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After the "very tough garrison", it's Chevelle's time

EVOLUTION: Chevelle Franklyn (image credit: Facebook/Chevelle Franklyn)

THE INCREDIBLE testimony of Caribbean Gospel Music Marlin Award-winning former 'Dancehall Queen' Chevelle Franklyn is strong enough to provide solace for those who can identify with her feelings of 'emptiness' after suffering abuse or falling on excruciatingly hard times; as the Jamaican vocal powerhouse once did.

Franklyn's switch from sexualised '90s sing-jay to gospel sensation has been well-publicised. To add weight and detail to popular accounts of her inspiring transformation, the married minister of song spoke with The Voice about the often-challenging journey that preceded her latest studio album, Set Time; which features collaborations with the likes of Grammy Award-winning Pastor Donnie McClurkin and Israel Houghton.

Adopting the perspective of her seven year-old self, Franklyn's happy ending is reminiscent of a Cinderella-esque fairy tale, a fairy tale made even more poignant after a childhood that began a "very tough garrison" in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

"The majority of my life wasn't spent in the church", she explains.

"I was raised in a very poverty-stricken area, political violence was everywhere...the mothers, unfortunately, were struggling. Many of them had many children and there’s nobody but them to blame.

"When I was about seven years old I saw a woman passing in the area and she was using it as a shortcut to go to her church, and I held onto her and said, 'I want to come home with you'. For weeks she would tell me, 'No', and finally she couldn't tell me 'no' and I followed her home. My life changed and I got the opportunity to go to school and church with her.

"It was not the best, but it was better," she declared, comparing her adoptive home to that of her mother's home, which was a problematic environment largely based on the fact that Franklyn was one of many mouths to feed.

"She [her adoptive mother] didn’t have any children of her own. I think it was bigger than her. I only found this out about 10 years ago, but my mother said to me around that very age [seven] one of the dons in the area said to my mother that I was his and I didn’t know this at the time. God sent her on that road strategically.

"Now I realise God loved me even then.

"My mother she was so relived that help came.

"Even though I was living in a very tough garrison there was something in me that wanted better. I remember even as a young girl I would walk out to the main road and look at the passing cars and say, 'One of those cars gwine be mine' - even then, God had me confessing things over my life."

Open and frank about her journey, a humble and grounded Franklyn peppers tales of the past with optimistic quips about being grateful for the lessons and being excited about the future. On her latest project, Set Time, which was released last month, she remarks:

Set Time is a lot of who Chevelle is. I touch on a lot of of old Jamaican gospel songs, there’s a song with a medley of African sounds...I actually called Pastor Donnie McClurkin and I was blown away by his contribution. I did a roots rock reggae track with Israel Haughton and took him out of his comfort zone! Then, I went to afro pop friend of mine, a Nigerian artist Frank Edwards then I went to South Africa with Pastor Lionel Peterson and I put a dancehall beat under it. I'm about exploring and revamping - the album reflects my journey so far. It has different dialects - Yoruba, different languages, Jamaican patois..."

In addition to being a renowned vocalist, Franklyn reveals another layer of her musical heritage, which lies in production.

"I produce, I write, I sing - I've produced the majority of it and I've been around some of the greats in Jamaican music - people like Jimmy Cliff, Shabba Ranks, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown...being around those people, the greatest songwriters to come out of Jamaica; like Mikey Bennett, being in the studio at such a young age, I learnt a lot.

"I started out as being the little girl that loved music. Through running your errands you pay your dues, then you were able to listen to people like Gregory Isaacs, whom I heard record Night Nurse.

"Afterwards, you realise there was so much in that moment, so much impartation - it’s being around a legacy, someone who has contributed, somebody whose voice made other people aware of our little island."

Keen to dispel any stereotypical views of men in the music industry, who are often accused of blocking and resenting female technical talent, Franklyn exclaimed:

"It’s cool. To be honest there is no [male] producer or engineer who would say to me, ‘Nah man, wi nuh inna dat’.

"There were many destiny helpers and many destiny killers, who sowed seeds of insecurity but thank God I was able to meet people who see potential in me, like Sly and Robbie. They say, ‘Chevelle, just put your stamp on it’."

WATCH CHEVELLE FRANKLYN'S VERSION OF THE SLY AND ROBBIE-PRODUCED TAXI RIDDIM, BELOW (credit: YouTube/Real Rockaz):

After recording with and being able to name-check some of the greatest of all time in reggae and dancehall, as well as gospel, Franklyn may be forgiven for occasionally enjoying the high of performing to a packed house, however she is methodical in resisting these feelings of self-importance:

"When you’ve been through some stuff in your life and you see what you’ve survived, you dare not take any glory for yourself and when you feel a little thing, you have too put yourself under subjection and stop, and talk to yourself a lot!

"I’m not saying that everybody who is a diva is a Jezebel, but you can begin to live for the applause then it becomes about you and not about God."

True to form, Franklyn is transparent about the discouraging moments she sometimes experienced as a new Christian:

"Before I got saved, myself and a group of female entertainers were sitting talking and we knew we needed Christ Jesus but we said, 'Let us get ready for church' because what we saw wasn’t appealing - we saw some long skirt (I love my long skirt, but what we saw didn't look like fun) and we thought that’s what Christianity was; but when we got a revelation of Jesus Christ then we saw what Christianity really was.

"I wasn’t expecting to see perfection coming into the church, but I was expecting to see Godliness.

"When I got saved there was a culture shock - I came up on a lot of cold people that were in the fraternity - I would reach out to them and they had no desire to reach back, so I thought, 'It’s better that I go back to that [secular dancehall] camp because there is more love in that camp'. In 'the world' I wasn’t competing with anyone - Lady G, she is still my best friend - we never competed with eachother, it was just sisterly love.

"People were just cold as ice but I said 'God you are warm!'. I struggled with it for a while but then I realised - not everybody was like that.

"I’ve found a friendship group but they’re scattered all over - a lot of them are not on the frontline, a lot of them are ushers, door keepers, they have no titles other than wonderful people. Some of them are pastors, some of them are bishops - for example, Pastor Agu Irukwu from Jesus House church in north London, Bishop John Francis from Ruach City Church, he is my covering, Pastor Paul Adefarasin from Nigeria..the way his team treated me and how he treated me - those were the people that God sent to show me that I wasn’t missing anything in the world."

When asked about the significance of the new album's title and whether or not the current period represented a certain 'set time' for her, Franklyn shared:

"I'm in a better place than I was two years ago, mentally and spiritually. I needed to learn self-confidence and self-worth. It was very difficult to speak publicly before - now, I know that it’s the set time.

"I'm ready to empower this generation who has been afflicted by many issues - abuse, mental, physical, because I've been there. You name it, I've been there."

Set Time is available now from all digital outlets.

Follow Chevelle Franklyn on social media:

Facebook: @chevelle.franklyn

Twitter: @chevellfranklyn

Instagram: chevellefranklyn

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