Meet Portland’s Chanti Darling: A Queer, Black R&B Original

Chanti Darling is a queer, black retro-futurist R&B musician in a town where that kind of artist was largely unfamiliar until recently. Though Portland, Oregon is a queer-friendly town, it’s also mostly white people, and much of the music scene has been indie rock-focused for quite some time. People like Chanti are helping expand that scene, and the town is embracing him completely.

Chanti, whose given name is Chanticleer Trü, moved to Portland in 2011 from San Francisco. Since then, he has been steadily gaining attention in the music scene while working on various projects. In 2016, he won the Willamette Week’s Best New Band poll for his Chanti Darling music.

His debut album, RNB Vol. 1, came out on August 3rd. It features songs that merge the textures and soul of retro R&B with the clarity and ambience of modern electronic music. Chanti wants to help people escape from their daily stresses and the bleak times we’re facing to another world, or another dimension, by easing their minds with his emotive voice and getting them to this new place with his ethereal tones. INTO spoke to Chanti about his music, his identity, Portland and more.


INTO: What do you want people to take away from this album?

For me it’s kind of an experiment in classic songwriting through kind of a futuristic lens. So that’s my point musically. I would love to see more songwriting going back in that direction. The songwriting is kind of about people escaping from the day-to-day. People have to deal with so much right now. Things are really dark. People have to deal with depression and the social and political climate. I kind of wanted to do a feel-good album rather than project what’s happening. I want to provide an escape.


A lot of people don’t really understand the term “retro-futurist.” What does it mean to you and are those kinds of labels important to you?

I care about labels to a degree, like anybody, but I’m kind of constantly outside of the box. I’m kind of classifying what the album was, because there are some very strong influences strung throughout it that will definitely guide people’s minds to a particular time in music and vibe. It’s also not a complete throwback. It’s not like Bruno Mars’ last couple albums, which had some really strong 80s funk influences. As do mine, but mine are kind of taking those influences and using the technology of today to really push it through a more futuristic lens. So it sounds old, but it also sounds kind of modern at the same time.


What are you thinking about conceptually when you think about the future?

I kind of just wanted to put people in another universe. If you look at the artwork and the scenes throughout, even the kind of atmospheric sounds across the album, there’s this kind of spatial or cosmic or otherworldly vibe. In wanting to provide that kind of escapist idea, I kind of created another world that the R&B lives in.

Photo: Nadav Benjamin

How has being queer influenced how you approach your music?

I get asked that question a lot, and my answer varies depending on who I’m talking to. A lot of times if I’m talking to someone who doesn’t have experience with the queer identity, it feels like a qualifier or othering, so usually I would tell someone I’m an artist first and I happen to be queer. Everything I do will always have that element to it, because that is part of who I am, but first and foremost, I’m a musician, and if you listen to my music, you will see that it’s for everybody. But I do represent my community, and I love being a voice and being visible to a group of people who aren’t really recognized in this genre. Hip-hop and R&B are genres where we’ve had to hide for a long time, and that’s been changing over the last few years… I want to be out there representing queer people in R&B.


Historically there’s long been this idea that being queer and black is difficult in a unique way, because there hasn’t always been an acceptance of queerness in that community. Do you think things are changing?

Right. I think that in the last couple years, there’s a lot more understanding of one another. With all of the information out there and Trump being president, with everything that’s happened, all of these conversations have come to the forefront, because we have a bigger enemy to fight. It’s kind of pushed us all together to have to really dig in deep and have these conversations, and it’s very important that we come together… I think people have been more open minded to having these conversations and having them be productive conversations. I see it changing, and there’s definitely a lot more empathy across people and their different experiences.


You live in Portland, which has a long history of racism and is very white. Do you feel that, or are you part of a community where it’s not as relevant to you personally?

I feel like if it’s happening, no matter if it’s happening to me, it’s always relevant to me. I definitely see it, and people have different experiences, and if I’m not out here speaking about it, or if I’m not fighting against it even if I’m not experiencing it, then what am I using my platform for? You know? As an artist it’s important for us—for anybody who has any sort of platform or visibility—to speak out against all of these very awful things that affect our communities and our society on the day-to-day. I don’t ever want to forget or lose touch with the reality of what’s actually happening just because I’m making music or trying to be popular on the internet or some shit.

When I moved to Portland, the only music that was getting any recognition was literally white dudes with guitars. So me jumping in, first playing in a post-punk band then moving into this, I was one of the first faces like mine that people started to see gaining momentum and getting recognition. Since then, it’s changed a great deal. When you look at a lot of the best music that’s coming out of Portland, it’s literally queer black people. That says a lot about the impact of really carving your path and what opening that lane for what other people can do. I’m very proud of that.


Here’s one I like to ask people: What’s the worst thing in the world? It could be a feeling or an idea or a person. Whatever you want.

I think the worst thing in the world is feeling like you don’t have any purpose. I think that causes a lot of problems in our society. I feel like, generally, when people don’t feel like they have purpose or don’t represent something or there’s nothing that represents them… it creates all sorts of schisms that deteriorate where we’re trying to head. It creates all sorts of socio-economic issues that we see on the day-to-day. I think a lot of our lack of fight and our lack of trying to really move things forward comes from that.


That relates to another question I had. What do you think is the point of life? What drives you, personally?

Connectivity, I think. I grew up traveling a bunch as a military brat, and I really didn’t have lots of friends or long-term relationships. Recently I was talking to a friend, and they were like, ‘Oh, I went to a wedding and saw all of these kids from 6th grade, and they’re married and got kids.’ I’m like, ‘That is so strange. I don’t have any friends from 6th grade or from high school even.’ I think that has pushed me toward wanting to connect with people… Connectivity is really important to me, and I do that a lot through my music. I’ve been playing music since I was a very young child, and connecting to people through art and through music and being able to have people see a bit of themselves in me is what’s important to me.


Last question: What’s something you believe that you can’t prove?

[Laughs] I believe that the feeling of deja vu is a reverberation on the quantum level that you’re on the correct timeline that you should be on.

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