“The first time I ever sang in my church I forgot the words for the song and I just started crying.” An Interview with Charmaine

“The first time I ever sang in my church I forgot the words for the song and I just started crying.” An Interview with Charmaine

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With a childhood spent in Zimbabwe, Chicago, Michigan, Tennessee and Toronto, it was in church where a young Charmaine first found her voice. Now following the release of her hugely successful first EP, she talks to Cleopatras about getting over a confidence crisis, finding the right team, calls to mum, and living her childhood dream.
charmaine behind the scenes on music video shoot

Lovely to be chatting to you Charmaine! Could you start by taking me through your background a bit – where you grew up and what you were like as a child?

Okay, so I am originally from Zimbabwe. I was born in Harare but I left there when I was five, so I didn’t really get to spend much time back home. We went to Chicago in the US, and then from Chicago to Michigan, before settling in Nashville, Tennessee for five years or so. Then my parents decided they’d just kidnap us from school one day and we ended up in Toronto, Canada.

I used to get my little tail whipped all the time as a youngster, because I just wanted to run with the boys. I’m the only girl in the family with three brothers and I was not the most well behaved.

 

Haha, do you think growing up around boys created a different energy in your home or taught you to stand your ground? I grew up as one of three girls.

Urmm, when it came to growing up with boys, it was a challenge because I always thought they were bigger and badder than me. Although they always knew if they’d try to do anything to me I’ll do it right back so we were always hustling and wrestling. It gave me a tough exterior where now that I’m older there’s a lot of things that I just don’t tolerate from anybody. I can be very hard on the outside, because then that…

…to kind of, protect your energy? 

Yes, exactly.

 

And so, when it came to music, what was the first thing that inspired you musically? Did you learn instruments or was there a different hook for you?

I started playing piano when I was about eight years old. Of course I would be seeing artists like Alicia Keys, Beyonce – you know, the cream of the crop of the entertainment industry but I think it was actually my dad who inspired me to start playing piano. He would keep playing the keyboard all the time when I was younger. It was mainly Gospel music that he’d play, but I found it so intriguing. I would just sit there and watch him and I don’t know, one day I just sat at the piano when he wasn’t home. I waited until he left for work, my mom was taking a nap and I snuck into the little piano room and I just started playing. From there, because my parents realised that I had a talent for it, they started to push for me to play more and then eventually it turned into me playing and singing in church.

“I think my entire life I’ve just been so in love with music.”

 

It’s funny how so many of the greats, like the greatest artists of all time, learnt how to sing in church.

I think, maybe it’s just because it’s the least intimidating place for you to start. For me the first time I ever sang in my church I forgot the words for the song and I just started crying in front of everybody, the entire congregation. I was like nine years old. I just froze, I started bawling, and my dad had to come up and take me. He took me on a little drive around the neighbourhood and we sang a song together because he knows there’s one particular song we’d always sing together that would calm my nerves. He sang that song with me, and then I went back and I finished my song and got like a standing ovation. I felt so amazing after that.

“The first time I ever sang in my church I forgot the words for the song and I just started crying in front of everybody, the entire congregation!”

 

 

Aw that is so sweet. Bless mini Charmaine, I’m so glad you finished the song. When it comes to actually creating your own music, was that process a lot of writing stuff down and testing things out to cultivate and develop your sound?

Mmm I played around with songwriting a little bit throughout high school, but I didn’t really dive into it. There was a situation with my family where we lost our house and were living in a Motel because my dad lost his job. That was really the moment where I said to myself, okay, let me try and focus on making music and work towards a situation where I could take my family out of whatever’s going on.

That’s why I just sat down on the floor, and started writing songs. I think I was 17 years old, when I actually started taking songwriting seriously, although interestingly enough the music that I was writing back then is not at all what I’m doing now.

 

And when it comes to the recording process you have now – how did you link up with your go-to producers in the first place, because I think finding the right people to work with is a huge challenge in early stages of your career?

Oh yeah it took me a minute! I signed my deal in 2018 and I think I was working in the studio with multiple producers over the course of a year and a half prior to that. Initially when we wanted to get in the studio with [Michael] Lantz, he was out of the country so we waited almost a year. Then one day he just randomly said ‘okay I’m back, let’s get in the studio’. And it has just been magic ever since. When people say you have to find the right team for you and for your sound, I never understood it until I met the team I have now.

