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Moving through space with Tucson's Chezale
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Moving through space with Tucson's Chezale

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  • Chezale at Tucson Hip Hop Festival
    Julius SchlosbergChezale at Tucson Hip Hop Festival
  • Chezale and local band the Unday on the set of the video for
    Courtesy of The Unday Chezale and local band the Unday on the set of the video for "Making Out With Maker's Mark"

Hey there, music friends, how are you doing? Really, though, seriously, how are you doing?

If you're anything like your friendly neighborhood music columnist, you're getting by day-by-day, but it isn't always easy. Staying indoors for too long can make you stir crazy, either from too much alone time or not enough, depending on your living situation. It can be hard to concentrate. To write or to play music or make art or whatever it is you usually do when not contemplating the would-be apocalypse.

Venturing out into the world can be stressful, too. The streets are oddly silent and the sidewalks are empty, even if the day itself is gorgeously warm and sunny. When you do encounter another soul, it's likely in the grocery store, where folks crowd just a tiny bit too close alternately terrified or just annoyed behind their masks.

You miss the casual comfort of stopping by a regular haunt, ordering “just the usual” and checking out a band while catching up on gossip with your downtown friends.

But you can take a little bit of comfort in knowing that your trusty scribe is feeling much the same, so you're not really all that alone. Let's grab a virtual pint, settle down on the couch in lieu of a bar stool, listen to some bands and talk about some local music news.

It's been so long since we last hung out, and we've got lots to talk about, starting with a conversation with new-to-this-column local musician/dancer/actor Chezale.

Chezale - 'Special Friend'

TucsonSentinel.com: Hey Chezale, welcome to our virtual table at the virtual bar. Pull up a “chair” and tell us about yourself! What’s you origin story as a musician and performer?

Chezale: “Let's see. I was pretty much born into music and dance and being a natural performer. Those things really chose me. My first official musical performance for a public event doing my original songs solo was at the age of 14 and my first stage performance for the community was at the age of 10. It was a dance performance that my mom set up for me and my cousins.”

“I've been performing in school since I was nine years old when I picked up the violin. I went to a performing arts-focused middle school and high school, so I pretty much lived on the stage. I also worked on my performance chops occasionally in church as a pre-teen. In my earlier days I would also dance for my family at family functions. I was always the 'go-to' girl for entertainment. My love and talent for the arts just evolved naturally over the years because I was always working on my craft in some form or fashion as an active student, participant and leader.”

TS: How did you fall in love with music to begin with? What bands and solo artists have inspired you over time?

C: “I have young parents who are both music lovers. Naturally, I grew up in a household that was rich with loving to dance, sing, rap and listen to music. I actually try to capture some of this nostalgia on my debut album 'The Making of a Maverick' (on Bandcamp.) Everything from R&B to hip hop, jazz to soul and so on was playing all the time.”

“My inspirations are so vast, really thanks to my mom’s and my family's musical collections. Some of the artists playing in my household were Public Enemy, Super Cat, Sade, Whitney Houston, Club Nouveau, Karyn White, Rachelle Ferrell and Stephanie Mills just to name a few.My standout favorites growing up were Queen Latifah, Michael and Janet Jackson, Brandy, Destiny's Child, Selena, Notorious BIG, Snoop Dogg and a few others.”

TS: What has your experience been in the Tucson music scene?

C: ”My experience in the Tucson music scene has been rich. I'm grateful for this desert soil that I've continued to sow my creative oats in and the recognition I've received and continue to receive for my efforts and years of work in this community. I also appreciate the other artists I've crossed paths with and learned from. This is a unique place that plays it's own funky little tune.”

TS: How would you compare efforts to carve out a career as a national presence vs. as part of the local scene?

C: ”I've had my own experiences with the industry outside of Tucson. Carving out space for yourself in any scene requires a level of work. Whether it be networking, auditioning, performing etc. Whatever one defines as success I think requires a level of consistency, authenticity, tenacity, creativity and belief in one's self as an artist. Learning how to navigate that with the resources and support you have, big or small. Growing and letting the work speak for itself. This has always been my approach, whether local or non-local. I also know that especially when it comes to wanting to create a larger presence for yourself outside of your city requires a level of risk-taking and being OK with being uncomfortable.”

TS: What music do you listen to for fun?

