Chrystel, Grammy Award-nominated Ivorian American artist and songwriter, is set to unveil her second EP in February 2024. In an exclusive interview, she delves into the intense energy fueling the project, shaped by a nomadic lifestyle and collaborations with bold personalities like Blaqbonez. Chrystel’s music captures themes of autonomy and unapologetic living, spotlighted by the standout track “Snapchat.” Beyond accolades, she discusses the impact of recognition on her artistic journey, the evolution towards authenticity amid the pandemic, and the creative process behind her pan-African project.
Join us as Chrystel reflects on Ivorian influences, the significance of tradition, and the collaborative magic shaping her unique sound.
Pinch Of Sol: Your sophomore EP is set for a February 2024 debut. Can you give us a sneak peek into what themes or stories we can expect from the upcoming EP, especially considering the bold statement made by ‘Snapchat’?
Chrystel: For this EP I found myself with a lot of intense energy. When I started working on the music for this project I was constantly in environments and situations that were breaking the mould for me, working with producers I’ve never worked with before, living out of suitcases and always on the move. While making this EP I really didn’t have a peaceful moment and I’m grateful for that because it helped me to focus on making great music and leaning into those big feelings. Kind of like do or die. The thought I woke up with everyday was like, all of these efforts, being on another continent and in another country can’t be for nothing. I had to adapt and hone in quickly everyday to figure out where I was at and what message I wanted to deliver. The overarching themes of my EP are autonomy and living unapologetically. I don’t want to mince words or live for anyone else’s pleasure but my own and a song like Snapchat captures that essence so perfectly. Snapchat came from making music at Blaqbonez house and wanting to make people dance. I think Type-A is so elite melodically. The songs catching my ear on the radio in Lagos at the time were ones that he produced so I couldn’t wait to get in the studio with him. Blaqbonez is such a bold character on and off of the mic, and I love the energy he lives in. I knew I had no choice but to match it.
Pinch Of Sol: How does the recognition impact your artistic journey, and what aspirations do you have for your music moving forward?
Chrystel: Recognition is such a funny thing because it’s an artist’s job to express and be free and color outside the lines, but there are so many guidelines to receiving awards and accolades and recognition. I don’t ever think of recognition when I’m creating. I can definitely listen back to a song and say “oh the fans will love this,” but it’s never about recognition. I love to win so I will always be competitive within myself. I’ve achieved things already that I set as goals for myself when I was a small child which is really cool and kind of unreal still. Unfortunately as soon as you get one you want more. I’m still so hungry for more so I definitely have aspirations to become more decorated and recognized as an artist. I think recognition and how big you are as an artist are mutually exclusive by default, but being recognized by people who genuinely love my music will always be enough.
Pinch Of Sol: What challenges have you faced, and how has this evolution influenced the way you express yourself through your own music?
Chrystel: I think we all faced challenges of the pandemic and having to adapt to the ways the world changed. The way it affected everything was really a moment in time. It’s crazy that not long ago we were only doing virtual shows. I think the pandemic and the year after that were some of the craziest times of my life because of the pandemic itself and other extreme life changes. Before then I was definitely more of a perfectionist, but perfectionism cripples authenticity and I hate that. Over time, I’ve become way more obsessed with the idea of just showing up as I am and not waiting for a perfect moment. Every single time I lean into instinct I win. The urgency of where I am at right now and moment to moment is more apparent to me than it has ever been. In my music it definitely affected what I wanted to say on my EP and how I said it. There was a time I didn’t even like going into the booth without having a full verse or hook written, a concept or at least an idea. Post pandemic I’m moving off of feeling more than ever before.
Pinch Of Sol: Can you share more about the creative process behind your upcoming EP and how you approached weaving together these different elements into a cohesive musical masterpiece?
Chrystel: Woman’s instinct is what weaved together my project. I totally leaned into what I want to hear, what I want to say and the furious energy behind it. In terms of production, everything was made on the spot and the songs were really built around the energy I brought. There’s not one song that I made for my project with a beat that was sent to me which helped to make the project come alive in ways it wouldn’t if I was picking from a beat pack. I made a pan-african project with sounds that represent a part of what music from the continent means to me at the moment.
Pinch Of Sol: How do you integrate West African traditions, influence, and culture into your music, and what aspects of your Ivorian household do you find most influential in your artistic expression?
Chrystel: I integrate Ivorian sounds as much as I can into my music. I’m always trying to work with Ivorian artists, and producers and use Ivorian slang in my songs as well. One of the best things about being is that we as people inform the culture as much as the culture informs us. I am heavily influenced by so many iconic and legendary Ivorian artists that I grew up listening to (Ernesto Djedje, Douk Saga, Bailly Spinto, Meiway, Monique Seka etc.) and my main takeaway is always that they did something different. They took what they were inspired by and not only made it their own but basically invented new genres, they didn’t latch on to what was popular, they made things popular. As much as I want to be like them I want to be the first to be like me. I want to inform the culture.
Pinch Of Sol: You mentioned working with the best producers coming from the continent. How do you select collaborators, and what do you believe they bring to your music that contributes to its uniqueness and impact?
Chrystel: I’m not too picky about collaborators as long as we vibe and there’s a mutual understanding that we’re here to make magic without egos. I’m not caught up on names and accolades as long as I like their sounds. It just so happens that I worked with people who are not only extremely talented but have done amazing things in their careers, while working on this EP. I think there’s an unspoken understanding that one person will be the driver and someone will ride in the passenger, while everybody else is riding along in the back while creating, and you switch off who’s driving and who’s riding passenger when necessary. I believe knowing how to steer the creative process is one of the things that makes my creative process unique. The producers I worked with had a clear creative vision and weren’t afraid to steer. That allowed me to sometimes ride passengers and to me there’s a lot of freedom in that. I made most of the music between Abidjan, Lagos, and my home studio, but I also collaborated on a couple of songs virtually. There’s a song on my project produced by Streetbeatz where he sent me a couple of melodies on WhatsApp. I recorded to one of the melodies and he loved the hook so he asked me if I was able to quickly go back and forth with our ideas, he started humming melody ideas to me via voice memo, I would take from that and record my verses, send it back to him, and he would add production as we went. From WhatsApp voice messages we made one of my favorite songs on the project in absolutely no time.