affected your development.
Tessanne: My mother’s mother is English, so half of my family is over there in terms of my mom’s side and actually my brother, sister and mom live there now, but we actually went to high school in England and my parents were separated at the time, so it was a very new ground for us and we were definitely culture shocked, cold shocked and every kind of shocked you can think. The first chance we got Tami (Chin) and I came back to Jamaica because it is our home and we knew we wanted to do music and we knew the type of music we wanted to do and from then Daddy always supported us, but even before England we grew up with musical parents so we always grew up around rehearsals and all dem tings, it was just a wonderful way to grow up.
Jason: What led you to start putting out the Rock Reggae fusion you were doing?
Tessanne: When you grow up in Jamaica you naturally hear your greats first, you hear your Bob’s, your Beres’, your Marcia Griffiths’, the Jimmy Cliffs, you hear your greats and that is wonderful because that is our blood but I grew up listening to that program called Fast Forward, where we would get radio programs from abroad and we would be listening to people like Boyz II Men and when I went to England I would listen to people like the Cranberries, Oasis, and Limp Bizkit, my horizon just got a little bid broader and that was the type of music that spoke to me then, I don’t know why but it did, it was something about it very raw, very true (pause) not pretentious; they weren’t trying to be pretty, they weren’t trying to be perfect, they were just singing about their emotions and what they felt and there is something about that rawness, very much like Reggae I could identify with.
Jason: When you made the Reggae Rock fusion song “Hideaway” a lot of people were confused about where to put the song, what did you think about that?
Tessanne: I think that is what was so beautiful about Hideaway and I think that is what is why to this day I love that song because it proves that music transcends barriers, it’s not about Reggae or Rock, it’s about good music and do you like it, it does not have to fit anywhere I think we get caught up about putting things in categories and where do I put this and if it does not sound like…. NAH! Music is music and that is the one thing about music you cannot pin it down!
Jason: Tell us about the Voice
Tessanne: (Shaggy) came to me with the whole opportunity about the voice and was like “I really think this would be a great platform for you to break out”. I was so afraid, I was so afraid to do it, because I did not know how America would receive me, I didn’t know if my Jamaicans would think I was turning my back on them, I didn’t know if I was ready for that, but I really had nothing to lose, I knew I wanted an international career, you know, so God bless Shaggy. There was a point where I definitely thought to myself: “Tess is either you are going to find another job, or you are going to be singing for the rest of your life”, whether I am in a hotel or on a cruise ship, at the Grammy’s or pon di Voice! That was the turning point for me as well, learning that I am here to sing, I do not know in what capacity but I know that is my calling and that is my gift and that is what I will be doing for the rest of my life, but I would be lying if I did not say that there were times I was like “yuh know sey a 9-5 a do it, yuh know sey a 9-5 mi a go get”.
Fortunately for us all 4 Judge chairs turned around at the auditions of the Voice.
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org