Singer-songwriter and language lover teams up with talented musicians to share words she hasn't even thought of yet
By Cory Schachtel | September 6, 2023
Charlee Queen XO is a spoken word artist, singer/songwriter, dancer/choreographer, yoga teacher, and spiritual/mental health mentor who loves to spread knowledge and joy through words — even if they’re not always previously prepared words. This weekend, her written and improvised words will be backed by the improvised musical stylings of Reclaim Collective, a five-piece group comprised of some of Edmonton’s finest musicians. We talked about how yoga led her to performing, her upcoming show, and how she came out of her mother’s womb.
How did you come up with your stage name?
Well “Queen C” was given to me by everybody, when I was teaching a lot of yoga.
So you just sort of gave off the Queen vibe?
Yeah, exactly (laughs). Actually, they called me “Queen B” at first but I was like, no, it’s Queen C because my name’s Charlene. And then when I was finally really deciding to step into my artist’s career, with some of the poetry and singing and rapping, I was like, okay, does that work? And I got a piece of advice to look it up on YouTube, just to see if anybody already uses the name. And noticed that there was another Afro female who is a rapper who goes by the name Queen C, and already had a few videos on there. And I’m just like, you know, I do live in a predominantly white space. And sometimes, they get confused as to who’s who, right? But I didn’t want people to be like, “Oh my god, I listened to one of your tracks!” And then I’d have to be like, “Nah that’s not me.”
So, Charlene is the feminine version of Charlie, and then I was watching the Harley Quinn movie and I was like, oh my god, I love her vibe. So it all kind of trickled in from having to reformat everything, and the idea of embracing both my masculine and feminine sides in a beautiful way. I just thought it was maybe a little bit more badass, and I don’t think anybody will get confused.
You mentioned stepping into your artist’s career. How did yours actually start?
I feel like I’ve always been an artist since I was a child. I mean, poetry, it was what I call my first love, but I really and truly came out of my mother’s womb dancing. But also with my culture, being Jamaican, you know, dancing and music and all those things are just kind of part of who we are in general. So I never really considered myself a special type of artist just because I could dance and move.
One of my siblings, who’s 17 years older than me, he is a poet who’s published books. We weren’t really close, because of the big age gap, but he’d come share some of his poetry, and it just really intrigued me. And honestly, I was going through so many shifts and changes in my life at the time. I mean, I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, a super strict religion that was very limiting in your vocal expression on an everyday basis. And so I thought poetry was a beautiful outlet to express certain things and concepts. And you weren’t really judged for it, it was seen as art. And so I picked up the pen just as a way of expressing myself and just expressing what was going on within me at the time.
And so how did you start the performing-in-front-of-people part of your career?
I started my own dance team at the University of Toronto, and we did a few things there for a few years. So it was kind of actively touching into my art. But I never really considered myself to be an artist. Just like I loved to sing but didn’t consider myself to be a singer.
And then, you know, we kind of go through life a little bit — I got my degree like my parents asked me to, I had my big girl job with my big girl office. Then I started tapping into the spiritual side of yoga, and started teaching. And that’s kind of what really brought me to myself, feeling that, you know, we all have gifts and we all have natural talents to share with people, and our gifts are meant to be given. So slowly that started to unravel that within me, but yoga was my first kind of tool of outward expression with the world again.
So yoga was sort of the first time you were in front of people in a professional setting where you’re the one leading.
Exactly! Like people loved my yoga classes, because I’d always riff on some sort of world philosophy or some kind of wisdom at the end that sounded very poetic, or I’d even bring in some pieces of poetry of my own, or Maya Angelou, or whichever poems or stories touched me — I would share with people, and my yoga class got really popular.
So I did that career for a while, but like seven years into it, I was like, you know, I love doing yoga, but really my favourite part is getting to talk with people and share with them. So yeah, that was the start of my artist’s career going from behind the scenes, or just from the privacy of my own bedroom, to being really in front of people and claiming myself as an artist.
So take us to today, and your upcoming show with The Reclaim Collective at Yardbird Suite. How did you get involved with them and what should people expect from the show?
I’m so thankful for the The Reclaim Collective. It’s a group of amazing musicians, and I’m so honoured that they called me. We had actually performed together when I was an artist for the Edmonton Poetry Festival this past year. At the show they were like, OK, you’re gonna have Reclaim Collective play music behind your poetry. And we had an amazing time, it was such an incredible experience.
The description for this week’s show says it will be “a sonic adventure of completely improvised music.” Just how complete is that “completely”?
It’s completely improvised, which was a totally different experience for me when I first did it with them. But honestly, that’s what I love about music that I remember sometimes, which is that we play music, we don’t work music. That’s the whole premise behind it. And so what I got to do with them at the Poetry Festival — one of the biggest things that sticks out to me in my mind and in my heart — is bringing back that true sense of playfulness, that true sense of spontaneity.
For the upcoming show, I have my poetry that I know is gonna come out, but then, the cadence, the rhythm, the feel for it gets to shift with what is being felt by [The Reclaim Collective]. And then that will flow through me in a different way. Now, I feel a little bit more brave to explore maybe some vocal hymns, or take risks with whatever may come up. So I love how much it activates that sense of playfulness between the artists — first we get to witness it together as artists, but then also having the audience get to witness it with us is quite a cool and remarkable experience.