Charisa Rouse (aka The Violin Diva) is known for her great talent on the violin and her jazz-infused sounds. Charisa is a well-sought after artist on the live performance stage and in the studio. Recently, Charisa was featured with world-renowned artist Patti Labelle at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Charisa has worked with world-renowned artists and performed on the biggest stages. With her husband (James Rouse) by her side, Charisa has been able to achieve great success and the best is yet to come.
Behind the curtains and bright lights, Charisa offers her thoughts in this exclusive REFlections interview:
REF: What does an ordinary day look like in the life of Charisa Rouse?
Charisa: My day usually starts around 7:30 AM – 8 AM. God has been waking me up earlier than usual. I take some time to pray and do my morning routine. Then, about 10 AM, you will find me sitting at my desk handling business. In the music industry, we are self-contained entrepreneurs. I am running the business, talking with clients, and answering e-mails (the administrative work). It requires me to sit still. Ryan, I’ve learned that there is just some work I must do while sitting still.
Around 2 PM-3 PM, I am heading into the city (New York City) to teach one of the afternoon violin programs. Most nights, I am in recording sessions, out performing a gig or at a networking event.
REF: Besides the violin, what is your greatest passion?
Charisa: God. That’s easy.
Charisa: He’s an old friend that I’ve gotten to know. I trust Him immensely. He’s constantly revealing Himself to me. I’ve had a rough couple of months for many reasons. Unequivocally, through this season, God is the surest thing in my life. I feel because of the immense challenges of the music industry — I don’t know how you can be an atheist and be a musician. It’s very difficult — people will stiff you for money (still waiting on checks). Do I get ugly and take this to small claims court? Questions arise that affect your business. Collections are hard; what time your money comes in — its very nebulous. It’s subjective. You might walk into a situation where you are credited for being a good musician but you don’t fit the mold. You are at the mercy and the behest of other’s people’s opinions and preferences that aren’t based on facts. You have to be sure of who you are, what you stand for, and what you are willing to do and not. God is such an incredible center and He is my anchor. Otherwise, people will go crazy in this industry. You must be sure footed and know who you are.
REF: Charisa, you mention God centering you. Who are you at your core?
Charisa: I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker. I love books. I’m about how things connect. I was that annoying kid asking why does the world work a certain way. My mother would say “Because I said so!” (laughter). She did get tired of me at times. I was always that kid. The older I get, I am still that kid. I turned 30 last year. I love being in my 30s because I feel like I met myself at 30. I know this chick — I know why she does what she does. There is a spirit of acceptance of who I am now.
I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker.
REF: Your future — what’s the most frustrating thing about attaining your personal goals for your future?
Charisa: Two things: (1) Not knowing. I believe God keeps some things secret from me because I can be hard-headed and stubborn. Sometimes I think I know everything. And if He gave me more information, I probably jack it up. I’m a visionary but sometimes not an executor (again, knowing you and realizations about who you are). Some have a 5 year plan. I know the long distance plan, but working on execution. The second thing: (2) Money. As an independent artist, some things take a lot of money. And you can’t crowd-fund every two months!
REF: Do you find yourself frustrated with God or just not knowing the next step?
Charisa: The process. It’s a stretching season and its never comfortable — at least not for me.
REF: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Charisa: Taking over the world (Pinky and the Brain reference)! (Laughter)
REF: And what does that look like for you?
Charisa: I say this to my manager all the time. For me, I would like to tour and play with my band all over the world. I would love my curriculum for violin other schools and programs. I have a real passion for artist development and would like to move into this more. Buy a house, a couple of kids. But, my husband says we may be done after one! 🙂
REF: Have you considered being signed to a label or do you think you thrive in your space as an independent artist?
