"Be your best at every level in the season", Chantal Willie-Petersen

Urban Craft's own Godfrey Johnson (GJ) met up for a chat with the exceptional talent that is Chantal Willie-Petersen (C W-P). Below is h...

Urban Craft's own Godfrey Johnson (GJ) met up for a chat with the exceptional talent that is Chantal Willie-Petersen (C W-P). Below is how the interview with the gifted singer/songwriter went.........

GJ: So good to be chatting to you Chantal, I  am a huge fan of your work and I am in awe of both you and your twin, Denay.  Music obviously flows through the veins of the Willie family. Was this your first career choice? 

C W-P: Firstly, thank you so much Godfrey – Denay and I are mutually inspired by you!
This is such a beautiful question because it captures a thread that has weaved a continuous legacy from time before - into the fabrics of my own, present, inspiration and life.
Undeniably, the love for music in my family is trans-generational and deeply rooted in both sides of my family. Though not all of my family members are formally trained in music, their giftings as singers, as guitar players (my dad) and within other artistic expressions (art and drawings) - falls wholly and richly in our family veins! So, yes, my life, and my joy - emotionally and intellectually, is founded and recalled by early childhood memories of singing in church groups and choirs, in writing songs, in studying school music repertoire from Bach to Oklahoma (who can forget school drama/musical/and theatre?) and in the yearning-years of big dreams…and of singing your song!
Although it was not quite as I expected, and not always my expected choice (this is a chapter), my journey in the arts (as a performer composer, editor, researcher, lecturer) has been a deeply exciting and rewarding one. Added to this, is being able to share my life as a musician with my twin sister, Denay Willie, my husband Andre Petersen, my little one, Zion and my baby brothers and sisters. We have shared family history, family worship and carried through on a legacy, collectively and individually. I could not be more grateful to engage this love with others intimately known to me, and with those around the world…in some of the most historical and fascinating places, with artists from different nations and histories. Each bringing a part of their home and their family into my life. Their brilliance, heart, and talent has touched my home and my family, deepening this legacy for the generation to come. For this, I am deeply grateful.  

GJ: In your own words, what is the secret to success?

C W-P: Gosh ! - Success is defined in such a very personal way and it has taken so long for me to define this, personally!
I think that living life on purpose through a spirit and heart-gaze of gratitude brings a divine grace for the manifestation of your gifts to flourish from season to season. When these innate gifts flourish, through the expression of your relationships, your activities and ownership/output and, it is the reason you joyfully get up at 5am’s alarm clock – to meet that edging place of deep faith, desire, fulfilment and sacrifice at each dawn of an artistic dream – you are winning!
There are, of course the hours (and hours, upon hours), and years of education (formal or informal), the many seasons of hard work and stewarding - which is the work toward your goal, your vision and toward a determining of that picture of successful living and being, that is personal to you. No doubt, this journey has been a search for meaning, questioning and then, finding my/the expression of faith in God – and my identity as a women, wife, mother, sister, friend – citizen… in many, many ways.
I think that laying a foundation to a healthy self-esteem is primary, and is my most important marker for building success (living life with a positive outlook and allowing healthy relationships in your life to steer and grow your gifts). This, as Dr Paul Black always mentioned “Where  purpose is not known – abuse is inevitable”.  For me, the navigation around what’s “ inside” will manifest on the outside, and especially with us, who express ourselves artistically, it can be lonely and painful. For me, my rootedness of my faith in Jesus Christ has changed my entire paradigm. And again, this is a chapter! (LOL). BUT to say, that seeking out good and healthy relationships, mentors, consistent believing in your vision, sourcing good information and weighing in on good decisions at every stage (though we are never perfect people), plants a successful outlook, which in time, will produce the seeds of your harvest, and the goals and realms of your dawn. This, for me, is success.

GJ: You have an amazing list of accomplishments, would you mind sharing with us some of your career highlights?

