Queen Of UK Dancehall: Lady Chann

Feisty as fuck
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Lady Chann is having a right old natter. Dancehall in the UK is a strange beast, but its latest queen is anything but weird.

Sitting in a Walthamstow greasy spoon in a pink shell-suit, matching lipstick and her trusty mobile spinning round her fingers, Lady Chann is perfectly in balance with her North East London locale.

And its been these pink daubed lips that have both caused Chann the most trouble but also made her career. “When I was a teenager I was really mouthy, even in the street and to the police,” she babbles. “That would always be the trouble: just getting nicked. Now I get paid for being a bit lippy, so it’s all good.”

By her own admission, she’s still feisty as fuck. The difference is now she has a microphone and critics. “I’ve been accused of being a male basher,” she laughs. “But I’m not, it’s just some guys get on my nerves. If you get on my nerves, you get written about.”

Our singer’s dad and uncle were prominent soundmen on sound-systems, meaning Chann grew up around towering boxes of reggae vinyl. Her own musical emergence came as Baby Chann with NW10’s Suncycle Crew who, alongside Dolomite, Gappy Ranx and Redman (“just like a dancehall version of the Black Eyed Peas”) brought the rough Stonebridge estate in Harlesden to musical life. That was 2002, and she was still to share a stage with Jamaican legend Beanie Man - who, after they blazed an onstage duet together, declared that she was now ‘Lady’ Chann.

New name, new direction. It wasn’t long before she was pushing against the conventional currents, mutating dancehall to a more intriguing, more accessible place that has seen her be proclaimed Britain’s number one dancehall queen - a big accolade for such a young girl. But Chann’s inflections of dancehall are definitely arresting: “I’m trying to introduce it to a different audience by working with Toddla T, Sticky and the funky stuff. I think that makes it crossover to people who might not normally listen to straight 90BPM dancehall. So I think maybe if there’s a few people like me then let’s all just do it and maybe more people would be interested.” UK dancehall, despite the nation’s West Indian community and deep love of reggae, has always remained segregated. Dancehall could easily have been Britain’s surrogate hip-hop: angry kids riding with an explosive

message yet delivered bobbing on a more dynamic rhythm than our American cousins’ hip-hop template. It could have been huge. But dancehall’s been consistently boxed off, and Chann is in agreement. “Most radio DJs don’t play dancehall. I think to be a dancehall artist it’s got to be your state of mind. Not everyone’s brave enough to cover the topics that dancehall artists cover. And hip-hop does to a certain extent and that why it’s considered a rebellious thing, that’s why it’s so big. Anything that’s rebellious everybody gravitates to more.”

Now after key works on Toddla T’s Girls Music label the young MC is working with the likes of Skream, Benga, Sticky, Mojam, Toddla T, Doorly and South Rakkas Crew on her album. So, what will she be talking about when we finally get our hands on it? “I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings but then on the flipside I don’t care; if I feel strongly about it I’ll say it. And I’ll cover topics that not everyone does - like, everyone covers love, but it’s what you say when a boy’s looking at another girl. I’ll say it: ‘Why you looking at another girl for?’ And it makes a tune. So I’m feisty!”

Words by Matthew Bennett

Lady Chann plays live at The Big Chill House, London Kings X alongside Wookie on Sunday 24th April and it's free to get in, see you there.

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