African dancehall may not know it now but it needs Phemelo Albert Chantty Natural more than he needs it. In the Lobatse-born muso-cum producer/sound engineer extraordinaire, dancehall gets an authentic African re-birth that is as groundbreaking as it speaks to the artist’s boundless creative spirit.
With his highly anticipated latest album, Chantty Natural weaves themes of love and life into the rich tapestry of a seamless Setswana and patois fusion, smoking Southern African rhythms and bubbling (Dancehall rap), which unusually for the genre, is both a rhythmic and melodic odyssey. To say Chantty Natural is a dancehall act is to sell the man way too short. He is music all over and all around. He is a fearless diverse head who thrives in taking sonic risks, away from comforts and securities of genre-specific conventions and expectations.
The Man – The Producer
The list of artists and projects he has produced in the recent years tell a story of a musical colossal who has easily become a highly significant part of the creative landscape this side of the equator. He made history when he produced the first ever Botswana folk guitar instructional audio CD which accompanies the groundbreaking The solo Four String Guitar of Botswana book by Tomeletso Sereetsi at his studio, Live Wire Recording Studio in Ramotswa. He has recorded and produced Kabo Leburu, Flexy, Eureka, Real Magosi, Ntirelang Berman, Mophato Traditional Group to name just a handful. Apart from putting final touches to his record, he is working on a new project by Tomeletso Sereetsi – The Sereetsi Project (explorations on the four string guitar of Botswana), Kabo Leburu’s latest offering as well as an international collaborative project titled Tribute to Kaliman with Johannesburg-based El Supreme. He is also recording, mixing and mastering a project in collaboration with Johannesburg’s Sounds of Edutainment.
Where Did It All Begin?
Chantty Natural was born in 1981 in Lobatse and grew up in the neighbourhoods of Botoka, Peleng and Woodhall. His childhood dream was to become an army general. He loved martial arts, especially karate. On his mother’s side, there were two sisters and on his paternal side were three brothers and a sister. “All my brothers were close,” he relates. But Chantty was closer to one of his sisters who has since passed on. She and his mother loved music.
“My mother could and can still sing very well. An older brother of mine worked in the South African mine. He would bring records, whenever he came home, of 1980s acts such as Sox Lejapere, Lazarus Kgagudi, Peta Teanet and Alec Khaoli. And my mother was Lucky Dube’s number 1 fan,” he reminisces.
But his life changed when he first heard Shabba Ranks and Yellowman.
“I thought ‘how do they do this?’ I started imitating them.
That was around 1994. I didn’t know what they were saying but I bubbled along. I started collecting their music,” he relates. Chantty then formed a dance group in 1995 called Mad Dawgs. With the dancehall outfit they would perform at variety shows. When he completed junior secondary school he switched to the microphone at a variety show held at Lobatse Secondary School, taking first position on that debut. He then recorded an album in 2000, which carried elements of dancehall and Afro pop influences titled Sphonono, featuring Om Gee. He then went to South Africa for his sophomore effort. He recorded a body of work that could have made three full length albums if the studio owner didn’t go AWOL with his material.
“That’s when I decided to start my own thing. I set up my studio in Ramotswa – Live Wire Recording Studios – in 2006. I do both live and digital programming, provide session musicians, mixing and mastering, sound hire, band hire and events as well as graphic design and branding,” he explains.