Chali 2na is super nice.
Musical talent was onstage in abundance last Thursday at The Jazz Café as the ‘lyrical man-phibian’ Chali 2na made a welcome return to London’s live music scene, with a slew of special guests to hand. Chali was accompanied by live band House of Vibe, so it wasn’t your typical hip hop show by any means. 2na’s signature bass-heavy rapping was scored with smooth funk, jazz and soul instrumentation and the free improvisation onstage was reflected in the energy of the amped up crowd. You could seriously feel the love. And all of this came to a revved-up, dirty climax when reggae dancehall legend Tippa Irie joined Chali onstage and completely smashed the end of the set.
Chali has got to be one of the friendliest rappers around, as after spending a while meeting his many adoring fans he took the time to speak to Mint Magazine. Over honey & lemon tea and a joint we chatted about the show, his musical projects, hip hop, art, and how he got his fishy name.
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So, firstly – it was a pretty heavy show – how did you find the crowd tonight?
Chali: Oh my God. First and foremost – the crowd tonight was that much better than the crowd last night. The crowd last night was crazy, but tonight was insane. Know what I’m saying? And with Irie, they took it up a notch, and he took it up three notches. So, yeah, it was crazy, and I’m grateful to London.
And how do you find London as a whole?
Chali: Like I’ve said – London started our career, that’s the truth, know what I’m saying? We were accepted here before we were accepted anywhere. I’m happy and grateful for that – I’ve always been and I always will be. So anytime I get an opportunity to come out here, whether it’s a festival or some really intimate club like Jazz Café – I’m down.
What prompted you to start working with live bands over the deejay set-up?
Chali: Well, my philosophy is this: If it’s not Cut Chemist or Numark, I really don’t want to do a deejay. It’s just the truth you know. Or Dj Dez from Slum Village. If it’s not one of those three I’ve not got the time to do it. I’m kind of a spoiled brat because I got the chance to work with three of the best deejays on earth – they all have their own feel. But, my philosophy behind what a deejay can do, as oppose to what a band can do, is that with the deejay the fundamental rhythm and everything is set, there’s nothing you can really do about it. When it drops, you have to sit on top of it and ride it as best you can. Like riding a horse or a bike, or, you know, sometimes a bull, know what I’m saying? It depends. Now with a band, they’re riding on top of you.
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You prefer to be the bull?
Chali: Ha, yeah. One of the songs tonight is called ‘Step your game up’ and that’s an example of ‘I can do anything I wanna do’, ha – know what I’m saying? So, at anytime you can stop and just clown, it’s fun, like ‘I can do this…’ I can’t do that with a fucking deejay. So that’s why. Also, I wanted to use the bands dynamic, you know the sound and dynamics of it, to bring forth the music that I produce for my solo projects. I think that with Jurassic it comes off old-school so it needs that deejay thing, know what I’m saying? But with House of Vibe we sort of bend and twist, we like a blade of grass, know what I’m saying? So you gotta just move with it, and we’re able to display all the things that inspired us. As well – I love that kind of shit.
Yeah, it really had that kind of energy in the crowd. Are you working on another follow up solo album?
Chali: Yes mam. I’m trying to call it ‘Against the Current,’ the title might change but it’s speaking about how the current style is based on extreme electronics, and at this point in my career I’m with a band that can bend and do that, so I just want to go against the current style, so to speak, and just show that we’re going to make some good music.
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That’s cool. You work on so many collaborations – is that when you feel like you’re in your element, bouncing off of others?
Chali: Yeah, well collaborations are a way to spread your brand to other people’s crowds. It’s also an exercise to see if you can do what the next man can do, or make a song, like say for instance the song ‘Join the Dots’ with me and Roots Manuva. I think that we complimented each other so much on that song, and that’s why a lot of people liked that song. And that was the goal, to try to create a song bigger than either of us, you know.
It kind of bridges the two, ‘cos being a massive music fan listening to a lot of American music, like you love it but you’re also slightly aware that it’s kind of removed from you, so when you can hear the two meeting on a track, it’s like it links it all together.
Chali: That’s neat, ‘cos I never even thought about it like that.
Know what I mean?
Chali: Yeah – more so I just thought about how both of us have these very bass heavy voices, and they’re slightly different octaves, but it just worked, it was like ‘damn, it works.’
And the accents worked together.
Chali: Yeah, word. Yeah, he gots the craziest accent ever.
Definitely. Are there any people out that you’d want to work with at the moment?
Chali: To be honest, you know, if the song is good I’ll work with anybody, to tell you the truth, I ain’t gonna lie. But I’d love to do a song with Stevie Wonder. I’d love to. I’m just a big-ass fan of his. I’d love to do a song with Chuck D from Public Enemy. I’d love to do a song with EPMD.
EPMD played in London last month. They were real friendly guys, we chatted to them for the magazine.
Chali: Cool dudes.
Yeah, you know, like their show proved why they’re so, so influential – they can still completely work the crowd, the way that they held the forum was just ridiculous.
Chali: Because that’s how, that’s how it used to be done. Now, dudes are getting onstage and they perform their hits. Know what I mean? Ain’t nothing wrong with that I guess, but I like to go to shows to see what they’re going to do, if they’re going to do something different.
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Yeah, they had DJ Scratch with them.
Chali: Phew…that dude.
Yeah, he was ridiculous. Lifting up the turntable while mixing…
Chali: He’s got skill.
Definitely. I checked out some of your artwork, it seems like a lot of your art is like an extension of your music. Do the same influences that inspire your music, also inspire your artwork? Or are they separate?
Chali: Yeah, it’s all the same thing. I think I don’t really look at it like separate situations, it’s all art, an outlet for art. I been painting all my life and I think that the rapping came from the painting, more so than vice versa. So, the rap thing is like a soundtrack to what I paint, so to speak, you know. So, yeah, I do draw from the same influences, all life experiences or things that may have influenced or affected me in some kind of weird way.
Do you ever feel like the music or the art can express something that the other can’t quite?
Chali: Yeah, yeah, well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and you can’t put a thousand words in a song. So, yeah. Ha ha.
Yes. Awesome – and erm, how did the name Chali 2na come around?
Chali: My father. Well, ‘Charlie the Tuna’ is a logo for Starkist Tuna in America, canned tuna. I’m named after my father, and he’s named after his father, and he’s named after…so I’m like fourth. And so my father was just like, for a nickname for me – I was like five years old, watching T.V and I just remember him going ‘Ah-ha, I’m a start calling you Tuna, you look like the commercial’. ‘Charlie Tuna’ and it’s just stuck throughout my life. I used to try to stray away from it, think of little names, you know, little corny shit. But when I decided to actually rap that was always the one name that nobody would forget if they heard it. Especially women I noticed, women always tripped out. So, I was like I’m going to try this out, you know, with different people – ‘what you think? Chali 2na?’ ‘Phew, you ever heard a name like that?’ ‘Yes, let me know…’ People would be like ‘yo, that’s dope’. I’d go to a party and meet a girl or something, and it would be like ‘hey, what’s your name?’ ‘Tuna, they call me Tuna’ ‘Tuna??!’ Know what I’m saying? Everybody knew that, and I’m like ‘man, that’s what I should stick to’.
It’s kind of neat to think of your dad just being like ‘hey, tuna’,
Chali: A joke.
And then like years on this London crowd all like ‘Tu-na, Tu-na’.
Chali: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Like the progression of it.
Chali: My father’s so proud of that shit, when he comes to the shows and sees some of that shit.
That’s awesome. Well, thank you.
Chali: No problem at all.
words Alice Price – Styles