C: ”Now that I've finally subscribed to Spotify, I've been able to explore music at my fingertips. I moved between different kinds of music. My favorite album and artist out right now is 'Black Habits' by Dsmoke.”

TS: Who are your favorite local bands and local venues?

C: “A Spotify playlist was just created by Emmy Wildwood called 'Tucson Shoptalk Playlist,' inspired by a group of badass creative womxn that I'm happy to be a part of. It's been fun to listen to local artists. The creator of that group is musician Jillian Bessett who I'm a fan of personally and musically. I'm also a fan of Katie Haverly, Birds and Arrows, Lokimoon, Trahma, and Mattea just to name a few locals.”

“My favorite traditional local venues to play (that are still standing) have been Club Congress & 191 Toole.”

TS: Recording experiences?

C: ”I've done all my recordings locally at different home studios and traditional brick-and-mortar ones. I started recording music mostly after graduating high school. That process is always intimate and fun for me. I like to be alone in the studio so that I can really be comfortable and tap in freely. It's enough for me having the engineer listening to me so closely!”

TS: Any touring experiences?

C: ”Shockingly enough, I've yet to officially tour with my original music. That is still a bucket-list item for me. I have toured as a singer in an all-girl quartet of powerhouse vocalists called 'The Doowop Divas.' We covered doo-wop and Motown hits from a ton of famous girl groups. That was a blast! Full production, big band, multiple costume changes etc. We toured some pretty lavish retirement communities throughout Arizona and Florida.”

TS: Sounds unusual, but kind of fun all the same! Future plans and directions as an artist?

C: "My plan right now is to get back to releasing new music. It's been five years since my last official digital musical release. Though I’ve worked on other musical projects, I took some time off from writing new solo and original songs, and it feels good to be back at it. I plan to release more singles, maybe some visuals to go with those and to just share that part of me with the universe again. New stories, new sounds.”

TS: Always exciting to hear! You’re also a dancer and an actor. Are the elements of movement and theatre discipline when you perform as a musician?

C: "When I perform, it's usually solo, though sometimes I do invite dancers to be a part of my show. A lot of practice & planning goes into that. Being someone with the dance background I have, moving comes naturally to me. I understand that's not the same for everyone.”

TS: How can folks who aren't as comfortable in the spotlight learn to tune into movement as part of their own stage presence?

C: “With my knowledge of the stage, some advice I would give is that it's important to own and move through your space. Mostly with intention, but sometimes not. Sometimes you just have to let whatever is going to happen happen. It's the unplanned moments that stand out the most. With that, I come from a history of practice. The more you practice, in a sense, the more comfortable you become. Get used to your body and your own movements, work on your eye contact to make a connection with your audience, and focus on BREATHING. I should really teach a course on stage presence!

TS: Seriously, you could! Tell us about your newest release? How did it come to fruition? Where did you record it? When is it coming out, officially speaking?

C: ”My new single is titled ‘Special Friend’ and is set to release to most major digital outlets on April 20.

TS: How did it come about?

C: “I reunited with New Mexico producer Per C Wells, who I previously collaborated with in 2018, when I was a featured performer on a Ciphurphace track called 'Separate.' I like to say that my sound right now is 'Southwest Hip Hop for the Soul' with a touch of '70s nostalgia. ‘Special Friend’ explores my thoughts as they pertain to the interweaving layers that are self-love, friendship & interpersonal connection."

TS: What’s your favorite live performance moment so far? What about the weirdest one?

C: ”Some of my favorite personal performance moments were when I played the Tucson Hip Hop Festival last year, because I hadn't performed a set or at a show of that magnitude for a while before that, and when I opened for Princess Nokia. Another was when I played the House of Blues in San Diego. The response I received for all of those live performances was so positively intense. It's hard not to get emotional when you're received in that way. When the energy you give comes back to you tenfold.”

“The weird and cool thing about my HOB performance was that there was a runway at the end of the stage. I’d never performed on a runway before, and people were banging on it because it was at their level. One hand smacking the runway and another with a beer in hand. Whether they were clapping or doing that, I was elated and grateful!”

TS: Obviously, an in-person release party isn’t in the cards any time soon, given the current shelter-in-place guidelines. Are you planning a virtual event to celebrate?

C: "I haven’t actually planned one yet, but I just might perform something! Live on social media, maybe?

