By Segodi Leshalabe & Milton B. Allen
Global Music Link Editorial Team
With a music career that has spanned over three decades, having been on tour around the world, including South Africa, the UK, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Austria, Germany, Holland, the USA, Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Zambia and Kenya, and having collaborated with renowned artists, like Pastor Donnie McClurkin, Israel Houghton, Micah Stampley and Lionel Petersen – winning multiple awards in the process – Chevelle Franklyn has undoubtedly earned legendary status.
She recently recorded her brand new album, South Wind, in South Africa, which is due for release later this year. Her new single, ‘Go In Your Strength’, is released in March, and is already making waves within music circles globally. On behalf of Keep The Faith magazine, Segodi Leshalabe took some time off to speak to Chevelle about her music career, family and the upcoming album.
Segodi Leshalabe (SL): You are about to release your latest album, South Wind, recorded in South Africa. Congratulations on that. How did it come about?
Chevelle Franklyn (CF):“Well, I went to South Africa a few years ago, where I happened to produce an album with various local artists. It wasn’t even my album; I was just blessed to be able to produce an album that included Ntokozo Mbambo, Judith Sephuma, Lionel Petersen, Mahalia Buchanan and a number of other South African artists. I was amazed by the level of talent there, the richness of the gifts, and I said to myself that any day I’m doing another project, a worship album, I’m coming right back to South Africa. So about seven months ago, I went to South Africa to record two to three songs, but it so happened that in the two weeks I was there, a whole album was produced. That’s how the album title ‘South Wind’ came about.”
SL: What can people expect from this latest offering?
CF: “The album is total worship. My other albums were about testimonies, but on this one the focus is more about worshipping God. It’s pointing just to Him. It’s not talking about what I have been through or how the Lord was good to me, no, this album is total worship, total exaltation, admiration to God, and celebrating who He is and what He can do for me. And I also sing in a little bit of Zulu (one of South Africa’s indigenous languages) in it.”
SL: You worked with Nqubeko Mbatha, one of South Africa’s great talents. Having worked with many artists there, including the country’s leading ensemble, Joyous Celebration, what was your experience working with him and all the other artists you worked with?
CF: “I met Nqubeko the first time I came to South Africa many years back. At the time he was just one of the musicians, but I was blown away by his level of skill and his level of production. Over the years I kept in contact with him and other friends like Mojalefa Mjakes, who is also one of top producers there. Overall it was such an amazing experience being there. It was like everything was just right. It’s a rare occurrence to have a moment where you have all the right people in the room, and with this album, all the right persons were in the room. It was a dream for me when I was there to produce this album.”
SL: This is the second time you’ve released an album recorded in South Africa. Is it your love for the country? Their sound? Culture? People? What is it that attracted you to go back there?
CF: “You know what? Everything about South Africa will actually attract anybody to go back, because the culture is rich, and even though the country is so far from the West, the culture, the music, the food, the fashion, the people, the heritage and all of that is just amazing. It’s one of those countries you go to, and you are just in awe of the goodness of God in that land. And not forgetting the level of musicianship that’s there. I also need to add this: when I was singing secular music, at a young age I was actually doing background vocals for some of the songs that were about apartheid and the freedom of Mandela, and so when I got the chance to go back to see where I was singing about, just to be in that land is an amazing experience.”
SL: You have been in the music space for over three decades now. What would you say is your secret to staying on course and relevant for so long?
CF: “I think one of the key aspects of it is just being open to change. Not being hard and fastened on what you know. Just because it has been done like this for 15 years, does not mean it still should be done the same way. Just be open to change, and surround yourself with people who are creative and younger than you or even older. And one other thing is travelling. I travel a lot to places like Africa, America and Europe, and that enables me to keep seeing new things which I can implement into my music and thus keep evolving.”
SL: You certainly would have come across various challenges in your music journey, so how did you overcome them?
CF: “I have encountered a lot of them, but the key one for me would have been to not allow anyone to intimidate me. Some people tend to be territorial, and so sometimes when you enter into certain spaces, especially where there are cultural differences, there are a few people who may try to make you feel like you are not good enough, that you are not welcome or you don’t have what it takes. But the main thing is to not allow anyone to intimidate you. I had to come to a place very early in my career that I’m enough to do what I’m called to do. God didn’t give me half anything, what I have is enough to do what I’m called to do. And so, I will not allow anyone to intimidate me, nor allow them to make me feel less than who God says I am.”
