I always find that when band members know each other so well, so intimate in a way you just know where the vocalist or pianist is going by listening to them and watching their body language, it makes for an amazing and dare I say spiritual moment. Some of my best gigs have been from such moments”

Vocalist Charlette Dickson is known for her husky voice and great live performances which have earned her a good reputation among jazz lovers.  Her performances are exciting, fun, at times hilarious and unpredictably adventurous yet honest, open-hearted conversation with the audience. It is somehow hard to believe that this brilliant vocalist grew up as a shy and very reserved young person through her primary and high school years, even at varsity.

“I grew up in a household of laughter, tears, frustration and music. My dad is a pastor at World Vision International and that comes with its own set of challenges as far as being a pastor’s child is concerned”, she told Jazz It Out. She recalls that her dad was fondly dubbed the “rock ‘n roll” pastor at one of the first churches he pastored at.  Her house always had music playing or her dad on guitar to the sound of gospel, jazz, RnB and pop.  Charlette’s mom comes from Seventh Day Adventist.

Both her grandmothers were domestic workers and her maternal grandfather was a water culturist at Kirstenbosch Gardens where her mom grew up.  Sadly, her mother’s family was forced to relocate to Primrose Park next to Manenberg, Cape Town as a result of forced removals which were enforced by the Apartheid government.  Despite the pain they endured through that process, they managed to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.

Vocalist Charlette Dickson. Picture by Oscar O’Ryan

Charlette was born in Johannesburg.  Because of the constant travelling as a pastor’s family they lived in Harare, Zimbabwe and Pretoria before relocating back to Cape Town where she and her family lives.  “We were exposed to people from different cultures, religions, countries, and schools of thought”, she said. That travelling helped her to appreciate people from all walks of life and always open to learning in every environment and situation.  She proudly describes herself as “fun loving, family oriented and just all-round lover of life”.

At school she enjoyed more sport than music and athletics in particular. She did well in 100 metres, long jump and relay.  “I did try out javelin once but after almost spearing the coach it was decided that javelin was not my calling”, with a laughter.  Most of her extramural activities were based in church.  “The church I belong to has a rich history in the arts.  Dance, drama and singing played a big role.  It was at church where I realized I wanted to pursue singing as a career”, she added.

While at high school she considered a career in marine biology despite the fact she is terrified of swimming in rivers and beaches.  She prefers swimming pools.  Her favourite musicians were Lauren Hill, Mary J Blidge, Patti LaBelle, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Tyler, R.E.M., Lenny Kravitz, Incognito, Bobby McFerrin and many more. “What I loved about these artists was how evident their passion, emotion, their vulnerability was in their music”, she told Jazz It Out.

Getting ready for a performance. Picture by Oscar O’Ryan

However, Charlette changed her mind as her high school years were drawing to an end and decided to study music.  Her parents were concerned but still gave her their complete support. She was quite overwhelmed by the students and lecturers she came across as a music student at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  “They were all so talented and confident about themselves and where they were heading and I was yet to discover my path in music”, she recalls.

Besides the thorough voice training that she received from varsity, she also did a few self-awareness workshops and took a dance class or two with comic results. “They have stood me in a good stead when it comes to interacting with musicians and the audience alike.  And also taught me not to take life too seriously”, she said.  This probably explains why her live performances can be hilarious at times, something the audience enjoy.

When she graduated from UCT, she did not have great network of event organizers and promoters. That network has since grown with more performances she has done.  Charlette has performed in several African countries and Europe. Jazz It Out asked her to give a few names of people she has shared a stage with and what she has learnt from them.  “George Werner taught me to give music to breathe.  Mark Fransman taught me to be passionate and Melanie Scholtz taught me to trust myself”, she said.

Her current favourite musicians include Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana, Nnena Freelon, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Gregory Porter.  She wishes that more South Africans could appreciate musicians from their own country.  “But I have seen it grow as more citizens and the world begin to appreciate South African and African music”, sounding very optimistic.  Charlette has noticed that there is a different set of rules for male and female musicians but it is slowly changing as women banding together, standing up for each other and speaking out.

Performing Georgia On My Mind with Trevor Fischer on keyboard

She is currently working on an EP which will be a colourful expression of who she is as an artist.  “Everything that has influenced me as a musician will be in that recording”, she told Jazz It Out.  Other types of music that she likes include folk, rock, and Indian music.  “I also enjoy movies by the way”, she added. Her other hobbies include making breaded jewelry.  The process not only calms her but also gives her an opportunity to relax and centre herself, a different creative outlet.

Charlette admits that often it’s difficult to strike a balance between music as a career and time with friends and family.  “I wasn’t winning at this until about a year ago when I decided that one day off in a week and one weekend day I turn my phone off and spent time with family and friends but it is work in progress.  Besides the release of the upcoming EP, her plan for the next few years is to tour and conduct workshops from a holistic point of view.

If you are in the Mother City this evening, catch Charlette’s live performance at Kaleidoscope Café in Claremont. Her Facebook account is Charlette Dickson.  @RealChalla_D is her Twitter handle at @charlette_dickson on Instagram