When it comes to jazz-pop, incredible female singers are hard to find. Joelle Charan is certainly one of them. And today I’ve had an opportunity to interview this talented artist. There’s a lesson to be learned from a lot of, mostly pop musicians, who have tried their shot at playing jazz records, and it’s a simple one: Not everyone can do it! Except maybe for Lady Gaga.
Joelle writes songs with a strong narrative. She captures her listener with descriptive lyrics that tell stories inspired by her Indian grandparents, her family’s hardships, and her adventures in New York. Drawing musical inspiration from the likes of Laura Mvula, Daniel Lanois and Lizz Wright, Joelle’s dreamy pop songs are infused with classical Indian elements for a sound which is both immersive and full of surprises.
When realising the vision for her music, Joelle enjoys complete creative control. She plays and experiments with traditional Indian instruments for her tracks, arranges the string quartet, writes scripts for video clips and photoshoots, and takes the lead in the studio. With this control, her songs truly feel like her own and something she can be proud of.
Since releasing her debut EP Silhouette in 2018, Joelle has performed extensively, attracting attention from radio, television and press throughout the Netherlands. Highlights include performing in Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam for Uitmarkt Festival 2019 as well as airplay and live performances on NPO Radio 1, NPO Radio 5, Sublime FM and Omrop Fryslân. She returned with her new single ‘I Believe In You’ that was released in the United Kingdom on 24th August 2020. Her second EP ‘Ashira’ is set for release on her father’s birthday, 12th October 2020. Read more here
Lisa: What first got you into music?
Joelle: Born and raised in Amsterdam to a Catholic mother and Hindu father, I am empowered by my mixed heritage and religions. My father is a descendent of indentured labourers from northwest India who worked under harsh conditions in Suriname following the abolition of slavery. I have reclaimed the surname ‘Charan’ after my family’s original surname ‘Goercharan’ was misspelled by a municipal official as ‘Goercharn’ upon their arrival in Amsterdam from Paramaribo, Suriname. With its correct spelling, ‘Charan’ means feet of the Lord, a name of honour which I celebrate in my identity and music.
Upon graduating from the Conservatory of Amsterdam, I moved to New York to deepen my knowledge of songwriting. I studied at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan with generous scholarships from the prestigious Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and the conservatory itself. I found inspiration in all corners of the city and returned from my year in New York with a suitcase full of beautiful new songs.
Lisa: How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Joelle: I write songs with a strong narrative. I intend to capture my listener with descriptive lyrics that tell stories inspired by my Indian grandparents, my family’s hardships, and my adventures in New York. Drawing musical inspiration from the likes of Laura Mvula, Daniel Lanois and Lizz Wright, my dreamy pop songs are infused with classical Indian elements for a sound which others say is both immersive and full of surprises.
Lisa: What is your creative process like?
Joelle: When realising the vision for my music, I enjoy complete creative control. I play and experiment with traditional Indian instruments for tracks, arrange the string quartet, write scripts for music videos and photoshoots, and take the lead in the studio. With this control, my music truly feels like my own and something I can be proud of.
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit more about your favorite song and what inspired you to make it?
Joelle: After the release of my debut EP ‘Silhouette’ in the Netherlands in 2018, I have returned with what is currently my favourite song and new single: ‘I Believe In You’. It was released in the US and UK on 24th August 2020.
The inspiration for ‘I Believe In You’ came on a holiday in northwestern Scotland. One night I saw a lonely man standing at the edge of the sea, staring over the waves towards a lighthouse reflected in the bay. When the light came his way, he just reached for it. He seemed to be looking for something, trying to grasp its light in his fingers. I wondered who he was and what had happened to him to make him do what he did. I wanted to write a song that encourages people, and lets them know they are never alone.
Lisa: Which famous musicians do you admire?
Joelle: Prince. He was an amazing artist and musician, as well as a musical movement on his own. He was a perfectionist and could play every instrument on his tracks with the greatest care. When realising the vision for his music and artistry, he too enjoyed complete creative control.
Lisa: What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
Joelle: When I moved to New York right after New Year’s, I was taken by surprise by the worst snowstorm to have hit the city since 1997. The city was locked down for days: the subway frozen in place, cars swept off the streets, even a visit to the grocery store around the corner seemed nearly impossible. Coming from the Netherlands, I had never experienced such a force of nature.
I remember that everybody around me started helping each other out of that mess. The homeless were brought into the warmth of the shelters by passers-by on the street, the laundry guy helped the cleaner get to work on time. I helped an old lady get across the street safely. And when I fell into a big puddle of ice water, a stranger gave me dry socks. It became clear to me that despite its cold appearance, New York has a big heart. It was very special to be part of it.
Lisa: What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Joelle: Whilst growing up my mum told me to follow my heart whatever I do, wherever I am. She told me to always be a strong and independent woman. “Never tag along but choose your own path”, she would say. “Always smile and keep on dreaming”. I chose music for a career in life and have never regretted that decision since.
Lisa: What’s next for you?
Joelle: My second EP ‘Ashira’ will be released in the US and UK on my father’s birthday, 12th October 2020. At the moment I am also working on several new songs for my third EP.
Joelle received the Jonge Musici Fonds Award / Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
Also a grant for studies at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York.
UK press, radio and live tour – EP ‘Ashira’ (2020 – 2021):
– Release of new single I Believe In You on Aug 24, 2020
-Exclusive premiere with US magazine Nerds and Beyond.
-Thus far the single has been added to the playlists of 5 UK radio stations.
– Release of single Man In A Town Car + 2nd EP Ashira on Oct 12, 2020.
Press quotes so far:
“I Believe In You carries a simplistic beauty” (US magazine Nerds and Beyond)
Performing in Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam for Uitmarkt Festival 2019 (The Netherlands).
Live-stream performance for Uitmarkt Festival 2020 (The Netherlands).
Press, radio and live tour (The Netherlands) – Debut EP ‘Silhouette’ (2018 – 2019):
Incl. live performances and airplay on Dutch stations such as NPO Radio 1, NPO Radio 5, Sublime FM and Omrop Fryslân.