Interview With Chel: 'NOLAH,' Influences, Beyoncé, and More
Chel is an up-and-coming R&B and pop singer-songwriter based in London, England. She released her EP, NOLAH, on July 16.
NOLAH is one-of-a-kind, empowering, and will have you dancing for five tracks straight. "Next Level" is a catchy anthem, with relatable lyrical content, flawlessly arranged synth and bass parts, and an energizing drum beat. The strong chorus of "More" will live in your head rent-free; you'll never want to stop listening to the song. The instrumental elements of each track highlight Chel's vocal performance and add to the dynamic range of the release. NOLAH is masterful wake-up call–a reminder to know your worth and accept only positive relationships into your life.
We spoke to Chel about her influences, favorite concert, NOLAH, and more. Read the full interview and check out Chel's EP below. Let us know what you think.
Where are you based? What’s the music scene like there?
I’m based in London, in the UK. London has one of the best scenes in the world. The new music scene is crazy over here; there are a lot of genres that are really on the rise… UK rap is really coming up, Afro-swing, all sorts of sounds. What’s great about it is that anybody can make anything they want, and people are very accepting. It’s so culturally diverse, and that’s what makes it so special. You meet people from everywhere in the world, and they’re all bringing their own spice of life into the equation.
"You meet people from everywhere in the world, and they’re all bringing their own spice of life into the equation."
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
The best concert I’ve ever been to was a Beyoncé show in London. It was crazy–I knew she was good, but I didn’t realize she was that good.
At what age did you start playing music?
I’ve been playing music for forever. In year three (about eight years old), I joined the school choir. My secondary school was a performing arts school, and my form tutor there was a drama teacher. From the age of eight, I was always in school musicals and performances.
My dad sings, my mom sings, we sing at home, so it was always normal for me to just sing; I had never thought much about it. I started writing, and I used to go on SoundClick, find a beat, and just write to it. Some people keep a journal or a diary, but my outlet has always been my original music.
Do you come from a musical family?
I don’t come from a musical family, but my parents have always supported and encouraged me. Being African and Caribbean, music is a massive part of my culture. There’s music at church, at events, and at home–someone’s always got music blasting out loud.
Who or what inspired you when you were first starting out?
I had an older family friend that I looked up to, and she would always bring CDs to my house. No matter what I was doing, I always had CDs playing in the background–Aaliyah, Ashanti, Jennifer Lopez, Timbaland, JoJo… I wanted to be JoJo so badly; I couldn’t believe she was just 13 (the same age as I was). I wanted to emulate her voice, songwriting, and confidence. Her music was so believable; even though she was only 13, you’d really believe she was heartbroken.
Who are your biggest musical influences now?
Eric Bellinger is an absolute beast with his writing. Tank is phenomenal; how does somebody write and sing like that? I love Tinashe–I think she’s very versatile and that to me is alternative R&B. Kehlani is another massive inspiration for me. I saw her in 2015 when she had just been nominated for a GRAMMY and she was absolutely amazing.
Why do you love music?
I love music because it’s a part of my everyday life, and it’s the only thing that truly expresses how I feel. I associate my life changes and my mood with music; It can make me happy, calm me down, or comfort me when I’m sad. Music is one of the only things that has been consistent throughout human time, no matter what culture you come from. Whether you’re white, black, British, purple, green–whatever it is, music transcends time and reflects life. I can’t imagine a life without music.
"Whether you’re white, black, British, purple, green–whatever it is, music transcends time and reflects life."
Talk about your EP NOLAH What is it about? What does the title stand for?
The “N-O” stands for “no,” and the “L-A-H” stands for “love around here.” It’s about cutting out toxic love. No confusing love. No dead love. No ambiguous love. It’s about wanting to be clear in everything that I do. “NOLAH” essentially means “no negative love.” I’ve come into a part of my life where I have accepted a lot of things because it’s the easiest way to deal with things. Whether it’s poor relationships or friendships that do more harm than good, I don’t want that energy in my life anymore. A lot changed for me last year (when lockdown began); I moved out of my family home, the place that I moved to was absolutely horrible, I lost people during that time–I was tested a lot. NOLAH is like a clean slate… I’m not accepting anything that’s mediocre anymore.
"It’s about cutting out toxic love. No confusing love. No dead love. No ambiguous love. It’s about wanting to be clear in everything that I do."
Walk me through your songwriting process.
A lot of it happens in real-time. At the time when I wrote the songs on NOLAH, I was going through a lot of changes. “More,” the fourth track on the album, was actually written in 2018, but I knew that I wanted to release it as a part of a body of work, not as a single. The inspiration for that song was the realization that you don’t need to be in a relationship with every single person you meet.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
I want people to see me not only as an urban artist, but as a versatile musician. Most of what I’ve done so far has been pop and R&B, but I’d love to also move into Afro-pop and Afro-R&B. I never want to limit myself, so I’m going to write what feels authentic to me–you can always expect the unexpected with my music.