Canada's Keshia Chanté is a teen pop star—but her background does not fit the typical pattern of other young performers who have emerged in recent years in either Canada or the United States. "She was not a contestant on either American Idol or Canadian Idol, " noted the Edmonton Sun. "She is not a former star of a popular children's television show, she was not a model, did not hook up with a former member of a boy band, did not participate in a reality show of any kind, was not written up in National Enquirer and was not a member of the Mickey Mouse Club."
All of the Edmonton Sun 's examples referred to other teen successes, but Chanté earned her spot on Canadian music charts the old-fashioned way—she stayed cool under pressure and impressed influential people in the music industry with her voice and look. Born Keshia Chanté Harper on June 16, 1988, she was raised in the Canadian national capital of Ottawa. Her father was of Trinidadian background, and although Chanté stayed on good terms with him, she was raised mostly by her mother, Teresa Agnelo. The first hint of Keshia's talent came at a very early age, when she began singing along to a tape her mother was playing on a car stereo.
Sang at Black History Month Event
"I didn't take it seriously," Agnelo told the Ottawa Citizen. "I play a lot of music in my car, and one day, this girlfriend with us nudged me and said, 'Does she do this all the time?' I was, like, 'Yeah, she does it all the time.'" Soon after that, when Chanté was six, her mother signed her up to perform rapper Tupac Shakur's "Dear Mama" at a Black History Month event at Ottawa's Carleton University. Her mother made a printout of the lyrics. "I already knew the words but she wanted to make sure I knew how to pronounce them correctly—she had to leave out the bad words," Chanté recalled to the Ottawa Citizen.
Chanté went on stage without being afraid, and the experience instilled in her a desire for a musical career. "I've always been 'when I get older I'm going to sing. I'm going to dance and sing,'" Chanté explained to the Ottawa Sun. "I wasn't really focused on being famous. I was like 'I'm going to have a song on the radio.'" Her mother taught her to be comfortable in front of a camera by videotaping her daily. Though Chanté never took voice lessons, she did start writing songs. And she kept performing in talent shows and schools around Ottawa and its eastern suburb of Orleans, where she attended St. Peter's Catholic high school.
One person who noticed her talents was Ottawa DJ Trevor Mason, who sent a tape of Chanté's singing to BMG Canada executive Ivan Berry. When Chanté was 14, Berry called her at home and asked her to sing something into the receiver of the phone. Not really aware of who he was, she launched confidently into the R. Kelly hit "I Believe I Can Fly." "It's important for people who have that dream and they get that shot to not hesitate, to not ask 'Oh what song should I sing? What should I do?' None of that," Chanté told the Edmonton Sun.
Impressed Executive by Phone
Her phone performance earned her an in-person audition with label executives in Toronto, and for that one performance Chanté felt nervous. She apparently did well, though, for she soon had a contract with the label. One factor that worked in her favor was her resemblance to former teen star Aaliyah, who had recently died in Caribbean plane accident. Attending St. Peter's on weekdays, Chanté traveled to Toronto on weekends to begin recording for BMG Canada's Vikmusic imprint. In 2004 she and her mother moved to the Toronto suburb of Brampton so that she could be closer to Toronto's recording studios, but both mother and daughter were adamant that she stay in high school rather than dropping out or hiring a private tutor.
Chanté's first single revived the old pop genre of the answer song; her "Shook (The Answer)" was a response to "Shook," a recording by Toronto R&B star Shawn Desman. It was Desman who wrote much of the material on Chanté's debut album. "Shook (The Answer)" and another hit single, "Unpredictable," were included on Chanté's debut CD, Keshia Chanté, which was released in June of 2004. That month Chanté turned 16. The album, once released, spawned two more Canadian hits, the street-themed "Bad Boy" and a composition co-written by Chanté herself, "Let the Music Take You."
Won Urban Music Awards
With this string of hits, Chanté steamrollered the competition at Canada's Urban Music Awards in October of 2004. She won awards in all three categories in which she had been nominated, including best new artist, video of the year (for "Bad Boy"), and the fan's choice award. That fall, Chanté gained exposure to a spectrum of fans beyond Canadian teens with an appearance singing "O Canada" at the Grey Cup, the championship game of Canadian professional football. She had already sung the anthem on baseball's Opening Day at the stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays. In November of 2004 she shared a stage with vocalist-keyboardist Alicia Keys and U2 leader Bono at Toronto's UrbanAIDS benefit, and the following January she appeared on an all-star CBC network musical extravaganza designed to raise money for South Asian tsunami relief.
The only obstacles in Chanté's way seemed to be the relatively small size of the urban music market in Canada, and the fact that Chanté, unlike Canadian teenager Avril Lavigne, hadn't yet shows signs of breaking out in the United States. Yet Chanté seemed to have the charisma to make a wider breakthrough happen; she is a friendly, articulate, mile-a-minute talker, who is well-liked by media writers. More than 1,000 people turned out to see her at a Toronto mall in September of 2004. In November she made her first U.S. television appearance, on Black Entertainment Television's "Rated Next" program. She seemed to be coping well with the whirlwind pace of fame, finishing her school homework in the early hours of the morning after answering fan mail. "It feels really natural now," Chanté was quoted as saying in the Portage Daily Graphic after winning her three Urban Music Awards. "I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be."
Keshia Chanté, BMG Canada, 2004.
At a Glance …
Born Keshia Chanté Harper on June 16, 1988; raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area.
Career: Singer, 2002–.
Awards: Canadian Urban Music Awards for best new artist, video of the year, and fan's choice, 2004.
Addresses: Label— Sony BMG Music (Canada) Inc., 190 Liberty St., Suite 100, Toronto, ON M6K 3L5, Canada. Web— www.keshiachante.com.
Canada NewsWire, January 11, 2005.
Edmonton Journal, September 2, 2004, p. C5.
Edmonton Sun, December 16, 2004, p. 49.
Maclean's, December 22, 2003, p. 59; June 21, 2004, p. 67.
Ottawa Citizen, October 20, 2004, p. E6. Ottawa Sun, June 19, 2004, p. 29; November 19, 2004, p. 69.
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 1, 2004.
Portage (Manitoba) Daily Graphic, October 22, 2004. p. Entertainment-6.
Toronto Sun, June 27, 2004, p. S18.
Keshia Chanté, www.keshiachante.com (January 17, 2005).
"Keshia Chanté," www.maplemusic.com/artists/kch/bio.asp (January 17, 2005).
—James M. Manheim
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