In late 2020, soul innovator Cherise found the kernel at the centre of her next body of work. At the start of that year she’d released the stunning Remedy EP, her R&B-inflected followup to the bold, jazz statement made by 2018 debut EP, Paradise. This time around, she had grown even more as an award-winning vocalist, songwriter and musician rooted in the rich tones of soul, neo-soul and London’s exciting jazz scene. She was clear about wanting to explore the line connecting her family’s history from the countryside of Jamaica to her purpose as a multi-talented creative.
It all began, as so much did at the height of the pandemic, over a video call. The first and last songs on her debut album Calling – out on 1st July 2023 via Kartel Music Group – link love, heritage and hope. And on Zoom with producer Tobie Tripp (Joy Crookes, Tom Misch), the initial lines of opener “Not a Love Song” came to Cherise like a mantra. “It’s all about the heartbreak of loss and grief – we were trying to create the sound of a heart breaking,” she remembers. Over a gently plucked acoustic guitar, soaring strings and a thundering harmony of vocals, Cherise succumbs to the reality of heartache. She and Tripp started the song in 2020, finishing it in early 2021 after the tragic passing of her beloved grandmother, Evelyn.
“I really purposefully wanted ‘Not a Love Song’ to be written at my grandma’s passing, and the last song to be one that contained the story of how our family started,” she says. And so album closer Different Kind of Love playfully pairs yearning vocals with classic soul piano, evoking Cherise’s inspiration Anita Baker. As a beautiful piano line rings out, you’re left with the sound of her grandmother’s speaking voice. In a recording captured by Cherise, Evelyn details how she met her husband in England, and thus began the UK-based lineage that Cherise continues with pride. Her grandmother, like so much of Cherise’s family, has supported her poetry, songwriting and performing since Cherise was a little girl. She grew older, honing her creative skill on weekends as a teenager at the Young Artist Development Programme run by Tomorrow’s Warriors (alumni include Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi, Femi Koleoso and Ezra Collective). All roads led towards this layered, compelling album.
Throughout Calling, Cherise weaves a collection of emotive, and deeply moving explorations of family, romantic love and growing into your truest self. “Calling is a returning home to who I’ve always wanted to be: a soul singer,” she says. “I feel as though I had something to prove, when I was writing Paradise”, showcasing the depth of her jazz knowledge and classical training. That involved leading 25 collaborators, including a 15-piece choir, and writing all the album’s sumptuous string compositions.
If Remedy was then her bold foray into soul, Calling sets out Cherise as a truly one-of-a-kind artist. She digs deep into the contours of falling in and out of love, and stitches together all the parts of herself as a Black woman: the sensual, the familial and the endlessly creative. The result is a fearless album that shows yet again how Cherise was soon awarded Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year after graduating from the prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music, and continues to evolve. It sets her apart as a unique talent, an artist deftly able to meld genres and textures to take you into her own world.
Cherise pays homage to her elders who journeyed to England as part of the Windrush generation on heartfelt tracks like “2 Steppin’”, “Night Moves” and the titular “Calling.” “With this year being the 75th anniversary of Windrush, especially, that ties into the themes of being grateful for what I’ve got but having a keen desire to define for myself – and find power in – what it means to be second-generation,” she says, smiling.
“2 Steppin’” is a sunny slice of funk, inspired by Cherise’s late maternal grandfather. “When I was younger, my mum would bring me from Luton to Hackney for him to babysit me and my little sister,” she remembers. They’d follow him through the streets of Dalston, east London, where “he had so much swag, walking so slowly down Ridley Road, with this two-step; no hesitation.” She channels his demeanour into a groove-heavy ode to not sweating the small stuff.
On “Calling,” meanwhile, Cherise evokes a timeless blend of rich guitar lines, a head-nodding bassline and a chorus of vocals that implore you to join in and sing along as they ask in unison: “Can you hear it / call my name? / Hear it calling me home.” Cherise approaches the notion of home in two ways. One is a physical place, defined and outlined by a family that straddles the islands of Jamaica and England. The other is the home within yourself. The freedom Cherise’s family granted her, to pursue music, thus becomes her driving force.
“My mum and the rest of the family had the sense that being creative was something I was meant to do,” she says happily. “It wasn’t until I became a musician that I realised how uncommon that is, especially for families that moved to this country and would live with the fear that their child wouldn’t find their grounding in the arts.” The fact that her family rejected that fear compelled her to dedicate the album to her grandmother. It also gave her the courage to tell personal stories about romance and relationships.
Single “Secrets” sees Cherise search for no-barriers honesty in a relationship, over warm bass and soothing vocal harmonies. The driving pulse of single “Elixir” propels forward a clarifying question: in love, is the chase sometimes more enticing than the destination? “It’s very important for me to own my sensuality, to show that I’m a fully-rounded woman,” Cherise says, of songs like these. “It would feel very one-dimensional if I didn’t share how that’s a part of me: the part that wants to feel desire, and to be desired.” You hear this, too, on “Play.” Its crisp guitars and beckoning lyrics build into a sultry invitation to connect. The song “is about enjoying being chased, enjoying that play,” she adds, with a grin.
Cherise is more self-assured than ever, her album functioning as a statement of intent. “I feel like I don’t need to ask for permission,” she begins. “I don’t need to worry – ‘what will they think?’ On songs like ‘Elixir’ and ‘Play,’ I’m saying: ‘I’m grown.’” That confidence shines through in the choice she made to expand her sonic palette even further on Calling. To craft the dynamic melodies that lead you through each song, she pulled from her deep knowledge of jazz and let it blossom into a sound that’s unbound by genre. “I want to sing soul in the house that jazz made,” she says, simply.
Looking ahead, Cherise is already deepening her craft, stretching into songwriting for herself and others. After making Calling she isn’t afraid to apply her signature style like a stamp, a signifier. “That makes me comfortable with being different with this album; if it can’t be placed too easily, I can be confident. The novelty of what I do is a good thing.” Following tours with the likes of Michael Kiwanuka and Jamie Cullum in 2022, and collaborating with George Porter, Reuban James and Steam Down, she will play the Cross the Tracks, Love Supreme and Hamburg Elbjazz festivals in summer 2023. In everything, she’s guided by knowing who she came from, who she is, and what she has to say. That, after all, is the meaning of her calling. And as she puts it: “The calling is mine to claim.”
For more information please contact: