For her 25th birthday, Brooklyn chanteuse Melanie Charles is celebrating on March 8 at 9:00 p.m., at 269 Stanhope St. in Bushwick where she will launch her new single “Drifting” along with her first music video. All are invited.
The video is hot off the editing deck, having been filmed just weeks ago in Haiti (much on a tap-tap, a public Haitian “bus,” owned by a family friend). A double treat, you get to hear Charles and see Haiti at the same time.
In late January, Charles and her band The Journey played the International Jazz Festival of Port-au-Prince and the singer stayed on with family for a month, the first real Haiti visit for this Brooklyn born-and-raised gal.
Now, Charles has traveled many miles since she graduated The New School’s Jazz Program in 2010. She released her first CD, “The Journey Project,” the day of her senior recital.
Since then, along with hundreds of local gigs, she spent six months in “Big Band Beat” at Disney Tokyo, a production of 100 singers and dancers, mostly Japanese with performers from all over the world.
With three to five performances, five days a week, with costume changes, etc., this was a real job. “On weekends, there were jam sessions, booked gigs, and exploring Japan,” she says of that “amazing experience.”
Shortly after her return, she toured Europe for two weeks – Paris, Marseille and Vienna – with the funk band, Soul Squad. “I’ve been lucky, very very lucky,” Charles says of the opportunities she’s had.
Then there was the role of Abner Louima’s wife she brought to life in a six-week run in the off-Broadway play The Wood at the Rattlestick Theatre. (Interestingly, the theater director didn’t know that Charles is a singer and probably, many of her musician colleagues don’t know that she acts!)
About her showcasing at the Haitian jazz fest she says, “I was a little apprehensive, I’m an unknown in Haiti. How would people receive me?” Once in Haiti, she discovered that people knew who she was from the radio.
Charles’ group was the only Haitian-American entire band on the program. Along with her jazz standards, she sang Haitian well-known songs, “Yoyo” and “L’Artibonite.” Their first performance, at Hotel Karibe’s large outdoor plaza, received a standing ovation. “We were so well received!” she gleams.
Continuing, “You know, Haitian people really like to embrace their own.” But, don’t let her perception mislead you; countless diplomats from many other countries exuberantly jumped to their feet after her performance.
About the voice master class she gave at FOKAL–the first one she’s ever taught and challenging her Brooklyn-based Kreyol, she said, “I under-estimated the young musicians, I didn’t expect them to be so interested and knowledgeable. I was proud of their hunger to learn. When I asked, ‘do you know about this–scales or other jazz musicians,‘ they knew.“
Charles stayed with her aunt and uncle in Thomasin, up the hill from Petionville, in an area, she explains that is a little community with people stopping by whenever during the day for a cup of coffee, so relaxed and informal. Charles got a taste of learning to enjoy simple things, not spending money, eating from trees, enjoying the beauty of the mountains–quite a change from her Brooklyn environs. Melanie rode tap-taps and ate pate kode-Haitian style empanada and tassot, fried goat on the street.
She sighs that there is much more to see, “It woke up something in me-opened up a hunger to get deeper, learning my Haitian roots, the music and culture.”
Of vodou culture, she says, “It’s so controversial within the Haitian community. As a Haitian-American I have a whole other perspective. I can celebrate it as art and culture. A native person takes it as a taboo and danger. I want to unlock that.”
This thoroughly American young woman Melanie Charles is now actively exploring her own roots. Musically she says, “I want to fuse soul and jazz with Haitian elements.”
Of course, there are the challenges of being a professional musician; it is a struggle. But, this charmer is optimistic, “I’m hopeful,” she says, summing it up (for now), “I’m taking it, a day at a time.”