Chali 2na

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Chali 2na


To better explain going solo, Chali uses a basketball analogy. “When you’re playing on a basketball team and you’re the centre,” he says, “you know that position and you fill that position and play it to the best of your abilities.” He ponders this for a second and, seeming unsatisfied, changes his train of thought. “A better way to explain it would be to say that, when you’re in a band, you’re a small cog in a finely-made watch,” he tells me. “Every part in the watch has its duty and knows its place. Now I’m solo, I’m more free, but the trade-off is that I have to be a lot more exacting. The reward is great, but it’s tiring.”


Chali has collaborated with some of the biggest names in hip hop, reggae and roots, but he was recently heard on a track by UK dubstep guru Rusko – a change of pace to say the least. I ask him if the experience has given him the urge to experiment with dubstep in his own music, and he says definitely. “I’m from Chicago, which is the birthplace of house,” he says, “so I naturally gravitate towards electronic music. I talk and I rap in percussive patterns, and I love the percussive patterns that dubstep creates. Working with Rusko opened my eyes to something new – I feel like I was blind before I met him!”


In the coming months, Chali plans to release a series of EPs, Against The Current, that aim to bring all of his disparate influences together. “The EPs will encompass all the different types of music that have inspired me,” he says, “from Caribbean and reggae music to street hip hop. There’s going to be live instrumentation, and there’s going to be electronic music, like dubstep and house. My album Fish Out Of Water was meant to show you who I was; with this new music, I want to try and make a connection with the music I love. Listening to it will be like turning on Chali 2na Radio!”


When it comes to politics, Chali is passionate and frequently outspoken – he once told an interviewer he feels that greed is the most destructive force in the world today. In light of this, I feel I have to ask him about the Occupy protests currently sweeping America – has he been a part of any of the protests, and what exactly he thinks of them. “Well, I support the movement from a certain perspective,” he says, “but the thing about it is that not enough people in America are educated enough about the things going on around them to know what the Occupy movement is actually about. I feel that while there are people who aware and taking part, getting arrested and hassled by police, a lot of their effort is in vain because nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”


Like an increasing number of Americans, Chali is beginning to feel that there is something going wrong in his home country, with everyday people at the mercy of financial institutions, falling between the cracks of society. He is, however, a little pessimistic about the Occupy movement itself. “I appreciate the effort the protestors are putting in,” he continues, “but I don’t know how much change it will bring about in the end. Ultimately, there is enough for everyone, but some people want more, and if you are one of those people who want more than the others who get left out, then what’s happening is maybe indirectly your fault. I think about the situation a lot, and I place messages, whether subtly or outright, in my music to make people think about these topics. My weapon is my music, so I try and use that to help the world.”


Before our time is up, I figure I should swing the conversation back to music again. Chali and his live band will soon be making their way to our part of the world for a series of shows, and I ask what exactly we can expect. “Let me tell you about my live band,” he begins, enthusiastically. “My keyboard player is one of the original members of the old-school ska band The Untouchables, and he’s played in every band since – it’s ridiculous. We’ve been friends for a long time, and he always said to me that if I ever did some solo stuff, to let him know. All these years later, and here we are – he’s the leader of my band! As for the show, we play my solo stuff, a bit of Jurassic stuff, even a bit of Ozomatli stuff – there’s something for all the fans!”