“As South Africa were preparing to vote in the very first democratic elections of 1994, Sharleen and Shaun Phillips were gifted with their first-born child.  Three months after the birth of their daughter, the couple from Athlone in the Cape Flats went to cast their vote.  Nelson Mandela was elected first president of the country. Twenty-six years later their daughter is one of the most recognized Cape Town drummers who wants men to change their attitude towards female drummers”

Chanté Phillips recalls how she would be glued to the chair while the praise and worship was held at church and her eyes would be staring at the drummer doing his magical moves.  The more she saw performances by the drummer, the more she was convinced that she too would be a drummer one day.  “From my mother’s side, they had a brass family band and my paternal grandfather was a saxophonist. The love we have as a family is never ending. We always have each other’s back”, she told Jazz It Out. 

She and her younger brother Keenan are very close as siblings.  Keenan is however more into soccer than music and aspires to become an entrepreneur one day.  Chanté said growing up in the Cape Flats was not easy.  Despite being born frees, a term that is used to refer to children born when the country was changing from the apartheid regime to democracy, some of the youth she grew up with were involved in drugs, became teenage parents and committed suicide.

The love and support she had from her parents made it possible to focus on her goals.  Chanté started building her own drum kit in the family yard which was made up of five paint buckets, making all sorts of beats with tree trunks emulating the drummer at her church.  “Neighbours would complain about the noise but the determination of playing drums was there”, she recalls with a chuckle.  At school, she would take out two pencils from her case and made the desk her, much to the annoyance of the teacher who would dismiss her for not paying attention to the lessons given.

Chanté Phillips. Picture by K’D photographer

At primary school, she enjoyed the music of Cece Winans, Israel Houghton, Bebe Winans, Donnie McClurkin and out of the gospel comfort zone would listen to Neyo, Akon, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, and old school tunes by Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Her family support grew bigger as she grew old older.  When she was 13, she received funding from her previous church AFM Crawford, which paid for her Saturday drumming lessons.  Her father would always travel with Chanté to give his daughter the support she needed.

She recalls that her primary school, Norma Road Primary had music as a subject.  When she started high school, her school had a Valentines Show.  Her teacher asked her if she could sing an item and her response was that she wanted to play a drum solo.  The teacher could not believe that Chanté could play drums the way she did.  Suddenly, everybody at high school wanted to know who this young female drummer was.  By the time she reached matric, she was a regular performer at events held at her school and had earned herself recognition.

Chanté would have loved to study Computer Science because she loves working on the technical side of things.  As a matter of fact, she loves working with various technology gadgets,  their functions and finding solutions to problems.  In the end, she decided on studying music which is still what she does.  “I am currently studying towards my Grade 8 in music with an intent to further my career in music”, she told Jazz It Out. By her own admission, there are not many female drummers.  “It’s rare to find a female playing the instrument”, she added.

Chanté playing the instrument she has loved since the age of 6

While working for a big commercial back, she met the legendary drummer Frank Paco who has since become her mentor.  “Frank was looking for a female percussionist.  From that day we connected and he saw the talent and the passion I had for my music from the videos he checked on social media and the rest is history”, she said.  As a protégé of Paco, she has learned the technique behind drumming, which enables her to express herself better.  That is reflected on the number of bands which perform different genres where she features.

In an interview with Jazz It Out last year, Paco was not hesitant to state that the young drummer has the potential of becoming one of the most sought-after artists because of her focus, dedication and work ethic.  Some of Chanté’s highlights include playing Cape Town Drumshed in 2013 being the only female participant and going all the way to reach the semi-finals, being a finalist in Cape Town’s Drum off in 2014, and ABSA Shine for Africa Competition Award with her team in 2017.

Chanté was also a featured drummer for the Roland Team SA all female group which is aligned with the celebration of Women’s Month.  She also appeared on Hectic 99 for Woman’s month celebration where she told the story of being a female drummer in the male dominated music industry.  Her first studio recording experience was with Nur Felix Band.  Through her church Tehillah Ministries, she recorded a single titled “Jesus Kom in die More” which was arranged by Mark Benjamin. Recently she became part of the project by JitsVinger titled “Restorations” which will be released this year.

Chanté Phillips doing her solo drum version of Ntyilo Ntyilo

The young drummer is currently involved in a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Tehillar Community as a drummer.  She is a freelance drummer, always helping out different bands like Selective Live and many others.  Chanté also has her own band called Trio which is currently going through a name change.  The band plays a mix of fusion which is influenced by African Jazz.  Trio has a reputation of leaving audiences mesmerized through their energetic performance and authentic sound.

Her favourite drummers are Frank Paco, Anika Niles, Terri Lyne Carrington, Nikki Glaspie, Sheila E, Cindy Blackman, Queen Cora Coleman, Buddy Rich, Nate Smith, Aaron Spears and Chris Coleman.  “I see myself as a versatile drummer because I don’t restrict myself to one genre.  Playing different genres improves my music vocabulary as a drummer”, she told Jazz It Out.  Chanté encourages young female drummers to be dreamers and never give up on their gift from God. “Practice makes perfect. Stay focused and doors will definitely open for you”, she added.

“My dream is to represent South Africa as an international drummer, create music that will appeal to the masses world over, open my own drum academy to impart knowledge and inspire other young female drummers”, she concluded. She wants to be part of many album recordings which will earn her a legendary status. Her Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are Chanté Phillips.  Subscribe to her YouTube Channel Chante_Phillips and follow her on Instagram @chantephillips21.