21 QUESTIONS: Rachel Chinouriri on Making Space For Black Indie Artists, Growing Up in Croydon + More
Merging satisfying electronic and pop production with beautifully haunting vocals, Rachel Chinouriri is the Croydon singer slowly but surely affirming her place in Britain’s Indie landscape. In a spider inspired world creative directed and shot by 20 year-old photographer Joe Puxley, we sat with Rachel for a quick, nostalgic game of 21 questions – discussing all things from her inspirations, the power her surname holds, what Black indie artists need from the industry and more.
You’re hosting a dinner for your favourite artists, who are they and what are you cooking for them?
Celeste, Billie Martin, Coldplay, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Sam Fender. I’d make Sadza and Muriwo, which I can’t really cook – but it’s from my country, so I’d try and impress them.
Do you think your culture has influenced the way you carry yourself in terms of your career?
I feel like ethnically I’m Zim, but culturally I’m British. The household I grew up in was a very culturally Zimbabwean house, so there are a lot of morals I carry that come from that upbringing. For example, being extremely respectful, carrying your family name, and treating others well, is a big thing in Zim culture, but I’d say in general I’m very amongst Black British culture.
Would you say growing up in Croydon played into that?
Funnily enough, I grew up in the Surrey part of Croydon so my area was predominantly white. We were the only black family on my road for most of my childhood, and I went to a very white school in a mostly white area. That actually influenced a lot of my Indie side. My sisters and siblings grew up more within the realm of black British culture and would always bring black people over to the house, so that definitely had an impact on me.
You mentioned in one of your other interviews that cooking is a skill you picked up from your parents – do you feel like you still have time to cook?
No! Deliveroo every single day. My life is so busy these days, even if I have time to cook breakfast, I’ll still order food another two or three times that day.
So everything’s been pretty much non stop then?
I would say so, especially since the pandemic restrictions lifted. From about halfway through 2021 until now it’s been super busy, and next year can only get busier.
What keeps you grounded?
My friends. If I ever behave differently my friends will have no shame in telling me to pattern before they cuss me out. However, it is pretty easy to stay grounded because I’m always so grateful for everything I have. I used to do the paper rounds when I was 11 and now I’m doing an editorial for a magazine – things can change so easily. The fact that I’m even in this position instead of working a part time job. I’m just grateful just to be here so why would I be disrespectful? All these amazing people taking the time out of their day to glam me up, take my photographs, interview me… I’ll never take this for granted.
What are some of your long term career goals?
I’d like to enter the charts at some point in my career and I really want to release a minimum of 5 albums, but have all of them be very well executed.
What’s a place you’ve always wanted to visit and why?
Bali! For sure. The culture, the scenery, it looks incredible. I need a holiday. I haven’t been on a tropical sunny holiday in a very long time. The most I can think of is Gibraltar and that isn’t even that far, so definitely Bali.
What do your family think of your career?
They’re really proud. There’s probably only around 60 people in the world with the surname Chinouriri, and I’m just like, let’s take it worldwide! I’m one of the few Chinouriris that are in England, most of them are in Africa; so of course my family are proud because they achieved what they came here to do – give me and my siblings the opportunity to make something of our lives. We are a very music heavy family, my cousins all do music, but i’m the only one who’s kind of taken it on as a career.
Who would you say is your biggest influence?
My mum is a massive influence to me because of her hard work. Then I’d say Amy Winehouse. The work she managed to put out despite how the world treated her is just – wow. It’s unfortunate, but the legacy she left through her passion for music is insane. Music was always a top priority even in her darkest of times, just the poetry and beauty of her songs is a massive inspiration for me.
You recently released an open letter talking about how your musical influences are rooted in “indie/alternative electronic\pop’ music yet you constantly get grouped into Rnb / Neo-Soul etc? How does this make you feel?
I felt fed up with working so hard but constantly having to fight the boundaries that were being put on me by stereotypes. It’s not really anyone’s fault to pinpoint, which is even more frustrating. You meet so many nice people and it was hard for me to correct people because usually they’re like “you’re so right!” or “sorry that’s so true” but it’s tiring to have to explain that to people rather than trying to be consciously aware of it.
What are some things you think need to be done in order to make the industry more accepting / accommodating to Black indie / alternative artists like yourself?