TS: I think folks would love it if you did! What else are you up to these days? Any advice for coping with these strange and isolated times?

C: ”I'm offering virtual classes when I can. I'll be teaching another Twerk Fuzsion class on April 25, which I’m still accepting sign-ups for. You can find out more about those events on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I also plan to teach some relaxing stretch classes. I'm really just trying to be creative during this time."

"Everyone is dealing with our current situation in some way. Personally, I feel it as an artist and a teacher. Many of us rely on our classes and gigs to make a living and to connect with our communities. My advice would be to take care of yourself, then your loved ones and support folks when and where you can.”

You can find out more about Chezale’s newly released single, ‘Special Friend” as well as details on upcoming live classes and performances at chezalepresents.com.

Marianne Dissard - 'The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns'

What would a virtual gathering be without virtually catching up with some old friends? It just so happens that a beloved Tucson expat is back in town, maybe for a little bit longer than planned, as it happens. Marianne Dissard arrived in Tucson to finish work on the audio book of her recent memoir "Not Me," as well as to promote the book at this year’s eventually canceled Tucson Festival of Books.

Now quarantining in her former desert home, Dissard, found herself inspired to channel her feelings of frustration and isolation with the current state of the world into song, recording a cover of Phil Och’s “The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns” with help from with Tucson musicians Thøger Lund, Vicki Brown, and Marco Rosano, as well as British collaborator Raphael Mann. The song was a prime exercise in creative social distancing as each musician contributed their part from home, sending digital tracks to Waterworks Studio's Jim Waters for mixing.

Dissard has dedicated the recording to the crew of the USS Roosevelt and its commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, who was removed from duty after sounding an alarm about concerns about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard his ship. A video of Dissard’s cover version of the song was released on YouTube — you can watch it in the sidebar of this column.

Gabi Montoya - 'The Fire'

Another friend of the column, Tucson’s own Gabi Montoya, is best known as guitarist and frontwoman for local bands Taco Sauce and Juju Fontaine, but this week she ventures out on her own with “The Fire,” a solo entry for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk festival.

While musical collaboration is often the focus of Montoya’s full-band projects, her vocals are the main attraction in this track, lovely and nuanced, with sophisticated jazz and soul inflections layered over atmospheric synth and guitar loops. The lyrics are a meditation on fighting the urge to close our eyes and ears to the looming environmental and social threats that haunt us all in these strange, uncertain times.

As an added bonus, Montoya recently released a pretty spot on cover of Selena’s "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" in honor of the late singer’s birthday.

The Tucson Vibe Volume One

Now that we’ve settled around our imaginary table and caught up with some friends, isn’t it about time that the music got started? Never fear, we’ve got a pretty amazing line up to look forward, courtesy of Robin Hunn and the Tucson Vibe.

You may recall how we sat down with Hunn a couple of months back to talk about the Vibe project, but if not, here’s a quick recap.

Hunn moved to Tucson not so long ago, and quickly fell in love with our usually bustling live music and bar scene, especially the spots around downtown and Fourth Avenue. But rather than keep these new found treasures to herself, the former New Orleans denizen decided to use her formidable PR and publishing skills to share them with the rest of the world by way of the Tucson Vibe, a book and CD project celebrating some of Tucson’s favorite hangouts and hardest working musicians.

Now, after several months of project planning, fundraising, and music/photo wrangling, the final results are in and they couldn’t have arrived at a better time. In this weird, isolated time when we’re missing our favorite places (and favorite faces) more than ever, these recordings are the closest thing to being there.

The Tucson Vibe will soon be available in physical format, along with the companion photo booklet, featuring a number of downtown area cafes and watering holes, but in the meantime the entire playlist is available on Spotify, with tracks by Mark Insley, Hank Topless, Mark Anthony Febbo, Natalie Pohanic, Kevin Pakulis, Naim Amor, Joe Peña, Leila Lopez, Amy Munoz, Birds and Arrows, Feverfew, Little Cloud, Connie Brannock, Texas Trash and the Hangovers, and Miss Olivia and the Interlopers. Speaking of whom...

Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 'Message In A Bottle'

What would a trip out to to see local music be without a great big hug from Olivia Reardon? Pretty bleak, indeed.The frontwoman for powerhouse local band Miss Olivia and the Interlopers is also well known as a bartender at local haunts Saint Charles Tavern, Passe and Rialto Theatre and seems to know pretty much everyone in town, as do her bandmates David Hostetler, Mike Sydlowski and Morgan Schlaline. In fact, not only do they know just about everyone, they miss you all pretty fiercely. And, so, they’re sending you a letter, in a sense.

The band’s most recent release via YouTube and social media is a cover of the Police classic “Message In A Bottle.” But, really, the track serves as an excuse to share a love letter to Tucson, in video format, with a photo collage featuring friends, family, bands, local watering holes, community events and some of the most familiar faces in town. Check it out in the sidebar and make sure you grab a tissue or two from your rations. Because you’re gonna cry a little, guaranteed.

Burger Records - Quarantunes

The cadre of Tucson and Arizona bands that record at Midtown Island Studios have begun to make up a decent percentage of the roster of CA label Burger Records in recent years, so it should be no surprise that there’s a strong amount of local representation in Burger’s latest, quarantine-themed collection “Quarantunes,” released this week by the label. 

Check out isolation-themed tracks from the Exbats, the Rifle, Phoenix band the Rebel Set, and the Resonars as part of the seven-volume and counting digital release. The Resonars (mostly operating as a one-man band, since band leader Matt Rendon has closed up shop during the pandemic) have also wrapped up volume one of continually evolving digital album 2020 Blindside, with volume two underway shortly and a physical EP announced containing the first four tracks. 

Less than local music news

While this column focuses mostly on local music each week, we've managed to assemble some friends and comrades in other citys' local scenes over the past couple of years, and the way that things are going these days, distance means a lot less than it usually does. Might as well invite them to our virtual table as well.

First, we'll check in with our favorite Austin based folk punk historian, Jean Caffeine. While the cancellation of SXSW definitely cast a dark cloud over Caffeine's adopted hometown, she does have some good news to share. A brand new release from the archives of her old band Pulsallama just dropped courtesy of Sundazed Music, bringing some long-deserved spotlight to the New York art punk all-girl percussion band led by performance artist/actress Ann Magnuson and featuring a teenaged Caffeine on drums. The track is called "Oui-Oui (A Canadian In Paris)" and it's a whole lot of polyrhythmic '80s-era party-weird Francophile awesome. 

Meanwhile, over in Oakland, Calif., our favorite electric violin-powered garage-glam band Everyone Is Dirty is biding time with a series of weekly video tracks, one of the latest of which is Timestop, featuring bandmates Sivan Lioncub and Christopher Daddio cavorting in their home studio. Donut Time Audio.

Over in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia to be exact, Steve Kilbey of the Church has been hosting weekly live streams as he works his way through full-length acoustic solo performances of the band's classic early albums, such as Seance and the Blurred Crusade. The live performances take place on Kilbey's Instagram TV page with recaps posted shortly thereafter on YouTube. 

Sentinel Fest Update

Last week we aired our first set from Tucson Sentinel Fest, featuring the Rifle. If you missed the performance, be sure to look in the sidebar to this week’s column. Stay tuned for our next set soon, and if you’re a local musician it isn’t too late to submit your own live performance video to this virtual music festival celebrating ten years of independent, non-profit news from Tucson Sentinel. Submit video footage of your band's live, never-before-posted performance with our upload form

 Performances should ideally be about 15-20 minutes in length and include a brief band bio and any "liner notes" you want to include about the performance or song(s) performed.  Original compositions are strongly preferred, but if you do choose to post a cover, please acknowledge the original songwriter and performer and add a few words about why you chose to cover that particular song. Have fun, be creative and let Tucson get to know your band!

Submissions will be featured on TucsonSentinel.com both as stand alone mini-features in the coming weeks and as a footnote to each week's Tucson Sounds column. We'll also create a growing playlist on the Sentinel's YouTube channel for your sharing and watching pleasure!

Check your virtual listings...

Friday, April 17

Saturday, April 18

Sunday, April 19

Other  Live Streams

  • Follow your favorite Tucson area musicians for last minute events pop-up live streams via Facebook Live and Instagram TV. Naim Amor, Leila Lopez and Bryan Thomas Parker are among the many local players hosting regular live music streams throughout the week. 
  • Fourth Avenue Live Webcam

Tucson Area Music Resources

Video

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