Drummer rises above all odds

Chante Phillips with the first-prize trophy from the Absa Shine SA talent competition in 2017.

It was a bitter-sweet moment for Chante Phillips when she learnt she was one of the performers chosen for this year’s virtual edition of the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival next month.

The professional drummer’s father had died of Covid-19 just a few weeks earlier.

Launched in 2003, the festival is seen as an incubator for talented young jazz musos in the province.

“This enables young jazz musicians to take the experience forward into their careers and educate others in the process,” says Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux.

Chante says she was still coming to grips with her father’s death when she heard she had finally made the cut after auditioning for the festival in the past.

“I was definitely so close to tears. With picking up the pieces and dealing with the passing of my father, this news was welcomed and much needed. It made me smile knowing that I finally made it, and that my father would have been so proud of me.”

Chante grew up in Athlone and her interest in drumming started when she was 6, watching the drummer in church.

With no money to buy a drum kit, she made her own in the backyard with five paint buckets, making all sorts of beats with tree branches.

“The neighbours would constantly complain, but I was determined to become a drummer. Music has been my heartbeat since then.”

Over the years, her drumming talent was nurtured in church, and in the first year of high school, she took part in a Valentine’s Day show. Using her uncle’s drum kit, she performed Weekend Special with a friend who played bass guitar.

“This is where I started building my confidence and was able to play in front of big crowds since then. The host of the event was surprised because back in the day female drummers were not as popular, and I was just a regular school
kid.”

After school, she wanted to study music, but she needed to work to provide for the family.

She was in the corporate world until 2017 – that’s when she got her big break after a team she formed won first prize in the international Absa Shine SA talent competition.

She is now a full-time drummer, studying music part-time, funded by the Clarissa Mack and Patrick Rezandt Educational Trust.

Some of her other achievements include being mentored by world-renowned drummer, Frank Paco; playing at Cape Town Drumshed 2013 as the only female participant and reaching the semi-finals; being a finalist in Cape Town’s Drumoff in 2014; playing for Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground on an all-female band project; and working with NGOs.

Chante auditioned for the jazz festival just three weeks after her father’s death in June.

“It was almost unbearable having to put on my game face and push through, especially with the mixed emotions and so many unanswered questions, but I have family and friends who encouraged me to go for it despite the loss.

“While doing the audition, for a moment, I felt at peace knowing that my father is smiling down at me.”

The Artscape has decided to open its jazz master classes – to be held from Monday September 14 to Saturday September 19 – to all the young artists who auditioned for this year’s festival.

Amanda Tiffin, the festival director, says everyone who auditioned stood out in terms of their playing ability, their energy and style.

“The level of playing and performance was outstanding, so it
was very difficult to choose only a few.”

Those selected for the performance in October will also participate in song-writing sessions, rehearsals and the final performance. They will be mentored through this process by Ms Tiffin and a team of jazz professionals.

For more information about the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival, visit www.artscape.co.za