Jessica Chaz Reveals the Transformative and Resilient Nature Behind ‘River EP’
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Jessica Chaz Reveals the Transformative and Resilient Nature Behind ‘River EP’

In the melodic world where heartstrings meet the harmony of life’s ebb and flow, Jessica Chaz, an artist whose journey from the vibrant shores of Durban, South Africa, to the bustling cityscape of Vancouver, Canada, unfolds a story of hope, resilience, and the search for purpose. The “River EP,” a project that began with a single track and blossomed into a narrative of transformation, reflects Jessica Chaz’s introspective journey through the pandemic, personal challenges, and the quest for musical essence. Amidst a conversation with I2R, Jessica Chaz reveals the inspiration behind the title “River EP,” the influence of diverse cultural backgrounds on her music, and how personal experiences of loss and recovery have shaped her latest work. This project, marking a significant moment in Jessica’s musical journey, not only charts on iTunes but also serves as a vessel of hope, blending genres like R&B, Folk, and Soul to connect deeply with listeners worldwide. Check out our exclusive interview with Jessica below.

I2R: What inspired the title “River EP,” and how does it encapsulate the themes within the project?

JC: River was the first track we started working on for this EP. It was the beginning of this project and was also an inspiration for some of the other tracks. The common theme of the album is hope, love and purpose. That’s what River is about, holding on through the journey of the River to your purpose. There are also love songs, and songs about hoping and trusting through the journey. River links them all together, both in spirit and message.

I2R: Reflecting on your journey from Durban, South Africa, to Vancouver, Canada, how do you think your diverse heritage has shaped your music, especially in this latest EP?

JC: Living in the communities I did, has definitely had an impact on my work. I think living in two cities with multicultural diversity has afforded me the opportunity to hear an eclectic mix of music and genres. I have also had the privilege of working with amazing artists in Canada, South Africa, the US and the UK, who brought different perspectives and work processes to the mix and I learnt a lot through that.

I2R: The “River EP” marks a deeper exploration into your musical essence compared to your previous work. Can you share a pivotal moment or insight that sparked this introspective journey?

JC: River was already written when we started this project. The other songs were written during the pandemic. The lockdown was a difficult time – we were anxious, scared and grieving the people we lost around the world. Music in any form, whether writing, creating or listening has always been uplifting and encouraging to me. Working on this project forced me to change my focus from the awful that was happening in that moment to the music in this album and the hope and light it could bring. Another memorable moment was that I created a list of artists I wanted to work with on each track, knowing what they would bring to the music. I contacted each person and every one that I reached out to said yes – this was special to me.

I2R: You’ve mentioned that the “River EP” is a narrative of transformation and resilience. Could you elaborate on a personal experience that influenced this narrative?

JC: I think that after the last four years it is impossible to think that we aren’t all transformed in some way. Personally, I lost my voice mid way through this project, I had to relearn how to breathe, sing and use my voice. While I was recording, I couldn’t sing easily or hear clearly through one or both of my ears and struggled to breathe deeply; but I had to record, so my recording process had to chang to also include some days where I recorded just by hearing the music in one ear and would gauge my voice by the physical feel of singing in relation to it. It has thankfully started to get better with time, with physical rehab and treatment and I’m still on the journey to complete healing. This experience transformed the way I approach my craft, with a changed perspective that taught me to hope when there’s nothing you can do but wait – that grew resilience in me.

I2R: The title track “River” uses the river as a metaphor for life’s journey. What prompted you to choose this metaphor, and how do you see it reflecting your own life and career?

JC: Rivers ebb and flow, just like our lives do. This reflects my life and career both personally and professionally, and I feel that applies to most people. We all have ups and downs, starts and stops. For example, when we immigrated we had to start from scratch, there were many challenges but once we were here for a while and went back home, life and people had moved on, as it does for everyone. Neither of these things are bad but they were tricky to navigate and like with River and rivers, we all had to adjust as did everyone in our lives; and as we were changing, we were all growing, evolving and life was continuing to move forward. No matter the difficulty, it flowed like a river but there was confidence that the River would take us where we needed to be.

I2R: “River” made a significant splash on the iTunes pop charts by reaching number 45. How does achieving this milestone reflect on your musical journey, and what does it mean to you personally and professionally?

JC: This was such a special moment, both for me as a musician and also for the label, Moodlab Music that I co-founded. It was amazing that this project we worked on for four years, was listened to at that level, that it was doing well and charted on the US Pop Charts. Still can’t quite believe it.

I2R: Recording during a period of global uncertainty must have posed challenges. How did this context influence the creative process and thematic direction of the EP?

JC: It posed new challenges on many levels, but thankfully I had recorded part of my first EP remotely already so I had some experience recording and producing that way. Some of the good that came of the process being entirely remote was that I had the opportunity to work with friends from South Africa, Canada, USA and UK. I also made some new connections, colleagues and friends along the four year journey. The musicians being from different places, with different strengths in genres or styles allowed for the thematic direction to be a little more global in experience and sound.

