Chatonda “Chats” Ridley grew up in Malawi, Africa, where he taught himself to play bass as a teenager. He moved to Scotland seven years ago and has since immersed himself in the Scottish music scene, performing with highly regarded bands such as Supa & Da Kryptonites and playing across numerous venues and festivals. Chats has also collaborated with 21 Theatre, a theatre production company based in Edinburgh, and performed as a live musician in some of their past musical productions. He is an exceptional musician, who brings energy, enthusiasm and style to the music that he creates. Chats currently plays bass for Speak Easy Circus, a group that engages its listeners through their evocative lyrics and diverse instrumentation.
Founder of anam creative, Michiel Turner, talks to Chatonda about his experience as a bassist, upcoming collaborations and latest release with Speak Easy Circus.
MT: Who or what inspired you to learn the bass?
CR: I started playing at 15 as a way to hang out with my good friends Alex and Daniel Rajipma. I actually played the drums for a bit before I played bass. I was a terrible drummer. Once they realised this they decided to give me a bass instead of sticks. They also neglected to tell me that the bass I learned on was nearly unplayable by most people's standards because the action on the bass was so high. Both of them had been playing music for years before they met me and so they really inspired me to improve quickly but also they taught me how social music can be. Music was a way for us to talk to each other, a reason to hang out, a game to play with each other and something we could share with others. It was all of those and more. I still view it in a similar way today which is why I enjoy playing with and meeting new musicians so much. I love learning about how others see and interpret things.
MT: What creative projects have you been involved in?
CR: Honestly I've been involved in so many musical projects since I came to the UK 7 years ago that it's a little hard to keep track of (Chats laughs). I didn't have the opportunity to meet as many people while I was growing up in Malawi so I went a bit mad with it when I came here. I've played in jazz big bands, folk bands, ceilidh bands, metal bands, blues and funk bands and I've even been lucky enough to work with DJs and hip-hop artists. I try to learn and develop with each project as much as I can. Wherever people need bass or double bass I'll be there! I'm currently working with; singer/songwriter Megan Black to record an album, hip-hop artist Somnia, the metal band, Moonlight Scythe and, of course, the indomitable Speak Easy Circus.
MT: Can you tell us about your new release with Speak Easy Circus?
CR: Speak Easy Circus are gearing up for a big year of releases! We've just released our single "Lions Should Hunt" on all the usual platforms. The song is about the many ways in which 'masculinity' can negatively impact us and others in our society. We were fed up with how much needless destruction the concept of masculinity brings with it so we made an angry disco song as a way to vent some of that frustration. We have plans to release a few more singles this year and record an album for the end of the year.
MT: What are your goals for the future as a young musician in the creative industries?
CR: My goals are probably very similar to many other young musicians. I aim to continue making a wide variety of music with a wide variety of musicians... and hopefully earn a living along the way! Being a musician is hard enough, nevermind being a young or unestablished musician during COVID. The support just isn't there for a lot of folk. To that end, I believe having a home studio set up or some ability to record yourself and collaborate with others is vital. I have recently set up my first home studio and am currently getting to grips with it in order to start producing music remotely with others. I believe it's very important that musicians support each other during these times so if I can help anyone else out along my musical journey then I'll consider myself a successful musician.
MT: What is your involvement with anam creative?
CR: anam creative is a great little community of young musicians in Glasgow which I'm proud to be a part of. The various members all enjoy creating together and we all have vastly different backgrounds in music. It's exciting to work with people who are so different from me and learn from them. I try to offer any and all musical experience I have to the group and our various projects.
MT: How has anam creative helped your development?
CR: COVID and the restrictions really hit me hard. It's a very tough time for everyone. I lost the desire to play music for the first time since I'd started playing as I could no longer play with others or to others. I've been lucky enough to have a fantastic support network of family and friends just a phone call away to help keep me going and anam creative was part of that support network.