Chanda Bernroider, better known as Chanda Rule, is a singer, author and podcaster. She dedicated a large part of her musical career to her heritage – choral music. Today she shares this gift with others and finds the power of her own voice and the collective in the city she has called home for seven years now: Vienna. “I’ve wanted to be a singer for so long”
By Tonica Hunter
Throughout her career, Chanda Rule has been repeatedly asked: “Tell me, do you happen to sing?” Depending on who asks this question and in what context, it is an immediate warning for many Black people. The prejudice against Black people as artistic “natural talent” is widespread – not least in Europe, where the exoticization of African Americans (combined with the careless use of African American slang such as “y’all,” “ghetto,” “Sis,” “ yaaaas” “Homegirl” and gestures like finger snaps and neck movements) equates Blackness with a projected idea of excellence in the entertainment industry. With Chanda Rule, it’s more intuitive and less charged: the woman looks like a star. Her presence fills the room, and even when she speaks, you feel like her voice belongs on a stage.
When asked if she sang, other questions often followed: “Can you…” or “Would you maybe…”. – questions that opened up incredible possibilities that matched Chanda’s own dreams. Time and time again, someone sensed a talent in her that could be developed… and over the course of her career, she has passed on this help in the form of community work: she helps other people find their own voice.
Chanda Rule was born in Chicago (USA) and influenced by New York City from the age of 21 – but she first had to become the star that people saw in her. She grew up in the church choir and learned the music by ear, even memorizing the voices of the accompanying musicians in order to better understand the bigger picture – a holistic approach to the choir and the sign of a musician who understands her role as part of something bigger . But it wasn’t always clear that she would become a professional musician: Today she speaks openly about her doubts at the time about whether she was good enough to become a musician – and her path initially led somewhere else.
Chanda studied journalism at the renowned Howard University in Washington, DC, which belongs to the ranks of the “historically black colleges and universities” (HBCU). After completing her studies, she found a job as a publicist at a global marketing company and then spent a few years at a publishing company. She was determined to move to the big city and was willing to do anything to achieve it: In 1996, she was only supposed to have a short stay in NYC on a plane trip – but her gut feeling told her to stay in New York. So she packed her bags accordingly and got off the plane. Of course without realizing that the step would lead her back to her love of music in an almost fateful way…
“One day I just took a day off from work…”
Chanda Rule (c) Marlene Fröhlich
At one point, Chanda sat on a park bench and wrote in her diary about what she wanted next for her life. There was a theater across the street from her – and she went in without further ado, sang to her audience… and the rest is hard to believe: she said goodbye to the corporate world almost as quickly as she entered it, and a few years later she is already on big stages in the USA and Europe – among other things, she took part in the New York “Shakespeare in the Park” festival and the musical “Hair”. After this lightning-fast entry into music life, her career continued rapidly, including as an opening act for India.Arie oder Mucus Washington.
However, after a few years of performing, Chanda Rule’s perspectives and priorities have changed – with good reason: “My son was two years old at the time and this New York artistic life was difficult for a family,” she remembers. “So we said we would go to Vienna for three years – and now it’s been seven.” Her look is somewhere between regret and smile. Nevertheless, the decision did not mean a step away from music: Chanda found new energy and a new focus in Austria that maintained the connection to her musical roots: “I have choral music in my heart. It makes me think about renewal and community, most of the songs have to do with that – what happens when we sing together with other people.” It was urgent for her to find new communities and solidarity: in 2016, when she came to Europe, racism was no less widespread and incessant than it is now. Choral music offers her an anchor and a basis for community building.
So, after her childhood in the choir, Chanda, now an adult, is looking for spaces of solidarity in music. This instinctive, people-oriented approach to music is a fundamental characteristic of her work. She describes music and singing as ritual; When asked what ritual means to her, she sums it up elegantly: “Ritual is a predetermined, repetitive way of being with one another. It underlies everything I do. I still interact that way.”
Permission to let go
Since Chanda Rule has been living in Austria, her main projects have included the organ-based “Sweet Emma Band” and the duo “Revival”. Both formations consist of local and international artists and act as a space for Chanda’s cross-genre exploration of music – from field recordings (“the quirkier side of my musical taste”) to jazz and soul. Away from the stage, Chanda does her deep community work in the form of empowerment and singing workshops, where – as in her concerts – she supports people in gaining “permission”: her term for letting go – moving the body, opening the mind and let your heart lead. “We need more permission,” she states. “This stuff” – by that she means the music – “literally sets us in motion, it changes us. We have to respond to it.”
In her music, Chanda Rule strives to touch the Austrian audience – and to allow themselves to be touched. Their sound and history are deeply intertwined with the stories of their ancestors: stories of captivity and liberation, blues and gospel, soul and jazz. This is the power that permeates their songs.
Chanda Rule (Facebook)
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