One to Watch: Thabo Chinake
Partway through his second year of university, Thabo Chinake — an international student from Harare, Zimbabwe — was homesick, weary of the cold, and doubting his creativity and academic fortitude. He decided it was time to open the first in a stack of letters that had been addressed to him nearly 22 years earlier.
“My mom, who was an English teacher at the time, wrote the letters when she was pregnant with me,” says Chinake. They were tributes of love to her unborn son, and to the adult she envisioned he would become.
“Her words helped me bounce back,” he says. “They gave me space inside myself to move.”
Chinake, who received his Bachelor of Commerce from the Haskayne School of Business in 2021, is now an account manager at a staffing and recruitment firm, and he’s also a rising hip-hop artist.
He jokes that sometimes he feels like a superhero, hurriedly changing out of his office clothes to inhabit his musical alter ego, KTheChosen (a name inspired by an endearment his mother uses). Still, he finds alignment between the two endeavours. “As different as the recruiting work is from what I do as an artist, it’s similar in that it’s about talking to people, and learning and sharing their stories,” he says.
Indeed, if Chinake has a superpower, it’s supporting and encouraging people to tell their stories — on their own and via his own artistry. Last fall, he released his latest project, +Vice, in collaboration with the Blackfoot rapper, Tribe, as well as Cree and Métis musicians. Chinake leveraged the album to raise funds for Indigenous causes linked to Orange Shirt Day.
In October 2021, the same month the album came out, he was chosen as artist of the month by the Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation. As well, he was invited to join 25 other artists — ranging from dancers to graphic designers — in the inaugural cohort of the Arts Commons incubator program. The program gives artists opportunities to learn from one another’s craft while also illuminating the kinds of equipment, space and support artists need from visual and performing arts organizations.
Chinake says business school taught him the communication, marketing and organizational skills he needs to fuel and manage his career as an artist. Likewise, his involvement in extracurricular clubs increased his confidence, honed his networking abilities and, he says, expanded his capacity to empathize with diverse perspectives. Chinake says his close relationship with his mom and other female relatives motivated him to join the campus Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club to, he says, “understand what sex positivity looks like, and what consent looks like. People generally only think about consent in terms of sexuality, but it falls into so many things we do, including posting on social media.”
Ultimately, Chinake sees himself staying in Calgary (he’s decided that nasty winter temperatures are outweighed by frequent-enough blue skies) where he believes there’s room for art to become a more robust economic driver. He’ll continue to make his own music, and work with other emerging artists to market and develop their careers.
“I feel like a bridge or connector of people — I think that’s my main purpose,” he says.
Well, that and fulfilling the ongoing demand of his parent to — as she signed off in one of her prenatal letters — “Love your mother (that’s an order).”