Tessanne Chin talks 9 Mile Music Festival

The 9 Mile Music Festival – which for the past two decades has celebrated the life, philosophy and spirit of reggae icon Bob Marley – brings many of the usual suspects this year, including three-time headliner Lauryn Hill, Sean Paul, Shaggy and three of Marley’s sons: Stephen, Julian and Damian.

But also on the bill is a name that is probably unfamiliar to a good portion of the crowd, despite her three years of touring and singing backup for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, plus collaborations with Shaggy and Third World.

Festival first-timer Tessanne Chin has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight, thanks to her stirring victory this year on the fifth season of the reality TV singing competition “The Voice.”

Chin’s sultry, soulful vocals and fresh fusion of rock with dancehall and reggae beats represents a new generation of Jamaican talent. And she’s thrilled to be a part of it, especially at a festival honoring Bob Marley.

“For me, being Jamaican, he’s kind of like a distant family relative,” Chin says, “because you grew up with Bob at your birthday parties, you grew up with him at your celebrations, at your weddings – his music is always in some form at your most celebrated moments. And I feel like it’s an incredible honor to be able to perform in memory of him, because he paved the way for me and so many others to come from a small island and do the music that we love and carve out a niche for ourselves. I feel nothing but total and utter respect and just gratitude toward him.”

In the 35-40 minutes Chin will have onstage, she’ll play a mix of songs she did before “The Voice,” songs she performed on “The Voice” (such as “Next to Me” by Emeli Sande, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston, or “Try” by Pink) and new material from her upcoming self-titled major-label debut. “It’s gonna be a mash-up of this journey that I’ve taken last year.”

Immediately after the 9 Mile Festival, Chin will head to New York to finish production on her album, which is scheduled to be released later this year. She said the experience has been eye-opening.

“It really is very much finding out who I am right now in this stage of my life,” she says. “It’s such a liberating and wonderful experience.”

If Chin’s musical inspirations are any indication, the effort should prove to be at least compelling, if not flat-out successful. Other than the obvious reggae artists, her influences are remarkably diverse.

“My all-time favorite singers are Celine Dion, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, people like that,” she says. “And when I was 11, I went to school in England, and then I got exposed to a whole different kind of music, which is a love of my life – rock music. I got exposed to the Cranberries, Oasis, Skunk Anansie, System of a Down and Papa Roach. I’m a rocker at heart.”

As far as her musical style goes, however, Chin will most likely model herself after a more current crop of respected female vocalists.

“The type of artists I look up to now are artists that may fall under the “pop” mode, but they’re more than that – they’re classic, they’re timeless,” she says. “People like Amy Winehouse, Emeli Sande, Pink, Adele – those are the kind of girls I look up to and appreciate, because they don’t need a trend. It’s timeless, honest music, and that’s the kind of music I want to make.”