 

Now you’ve released the HOOD AVANT-GARDE EP, are you focusing very much on that or is your head already in the future?

Oh we’re already thinking years in the future. I’m constantly working, constantly recording, there are so many projects that are already either finished or in progress. I like the fact that I don’t have to think about things when it’s time to think about them. I’d rather have everything in place way ahead. And I already know what’s next so we’re just focusing on continuing to create and record. I am super proud of the EP though [HOOD AVANT-GARDE] and making sure I properly celebrate that. I can’t wait to start performing those records.

“I’m constantly working, constantly recording, there are so many projects that are already either finished or in progress.”

 

I did want to ask about BOLD because it has this wonderfully confident energy and sense of self-assuredness. I love that in artists and I think audiences gravitate towards it; seeing someone be confident almost gives you freedom as an individual to feel the same way. Is it a conscious thing for you to tap into the confident side of yourself?

Oh yes, 100%. I had quit music probably two years after getting into it, when I was 18/19 years old – I took a four year break and it was simply because I did not feel confident in myself or my talents to be in the music business. It took me a really long time to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I’m beautiful. I’m talented. I’m funny. I’m just honestly, the greatest *laughs* so you know what I work hard to get to a place where I’m confident in myself, and what I want to do now is not only exude confidence in my records, but also allow other people who are listening to feel the same way. It’s definitely a conscious decision and I’m very, very, very anal about that. It has to be that way. 

“I had quit music probably two years after getting into it, when I was 18/19 years old – I took a four year break and it was simply because I did not feel confident in myself or my talents to be in the music business.”

 

The good thing about that journey is that, you understand how it feels to not be confident. Going through those phases has probably made you more determined, even if they weren’t fun at the time. You have some amazing visuals for HOOD AVANT-GARDE how long in the making was the visual identity?

The Modern Day Renaissance idea was already part of the whole marketing plan that we’d thought about in advance. It made the most sense because it embodies everything that I am and what I represent, so there was no second thought. As the idea came out, I was like yes we’re going with that and we’re only going with that.

When I saw the pictures though, I was like ‘holy crap like is that me… wait, are you sure?!’ I honestly just owe it to my entire creative direction team, and my marketing manager Joel – the work that everybody around me puts in for me and for my music is incredible.

 

 

I imagine your lifestyle has changed quite a bit since you signed your record deal. Did you have any kind of adjustment period for that?

Well it was pre-covid so it was definitely a lot to take in at the time but I didn’t have a problem with it and I knew my life was going to be different. This is my dream like this is what I’ve been working so hard for my entire life, so I would rather be in a studio all day, every day, than you know working a job that I hate waking up and having to do.

I do have a son, he’s just turned five so at that time, I did definitely have to find a balance between being a mom and working because I am a single parent. Fortunately, I did have my mom and my family there to help support me. It was definitely a little tough in the beginning, but it’s gotten so much better – I’m so used to it now.

 

I literally was having a conversation this morning with someone on a podcast and we were talking about motherhood and how it kind of plays into women’s career. I love hearing stories like yours, where you’ve got a child, and he is obviously such an important part of your life that you’re able to do all these amazing things as well. Who do you call when you need emotional support?

The number one person I usually call it as my mom. If I’m ever having a day where I’m just super duper stressed out or going through it, she’s the first person I call to talk about things with. But I would have to say, every person on my team on the label side is also somebody I will go in to talk to. I feel like my situation is very unique and I’m really grateful for it – they’re like my family now and they’re definitely more concerned about my mental health above anything else.

 

That’s really important so super nice to hear. My final question for you, because we love a bit of life advice – over the past couple of years, what is something that maybe you’ve learned that you’re glad you’ve learned and that you cherish?

I’ve learned that there is beauty in just accepting yourself – flaws and all. It’s a very difficult task and it’s very taxing and it’s a hard process to go through, but there’s beauty in knowing that you are worth something or everything. You are destined to do something, you have a purpose on this planet, you are beautiful, you are amazing and you deserve everything good in life and never to ever let anything on the outside affect that.

I went to a point where I would just be so in my shell I’d be so afraid of what people thought about me. I would definitely say now that I’ve got to a point where I’ve accepted myself from the inside out and I’m so much happier. I’m really glad that I got to this place.

 

You are powerful and thank you for sharing that journey to all of what you are now!

 Charmaine’s debut EP HOOD AVANT-GARDE is available on all streaming platforms and you can find her on socials @ _iamcharmaine

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