Generation next With
smarts, talent, and a hockey-playing boyfriend to boot, R&B
sensation Keshia ChantÉ is poised for total domination.
By Jordana Divon
taken four months, three rescheduled interviews, two
mix-ups and one missed phone call to get Keshia Chanté
on the line. The math speaks for itself: the
bright-eyed Canadian songstress is busy.
So busy, in fact, that her schedule sounds like it was
assembled by a dedicated team of sadists. Without a
breather from the recent Asia leg of her Night & Day
album tour, Chanté is in heavy promotional mode for
her new single (a mid-tempo jam called "I Miss You"),
flitting around the country to film Canadian talent
series The Next Star (she's one of the celebrity
judges), squeezing in studio time to work on her next
album, hitting the requisite number of obligatory
press events and flying back and forth from Toronto to
Chicago where she shares a home with her boyfriend,
Blackhawks brawler Ray Emery.
Within minutes of speaking to the 24-year-old
R&B pop veteran it becomes clear that this
madness is entirely of her own design.
"I love feeling really busy and I love feeling
pressure," she says with a confident clip. "I
don't know what it is [to relax]. I like feeling
like there are too many things to do in a day
and trying to make it all happen. And I've kind
of been like that since I started."
That start date kicked off a decade ago, when a
tiny 13-year-old with an unusually polished
voice began generating the sort of buzz reserved
for the Next Big Thing. The only child of a
Trinidadian father and a mother from Cape Verde,
Keshia Chanté Harper was plucked from her Ottawa
home and groomed by Sony BMG record executives
to fill an important void in a Canadian urban
music scene, a landscape that, at the time,
lacked a truly accessible young female
Early singles like "Bad Boy" and "Does He Love
Me?" soon found frequent rotation across
national radio stations and music channels (back
when they still aired videos) and a teenaged
romance with Drake -- another Next Big Thing --
provided enough fodder to keep gossipy tongues
clacking about more than her musical output:
sadly an industry prerequisite in the tabloid
But a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a
Grammy) and some career-making buzz on BET's 106
and Park have separated the singer from her pack
of Can-Pop contemporaries. A recent foray into
dance music has also diversified her sound and
given the singer more airplay than ever on
rigidly formulaic Top 40 playlists, though
Chanté remains dedicated to the genre that put
her on the map. "I'm always going to be an R&B
singer and I'm always going to love making R&B
pop music. I've been writing now and I've made
two-dozen songs and they're all really R&B, but
who knows? I might fall in love with house music
tomorrow and decide I want to do a half-house
album. And that's the beauty of being an
artist," she explains.
An artist dedicated to her native land despite
the fact that Canadians have a terrible track
record when it comes to supporting our own; we
seem to demand that our talent make it big in
the States first, as though our tastes must
somehow be validated. It's been a long-standing
tragedy that few Canadian artists, no matter how
gifted, enjoy the same degree of fan frenzy as a
Justin Bieber or Avril Lavigne. Even Vancouver's
reigning pop princess, Carly Rae Jepsen, had to
catch the ear of America before we paid her any
mind. (Now we're lining up to put her on
magazine covers before American interest in her
YouTube cover-spawning hit "Call Me Maybe"
wanes.) But despite the lure of several major
U.S. record deals, Chanté is choosing to risk it
on the homefront.
"I've been given a lot of opportunities in America, ones that probably
could have propelled me to crazy heights," she admits. "But I'm at a point
where I'm not interested in selling myself. I don't want to sell my soul.
And unfortunately, three or four of the deals that came up, deals that
were massive, basically I wouldn't have any control. I would be someone
else's puppet and I've been doing this for too long to just do that."
Part of Chanté's resolve comes from the time she took off from singing to
learn the industry ropes. The young singer perched at the foot of mentor,
lawyer and former Sony BMG Vice President, Christine "CJ" Prudham, and
armed herself with the legal knowhow to take control of her brand.
an artist is fun but just being an artist doesn't get you to where you
want to be," the forward-thinking star relates. "I learned about budgets,
royalties, mechanicals, legal things, how record labels make their money,
the route they go. I learned why it's important to own your own music. And
I wanted to own my own music. I thought that was a really cool thing, to
be your own boss."
Not that she was ever anyone's pushover. Chanté credits a close,
supportive family, trustworthy team members that have been with her from
the start, and an ability to "think like a man" in a heavily
male-dominated industry as the backbone of her survival.
"Even as a kid I was always around adults and growing up I always had a
lot of guy friends. I understand the psyche of a man," she says.
"Sometimes there's an energy of ‘Well, what are you going to do for me?' I
know that's really big in the States, not as much in Canada... I
definitely think it's tougher for female artists. You really have to be
strong and you really have to think like a man in a lot of ways."
Another male-dominated industry she's come to understand well is the NHL.
While her musical pursuits kept her from getting into hockey as a teen,
the artist has more than compensated for lost time since shacking up with
Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery.
"I do have a newfound appreciation. There are things [hockey players] go
through that are unbelievable. It's just a whole other level," she says.
"When [Blackhawks winger Marian] Hossa got hit I was bawling my eyes out.
I was worried about him. I was worried about his wife. All the wives and
girlfriends on the team, the things that they go through, it's crazy. It's
an interesting world but it's really fun to watch."
The couple met years ago at Emery's Halloween party back when he stopped
pucks for the Senators ("Fortunately, it's very boring in Ottawa so I was
like, OK, this is probably going to be the best party," she cracks) but it
wasn't until Emery's devastating avascular necrosis diagnosis in 2009 that
their friendship transformed into something deeper.
"It was a pretty dark time [for him] but that's when he reached out and
said, I could really use a friend," she relates. "They didn't think he
could walk again, let alone play, and to see him in that state of mind,
and me being in the state where I was really over the music industry, we
were both in dark places, but we found something in one another to get
through it and then it just kind of made sense."
Two years strong, the lovebirds flit between their homes in The Windy City
and Mississauga -- a city just west of Toronto. And here's where being
your own boss also has its perks: Chanté is able to build her schedule
around Emery's home games. That means from September and April she's on a
plane to Chicago twice a week, often to the great confusion of her
"They think I'm crazy. It's funny. We go to a game and they'll be like,
'Were you here yesterday?' And I'll be like, 'No,' and they'll say, 'But
you were at the game two nights ago, where were you in between?' And I'll
say, 'Oh I was in Toronto, I had to go to an event and just flew back.'
But it's such a short flight so it's good."
Young, aspiring artists, take note. This is the attitude that makes
"having it all" possible.