I2R: Your music blends R&B, Folk, and Soul. Can you discuss the process of integrating these genres and how it contributes to the EP’s emotional depth?

JC: Blending the genres was risky and took a learning curve to communicate remotely. Thankfully, I worked with people I had worked with before and some understood what I was trying to get to and some just nailed their part in their genre and trusted me to work with it. It was a lot of fun but also nerve wracking at times because I was hoping it would sound as good as it did in my head – and until the end product it was tough to know if it would. The musicians and engineers I worked with are so talented and are so committed to their craft that it reflected in their work. They trusted me as I did them and it was so amazing when it came together.

I2R: Collaboration is a cornerstone of your work. How did you select the artists and musicians to feature on the “River EP,” and what was the collaborative process like?

JC: Like I mentioned earlier, I had already worked with the musicians who played on the album. For each song on this album, I felt like I knew who would be best for each track, and when I reached out, thankfully, they all said yes. The collaborative process was interesting, because recording and producing entirely remotely was complicated at times; especially on some of the tracks, where we wanted that intimate, live feel. It also took a longer time than expected because of scheduling and time zone differences, also figuring out the entirely new remote process – but because we had worked together before we were able to find ways to communicate that allowed us to be on the same page. It was definitely different though, no group rehearsals, most of the artists including myself, recording from home or wherever we could get to. As stressful as it was at times it’s also pretty amazing looking back on it now.

I2R: The EP seems to serve as a vessel of hope and connection. Was this intentional, and if so, how do you hope your listeners will respond to this message? 

JC: It was intentional, in that, we were writing and creating at a time of uncertainty mid pandemic. We were at home, and parts of our business had closed. I’m Christian, in times of trouble, I turn to my faith and the hope that comes from it. And music, music has always helped me when I’m down or overwhelmed or stressed. I hope that listeners would find some comfort or encouragement in hoping, dreaming, believing, things can get better, in whatever circumstance they may find themselves in.

I2R: With elements of Folk music allowing for a raw connection with your audience, what are some of the stories or wisdom you hope to share through these songs?

JC: The whole album is about hoping, believing, love and family. I think being reminded that it’s ok to hope, to dream, to believe, to fall in love and be loved and to appreciate your family in whatever form that may exist for you – is all ok. I think being grateful for the good and for the love we have in our lives will always be stronger than anything else.

I2R: Music often serves as a powerful tool for healing and inspiration. Can you share a story about how creating or sharing your music has impacted you or your listeners in this way?

JC: During the pandemic, I performed for an online fundraising concert in South Africa to support women who have experienced Gender Based Violence. I performed one of my songs off my first EP, Answer. We received a positive response from people attending, that some had felt seen and encouraged. That was such a special response to receive, it wasn’t written with that in mind but it helped people and there’s nothing better than that.

I2R: As you’ve grown both individually and artistically, how do you feel your songwriting and musical priorities have evolved?

JC: After working on this project, with all the ups and downs, I feel it has increased the flexibility in my process. You just have to improvise sometimes. That’s been quite an impact on my priorities. Secondly, I have found that in songwriting and producing, working with people you trust and enjoy working with is evident in the completed work.

I2R: Looking back on the creation of “River EP,” is there a particular song or moment in the process that stands out as especially meaningful or transformative for you?

JC: With “Follow my heart featuring Wesley Hippolyte” I had wanted to record a version of this with a live, close up, raw, kind of feel. Thankfully, I have worked with Wes for 24 years so we have a sense of phrasing or a general idea of what playing live together feels like. With this track, we were able to both be in a space where the meaning of the song, the presence and the sound came together in such a special way that it felt like we were performing live in the same room. That was a meaningful moment in the recording process for me.

I2R: The “River EP” invites listeners on a path of self-discovery and reflection. What advice would you give to those embarking on their own journeys of self-exploration through music?

JC: I would say listen to your gut or your instinct, the only way you can grow confidence in that is by listening to it, trying things out and figuring out if that’s what you were hearing or aiming it to be. This project has helped me develop that skill more because prior to this point, it was sometimes difficult to not second guess myself, when I was given critique. There are times when I still defer to the people I work with, who I trust, but when I do, I don’t second guess that choice anymore.

I2R: Finally, with the release of the “River EP,” what do you envision for the next chapter of your musical voyage, and how do you hope to continue evolving as an artist?

JC: I am currently working on a few projects, a few remixes of the tracks on the River EP and a new project entirely that has more of a jazz influence than my previous releases. I’m excited and a little nervous to be working on some jazz standards again. I am enjoying the pre-production process though and am happy that everyone will get to hear some of the jazz standards that I love.