C W.P: I have been really blessed to work in a broad field of music as a composer/arranger, bassist/vocalist, arts researcher, lecturer, musical director, jazz specialist, content developer and curator for a myriad of interdisciplinary creative projects over the years.
Working with ZAP Mama (2003 – 2007), a group I sat edged on my bed (listening to) in my cassette player (in Cape Town), before leaving for Belgium – is still a dream! Some of my most exciting performances were at SOBS, the Hollywood Bowl, The Webster Hall, House of Blues and the many extensive US Tours at prestigious festivals and featuring Grammy-award winners such as Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Tania Maria – and opening for The Roots, Diane Reeves, and sharing stages with a plethora of great African artists such as Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Angelique Kijo, Seal, and The Roots.
And then! Being - apart of Zap Mama’s  extended discography (on bass and voice) included two critically acclaimed Zap Mama albums Ancestry in Progress (2004) and Super Moon (2007).
I also got to work  on many great Belgian projects (Billy King) and South African jazz progenitors - Robbie Jansen, Winston Mankunku, Errol and Elvin Dyers, with South African Music-theatre legend Taliep Petersen, and with iconic South African indigenous musics masters - Dr. Madosini and Dizu Plaatjies. Internationally, with Toots Thielemans, Jack van Poll, Stacey Rowles, Mark Murphy, and many others. She also featured in the French movie Essaye Moi (alongside Deborah Brown, David Linx and Lizz Wright - France, 2007). Album" (2010).
I also had some amazing tours with RnB/Pop artsists George Macrae & Boney M Tour (European Tour, 2001), The Jeanne Lee Group with Kirk Lightsey/Mal Waldron (France,1999), the Feya Faku Quintet (2007 – _2011), SAFRA (a South African-French female jazz ensemble with performances at the New Morning Club (Paris, France, 2006) and with Grammy-nominated and Dove Award recipient Neville D (South Africa, 2016). Concerts for Richard Branson, Bill Gates (New York), at the North Sea Jazz Festival (Holland), Red Sea Jazz Festival (Israel), Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland), the Hollywood Bowl (LA), WOMAD (New Zealand, Ireland), The Blue Note in Toyko (Japan), Standard Bank Makhanda Jazz Festival, The Blue Note Music Festival (Belgium), Festival, Joy of Jazz Music Festival (South Africa), the Imbokodo Jazz Festival (South Africa) in 2017, The Englewood-Soweto Exchange (2019), and The Wits Jazz Cosmology Festival (2020).
Another highlight was being the opening artist to Grammy award-winner Cassandra Wilson (Belgium, 2001) with my own band. And further, my work on numerous cross-over and commercial projects such as Pop Idols (Belgium, 2003 - 2004), The Cape Town Ghoema Orchestra, The Soweto/Englewood (US) Exchange, The WITS Jazz Cosmology Festival, and so many projects.

GJ: Who are your greatest artistic influences?

C W-P: Some of my greatest influences have been my faith and my music teachers from primary through to high school and my professors – they have poured so much spirit and skill into my gift, beyond any curriculum. They taught me how to think about music, a musical space, and sound

…My sister Denay, my husband Andre – as they have inspired me through their being and their artistic courage.

Mentors such as Jack van Poll, Marie Daulne (from Zap Mama), and my many, many peers – who are too many to mention. They have shaped my ears, my heart, my mind and my being.

GJ: How has family life influenced your creativity?

C W-P: My family (my dad and mom), and siblings have shaped an innate confidence and shared a great influence to my world of artistic expression. Home was a safe space. I am so grateful for this. And having the wonderful husband, I do, Andre Petersen has brought greater meaning to what I do.
Though the road is a deeply personal one, their love and encouragement garnered a foundation that has given a standard,  a measure - a sounding board for my ideas, my strengths and vulnerabilities. Family relationships are priority for me – and even in my goals as an artists, I having a little one (Zion) – and though with mothering much changes, so much is awoken – that sense of childlike curiosity and imagining… brings my music circle, my home…back to a place where those early dawning of dreams as a young girl…still sing, still speak, still linger…

GJ:  What are you currently working on?

C W-P: I am working on a number of projects at the moment. The primary being my PhD – which focuses on the issue of coloured women and artistic expression in historic sound. I am also working on some creative projects for my own release…so looking forward to this! I hope to be an inspiration to education, young women and my students, and so most of my projects are geared toward this.
GJ: What words of advice do you have for aspiring artists? 

C W-P: Gosh – one could write a book, and even then, chapters would serve a small leverage of what I could say. Oh man!
Appreciate what you have, honour relationships and opportunities, be your best at every level in the season. And be you!

C W-P: Thank you Godfrey for such an amazing opportunity to share my work, and hopefully encourage someone with my story. I have these handles for more information -



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Urban Craft Magazine: "Be your best at every level in the season", Chantal Willie-Petersen
"Be your best at every level in the season", Chantal Willie-Petersen
Urban Craft Magazine
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