There is a naivety in children that we love, laugh and joke about. We all had it once and it comes bundled with telling people they look old, wondering why Asian people have different eyes, asking why the sky is blue and realising that this whole time it was never called Spice Town.
Most of us lose it and we become fact-checking-nay-saying-rule-obeying sheep because we fulfil the role we think we should be playing. I have my first job so it’s time to act serious. I have been give more responsibility so now I’ll mimic that angry person who is the boss of bosses… And then the moment our first grandchild is born we suddenly get tired early, dress ridiculously and find reasons to shout at young people from our porches because they’re having too much fun.
But that’s most of us. The rest of us will stay young at heart forever. Confused by angry managers at work, young grandparents acting old and wondering why we’re being shouted at for being happy. It all, in turn, makes the angry people even angrier because we just won’t conform! So here we are bouncing through life whilst with the knowledge, deep down inside, that we’re making this planet a brighter place.
Enter Mia Ch’An Cumberbatch. At the age of five she had her first solo because someone had to figure out what to do with this little ball of fire who refused to blend in with the rest of the choir. She wouldn’t stick to her part for a ten second harmony! At football the boys would call her Kryptonite because she was so good at stealing the ball and today she’s a 24-year-old who has been on a solo tour for four years. She is what she is and there is so much joy radiating from her that you can’t help but love her. Just you even dare try to shout at her from your porch!
The journey from getting stuck in trees to being a full-time solo artist was a long and winding one during which Ch’An had to abandon her studies and convince her parents that singing was what she actually wanted to do.
At school she would participate in everything to get her house more points and it’s not that she was fantastically good at everything but when all the points added up, her contribution to the house pushed it up through the rankings and they made her deputy house captain. It’s often surprising how the little things add up.
Ch’An did half a bachelor’s degree before quitting through the sheer anxiety of driving up that hill at UWI for class. All she knew was that she wanted to sing and yet she spent every day forcing herself to believe that UWI was what she had to do. She cried her way home and after a talk with her parents her father told her to go for it. That was her green light.
Today Ch’An is the first person to say that you need to at least finish school. Even school-level literature has helped how she approaches writing and her education has become an asset when it comes to creating. Having an awareness of all major subjects at least allows you to accomplish your day-to-day as an artist and develop yourself as a human being. Know your history to know where you came from and with this you will know where you’re going. You don’t necessarily need a list of certificates but you do need to know how to become a well-rounded person.
As much as we are privileged to meet such incredible artists on such a regular basis, we have consistently learnt that one of the hardest things to do is be an artist and still make a living from it. Barbados is a tough place to earn your bacon, let alone become an entrepreneur, so becoming a musician is no easy feat by any measure. A lot of Ch’An’s musician-friends stay creative whether they’re graphic designers or music teachers or even running production studios so that, when they get their spare time, their creativity is already flowing. If Ch’An didn’t have the single-minded dedication that has made her the happiest person alive, she would be in a very different job today.
So what’s in store for Ch’An’s career?
Early on when she started working with managers they wanted to make her into a success and they had their own formula but when an artist is as charismatically single-minded as Ch’An there has to be a middle ground.
I was working for people who said this is what you should do even if that’s not what you’re all about. Jazz isn’t something that many 20-year-old girls do. They set me up to look super poppy but I would come on stage and sing my jazz. It didn’t feel right.
Her four years of solo touring has taken her through St Maarten, Trinidad, Curacao and even The Dominican Republic. They would always introduce her as Ch’An from Barbados… The home of Rihanna.
Now if you have had the chance to see Ch’An perform at Mahalia’s Corner (which is now so successful that it’s not so much a corner anymore as it is the Lloyd Sandiford Centre) you will know what she is made of. When you see what she’s made of you will quickly realise that she doesn’t need to be introduced as the girl from where Rihanna came. She steals the show every single time she comes on stage. And she’s not trying to do straight jazz anymore, she’s evolving.
When you’re listening to the radio and hear an Amy Winehouse come Erykah Badu voice you’ll know who you’re listening to.
I want my audience to move! A sit-down audience won’t do. One of those outdoor concerts in fields where everyone can get up and dance.
So from here Ch’An will continue touring the world and having an ice cream wherever she drops her hat. It’s simply a matter of time before she’s introduced as Ch’An from Barbados.