Every decade, the R&B genre experiences an era of renaissance. The moody synth tones of alternative R&B artists like Bryson Tiller and Partynextdoor are miles away from the smooth serenades of the 90s. Shaped by the internet age and millennial angst, artists like melodic R&B singer A.CHAL are set for a monumental 2017. Peruvian-born Alejandro Chal grew up on the East coast but headed to the West coast to propel his music career. He’s produced for the likes of J.Lo and has received exposure from industry heavyweights such as Zane Lowe, A$AP Rocky, and Drake’s OVO Sound radio station. A.CHAL first wowed the blogosphere with his debut EP Ballroom Riots in 2013 and has since launched his debut album, Welcome to GAZI, where songs with catchy hooks like Round Whippin’ have amounted to over a million streams on Soundcloud. A.CHAL has created his own slick and atmospheric R&B sound, with a hint of Trap influence, harbouring Frank Ocean’s smoothness and the darkness of The Weeknd. Characterised by honest and hedonistic lyricism, his music never shies from exploring candid themes such as the superficiality of LA, drug use and empty hookups. The new wave R&B artist you ought to know talks to Schön! about his roots, spirituality and what’s next for 2017.
There’s an interesting duality in being from one place but growing up in another. How did living in New York but coming home to a Peruvian household shape you?
I was really confused coming from Peru and moving to the US. at 4. I went to at least 6 different schools. They used to make fun of the food I’d bring and the way I spoke. I couldn’t defend myself and when I did I’d get in trouble. I couldn’t really complain about it at home because my parents just cared about good grades. I’d say I learned a lot about humanity and culture at an early age. I’m thankful for those experiences. It’s helped me to always recognise someone in need of help or support. It’s kept me humble, open minded and focused. It’s shaped GAZI.
Was music something that ran in your family, or were you the first to get into it?
I was the first. I think because of the environment and conditions my family came from. No one had the luxury of pursuing anything that could be considered a hobby. They had to work really hard.
Who did you listen to growing up?
DMX, Alanis Morrisette, N.E.R.D, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maná, Timbaland and JAY Z to name a few. My dad was really into psychedelic rock from his era as well. He’d play the Woodstock 1969 film everyday afterwork when we lived in Queens.
You started as producer. When did you decide to start singing?
When I got to LA and started working with songwriters. I fell in love with telling a story and I figured the more I could do with my voice the better the story.
Honesty seems like a big thing for you. What’s your songwriting process like?
I don’t really want to give my process away. People are already out here trying to figure out my juice. But I will say I think sometimes the troubles in my life are victim to my song writing process.
You approach things from a spiritual perspective. Has your spirituality always been important to you?
The Inca culture is deep in my roots and spirituality was a big thing for them. So even if I didn’t understand it when I was young, it was always around. Being self aware and spirituality go hand in hand. The older I get the more and more important is to me. I wasn’t always self aware.
You spent time in the Amazon. It’s great that you turned to nature and tradition to learn more about yourself. What was your experience like?
It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had. It was scary but necessary. It stripped me down from everything I was conditioned to think was important. I had a whole new respect and love for plants. I think it’s truly where I belong.
Before your album Welcome to GAZI’s release you deleted your previous music on Soundcloud – do you feel you’ve moved on from the sound of Ballroom Riots?
I’m an artist. One minute I’m obsessed with a piece, next minute I’m over it. But’ll I’ll always love it. I‘ll always have its paint residue under my nails.
Are you working on any new music at the moment? What can we expect?
I never stop writing. It’s just about the packaging and timing. You can always expect motivation, heartbreak, culture, love and something aggressive from me.
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
Rihanna, Jungle, Lana Del Rey, Jamie XX, Kanye, and Tommy Guerrero to name a few.
What do you hope to achieve this year?
Just doing what I’ve been doing but better. Growing the music, the company, the culture and bringing people more into Welcome to GAZI. Spending more time with my mom. Mom I love you.
Welcome to GAZI is available worldwide.
Words / Shama Nasinde
Follow her here.
Photography / Alexander Black
Creative Director & Fashion / Fatima B
Talent / A.CHAL
Location / Fumo Restaurant in Harlem, NYC