Many individuals harbour fantastical dreams of “making it” in the music industry, yet this remarkably common notion is instinctively suppressed by rational fears of probability. However, there remain exceptions to this norm, and Celeste Kechi now stands as a prime example of what unwavering commitment can achieve. With an imminent album release and plans for an American tour in the mix, this young artist has shattered expectations with her effortlessly formidable presence.
Despite an admittingly “unexpected” stumble into professional music production, Celeste has “always known” that music was the ultimate goal. Having started at BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music) in September last year she began to “see music as a career, not just a hobby” and credits the institute with much of her success. The modern music university has amassed an impressive community with eight colleges across the UK, Ireland and Germany, one of which is located in the heart of Brighton. However, Celeste Kechi isn’t the first student at the institute to have made an impressive break into the industry, with illustrious alumni including artists such as George Ezra, Tom Odell and James Bay.
“You are assigned to a genre based on looks and gender”
“It was my business music tutor at BIMM who listened to my music on SoundCloud, really old stuff from years ago I had done from home just playing around with GarageBand. He basically contacted me and was like ‘oh celeste I’ve heard your track Kick Back and I really like it, I think a friend of mine would be interested in working with you, do you mind if I send it on to him?’ So, I was like yeah sure thanks, and I didn’t really think anything would come of it, and he sent it to this guy who is now my manager!”
Much of Celeste’s adoration for music was born from her upbringing in the “diverse and creative city” of London. From a young age Celeste was somewhat forcibly dragged to live music events by her parents, however, it wasn’t until she developed her own independence and began exploring the eclectic range of music that the eclectic city had to offer that her “appreciation really grew.”
“London is just so diverse! And the range of people that you can go out to see perform is incredible. Everybody is creating something in London, it’s a really creative city, so I feel like that really inspired me to be creative through watching other people do their thing and making music.”
Yet the sanitized version of the music industry that’s sold to consumers, often omits the blunt truths of a business saturated with prejudice and stereotyping. Celeste herself acknowledges how damaging these preconceptions can be to young artists attempting to launch a career. Contrary to popular belief Celeste’s music is multifaceted – she describes her debut album as a hybrid of funk and soul with pop influence.
“I feel like the biggest problem is stereotyping, so I feel like a lot of people look at me and think okay young black female, she probably does R&B or hip hop, you know, they kind of assign you to a genre of music based on your race and gender. They look at you and make a judgement before you have even spoken to them and with music that’s a really big thing.”
Whilst this unconscious bias is something “we are all guilty of doing,” the collective impact is extraordinary and immensely damaging for those like Celeste making a valiant effort to escape their stereotypes and reshape the music industry.
“Recent movements such as BLM and #MeToo have ignited necessary conversations on topics such as gender and race, yet despite this desperate cry for equal opportunity and equal representation across all disciplines, the music industry continues to fall short.”
The concept of “concentrated representation” is one that has persisted for decades in the music industry and though Celeste admits to witnessing “great black representation in those obvious genres such as rap and hip-hop,” there exists an alarming lack of racial diversity and representation across the board. One of the most pressing examples of this injustice can be observed across all major American orchestras, where still only 1.8% of musicians are black.
“There are hardly any black artists in classical music. A lot of people just assume that it’s the kind of thing that only a certain type of person will want to do, but there are so many black artists I know that play classical music, rock music, heavy metal, but they’re not getting represented in the same way because of these stereotypes.”
Celeste’s debut album, Celestial Love, is set for release late this year and stands as a true exploration of self; a celebration of all those different components, those defining memories that build an individual. This album stands as a rebuttal to confinement, not only in music but in life. Celeste tells how the tracks “came together really naturally” to form something cohesive and tangible with much of the inspiration stemming from her upbringing in Clapham and “the struggles that you face growing up, becoming comfortable with yourself and creating an identity.”
“This is my first album, so I feel like this is my chance to show the different dimensions to me and pieces of me. With each song, it kind of tells a different story about a different part of my life if that makes sense. So, like each song is about the trials that I’ve faced but also some of the happy moments too. It’s an autobiography in an album.”
The nagging impact of the pandemic has tried the patience of even the saintliest of individuals and in light of imposed travel restrictions, the music industry has been forced to get creative. Celeste’s representation, Island Records, boast a plethora of household names, the likes of Arianna Grande, Drake and Amy Winehouse. Initially, Celestial Love was scheduled for recording at the label’s headquarters in America, however, arrangements were later adapted to ensure Celeste had the access and equipment to record the album in the comfort of her own city.
Yet no matter where her music takes her, you can be sure that Celeste will retain her contagious style as she continues to deconstruct her own identity, whilst imploring us all to do the same.