SL: What lessons or advice would you give to youngsters who are trying to carve out a career for themselves in the music space?
CF: “My advice would be that they should appoint themselves mentors, have someone who has already gone ahead of you, walked that walk and accomplished something, and who will then save you many years of setbacks, saving you from making the same mistakes they themselves made and learned from. Mentorship is one key ingredient in having longevity. Another important aspect is character development, because even though a gift will make room for you, it will take good character to keep you in the room. I have sung with many great artists who have been in the industry for long, and one of the key things they had in common was humility and having respect for those who have gone ahead of them and paved a way.”
SL: Your career saw you move from singing secular music to singing gospel. Please share with us your music and what brought the transformation?
CF:“The majority of Jamaican children grew up in church, and my journey was also similar. I started in church although I wasn’t very active, because I didn’t know I could sing at that very young age. So I wasn’t a big part of the music setup. Eventually I started with secular music and, in my mind, I was thinking that acquiring certain things would help me fill the void that was missing from my life. I’m from a very poor background, and so obviously money and fame were the key things. And it was not so much about helping me alone but also helping those who were connected to me, to try and change certain cycles in my family and in my community. But even when I was doing secular music, meeting all these big people, like your Mariah Careys, Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, Ricky Martins, Miriam Makeba and many others, and getting exposed to their world, I realised that wasn’t enough for what I thought it could fix. The void was still there. And one evening, as I was doing a secular concert, one of the biggest concerts in Jamaica, between the MC calling my name and me going on stage, God spoke. I felt the power of God on me while walking from backstage to the stage. And that was when everything turned for me. At that time, I was signed to a record label in America, recorded an album, photo shoot was done, everything was ready and I had the hit song of the year in the same year, and everyone was waiting for me to sing that song that night. But that didn’t happen. The presence of God took over and that was the turning point for my music career.”
SL: Your music journey includes lots of collaborations. Are they something you firmly believe in? And how do you select who to collaborate with?
CF: “I have been doing collaborations for a very long time. Even before I got saved, I worked with this guy called Shabba Ranks on a very big international song called ‘Mr Loverman’. And the last secular song I did was a collaboration with a DJ from Jamaica called Beenie Man, and the song was called ‘Dancehall Queen’. Those guys were very good friends of mine, and when I got saved, I still wanted to be in a position where I don’t just collaborate with people I don’t know, but with people I have a relationship with or their ministry has moved me. I believe in collaborations; I love them, and I believe it’s good for people to come together and share their talents.”
SL: You have toured the world to many places. Which country or city would you say is your favourite and why?
CF: (Starts by laughing) “You know what? I think you can guess which is my favourite. I mean we have been talking about it. South Africa will probably be number one and number two and number three. It has such a rich culture, the architecture blew my mind and the beautiful people, you know. I’m not talking as if South Africa is perfect, because they do have problems like everybody else, every other country, but there is something that stands out about South Africa that a lot of other nations don’t have. And I really hope South Africans see the beauty in themselves, in their country and in their culture as the world sees them, because they have something very special.”
SL: Any planned tours following the release of your upcoming album?
CF:“Most definitely. We plan to tour to various regions including Africa, America, Canada, Asia and, of course, the Caribbean because this album is called South Wind and God is going to cause that wind to do some things, to purify some things, and is gonna blow into many different nations to bring change.”
SL: You most definitely would have seen God at work in your life along your life journey. Which would you consider your greatest testimony in your walk with Him?
CF: Just knowing that He will open certain doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. And His love for us, calling us worthy even when people might have written us off.
SL: Lastly, what would you like to say to our readers and to your fans, who have been following you and your music over the past three decades?
CF: “The first thing is that I love you guys, and I appreciate you. I’m grateful to God that you are appreciative of the gift God has given me to share with you. Please continue to support me in prayer, and most importantly I’d like to tell you to never forget that God is fighting for you, no matter what the situation looks like. It may look like you are losing but you will not lose. God is fighting for you and you are coming through. Anything you are going through, know that you are coming through as pure gold. I love you guys, and I’m so grateful that you are a part of my journey. Let’s keep sharpening each other. Thank you.”
‘Go In Your Strength’ is released worldwide in March.