Companies publicly acknowledging and supporting black people. It’s not our job to fix something that we didn’t cause. The support from bigger companies helps a lot more. This is something I’ve been vocal about behind the scenes since the beginning but speaking out has helped me so much. Companies with unconscious bias should acknowledge their wrongdoing and put things in place to support us and stop it from continuing when PR etc. promote us in a certain way which we know is based on our colour rather than our music.
What keeps you going in difficult times?
My friends and family. I’m an over thinker, and I work well with people who tell me to get a grip and keep it moving rather than people who sugar coat things. My friends and family have no shame in doing that, no qualms in telling me to shut up and get a grip. It’s those constant reminders to work hard and not complain too much – just remember where I came from, and what I could’ve been, and how far I have come, and where I can go.
You’re very open and authentic in an industry where people tend to put up a facade – you really let people into your real life, no filters. Do you think your honesty affects how people perceive your music?
If it does, they’re quite closed minded. The art someone makes is such a personal thing; my art reflects how I feel internally, but it might not necessarily correspond with my persona on social media. I think you should be able to differentiate between the artist’s personality and the tone of the work they’re putting out, because the two aren’t always the same.
You’ve got quite a large creative range and have explored so many different sounds, how do you stay consistent in terms of the music you put out?
It comes from my tone in voice and melody. No matter what the instrumental is, my tone, harmony and melody are the things that carry me through. For example, you could put Celeste on any instrumental and it’s clear that it’s her because her tone carries it through. So I’d say even though I’ve explored a lot of sounds, my harmony and melody will always draw back to what I do and make it ‘me’.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t take paracetamol for someone else’s headache. One of my close friends, Jamila, told me that and I’ve never forgotten it. Everytime I’m stressed, I think to myself, is this even my stress or is it someone else’s? That is one thing I’m constantly reminding myself, to stop stressing over things that have nothing to do with me.
What’s a fun memory you have from creating your album?
Going to Glenn Roberts’ house in Herefordshire with Jamie Lloyd Taylor. I did 5 days there, barely any phone, beautiful area, and everything just slowed down so much. It was the opposite of fast paced London. You actually have time to think about what you’re writing and we managed to get 6 songs out of three days – which is insane. That was the most fun process so far in writing, but I’m going to LA to write some more. I’m actually terrified of planes, terrified, so I’m not really ready to go.
Do you enjoy the slower paced life?
I mean, it does take longer to get things done but then again in fast paced environments you spend so long stressing and by the time you’ve relaxed you don’t know where the time has gone. You haven’t seen family or friends, and as much as work is important, those things are always much more important. I feel like eventually I’m going to move out of London and just commute in for work.
What’s an experience from your childhood that helps you today in your career?
I went to The BRIT School and did musical theatre there. I was quite shy when I first started – I actually cried on the first day when I had to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The performance aspect of the school really pushed me to where I am today and helped me build my confidence. It really did set me up for my career.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Some sort of project, whether it’s an album or EP. I’ve been writing a lot lately. Also, some great artwork – lots of fun shoots like this one, and lots and lots of live shows.
What’s one thing that’s always in your bag?
Lip gloss, for sure. My favourite is the £1 hair shop gloss – it’s the one makeup product I absolutely stand by. Don’t leave my house without it.
ARTIST — Rachel Chinouriri @rachelchinouriri | ARTIST MGMT — Amber Chen @ Atlas Artists | SET DESIGNER — Maureen Kargbo @missmvureen.studio | STYLIST— Rhys Marcus Jay @rhymarcusjay | ASSISTANT STYLIST — Adeola Johnson @adeolajohnson | MAKEUP ARTIST — Georgia Hope @georgiahopemakeup | ASSISTANT MUA — Hannah Busst @hannahbmkup | ASSISTANT MUA — Lizzie Checkley @lizziecheckley | MAKEUP PRODUCTS BY Danessa Myricks | HAIR STYLIST — Shamara Roper @shamara_roper | ASSISTANT HAIR STYLIST — Donica Campbell @berrysmart | ASSISTANT HAIR STYLIST — Chaniqwa Brown @chaniqwaabrown | NAILS — @SUKI_Nailz | PROD. ASSISTANT, GUAP STUDIOS — Anna Oguama-Richards @annaorichs | PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSISTANT — Libby Cooper @shotbyliberty | PRODUCER — Nada El-Hammoud @sayyynada | EDITORIAL — Shenell Kennedy @shenellkennedy | PHOTOGRAPHER — Joe Puxley @joepuxx @cult.behaviour