Charisa: I’m in search for a distribution deal. That is being worked on. In terms of a production deal – if it is the right deal, then sure. I have been approached before by record labels. If it is a mutually beneficial relationship, then sure. But most of the time, it is not mutually beneficial. With the conglomeration of labels, they want 360 deals — if I sing at a church, they want a percentage of that. They have complete control and it is not mutually beneficial. These are not the days of the height of Motown where they believed in artist development. Now, they want you to have the package already set (bundled in, great visuals, great press kits, great videos and 200K followers) and then hand over the keys to the kingdom. A distribution deal is more of a partnership and I am on the hunt. I am control freak when it deals with my brand. I just don’t let just anyone in the circle. When you work so hard and you created it, you have to be a good steward of it. As a woman in this industry, sometimes I’m looked at “sideways” because of my protective nature of the brand. That’s ok with me!
REF: For you, is there a tension between sacred and secular music?
Charisa: For me, no. Both peacefully co-exist within me. I know who I am in God and I know who I am in the world. Truthfully, they are the same person. Some people who are close to me have seen me on a jazz hit in a club in New York and then see me in church on Sunday. I’m the same person wearing the same shoes!!
REF: Do you think others may have a problem with that? If so, how do you handle it?
Charisa: Sometimes. Absolutely. It’s funny. Growing up, I only listened to classical and gospel. It was not a hard rule in my house but it was my parent’s leaning. We were obedient kids (siblings), so we followed the spirit of the house. I didn’t hear a jazz record until I went away to college. I was away at college for a classical music degree. I didn’t feel any lack or void in my life about it because that was my world. To that end, when I was opening up for a big artist, it was the first show my parents saw in R&B/Jazz. My mom was so cute…she was like “Well, baby, I don’t know what you’re singing, but everybody is bopping and clapping! You must be doing something up there, Charisa!” I think they had no idea what I was doing! My mom would be on the phone like, “Guard your spirit girl because you know all kinds of demons run rampant!” That’s momma! I had to educate my own parents to a degree. It was beginning of them realizing that what I do in secular music is not compromising who I am.
I’m a married woman. There are certain things I will not sing about. I do try to codify it for those who ask. Some people are assigned to be attendants only to the house of God like nuns in a covenant. And nothing is wrong with that. That is the seal God has placed on their heart and life to serve the house of God. We absolutely need that. But, there are some of us, like my husband (James Rouse) and I who are assigned to be missionaries on the field in the music industry. And if you are a lawyer and you have clients with all kinds of backgrounds, your mission field is the legal profession. Doctors in the medical field. The same applies to musicians and artists.
God has equipped me to handle the assignment. I have been in the club where a joint is being passed around, a stinkin’ blunt and they pass it right over me. “Hey Charisa, you want a puff?” My response: “No thanks.” Their retort: “Are you sure?” My response: “Yes, I’m good thanks boo boo!” I’ve also been in environments when audience members will compliment my artistry and want to buy me a drink. They will say, “Girl, that was amazing…can I buy you a drink?” My response: “Pineapple Juice!” I don’t drink. By God’s grace, in these situations, I’ve been equipped to handle it. As a mature believer in God, the Holy Spirit helps me to discern what to do and what not to do.
We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!
As a musician, every gig is not meant for you. Other times, gigs turned into ministry opportunities. God has led me to give prophetic words to elite producers who were on the verge of suicide. God has equipped me to be the light in darkness and He continues to lavish His grace to accomplish His mission. We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!
REF: As a servant of God, do you believe the Church (universal) lacks power?
Charisa: Unfortunately, in many cases – yes. A cloud of glory is moving and we are not. We are creatures of habits — we like what we know and too often refuse to open up. God has been dealing with me this year about release. In order for God to release blessings into my life, I must be open. I must release that which I’ve held on to. The Church must release their clinched fists to receive the newness that God desires to bring.
REF: What advice would you give budding artists?
Charisa: Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you. Honestly, there are too many lazy musicians. They don’t want to read, learn music theory, learn singing properly or music lessons. Too often, criticism is shunned and growing as a servant is dismissed. If I was going to be a writer, I must know how to read, right? As a musician and artist, how arrogant can we be to not hone our craft? My mother was approached often with the comment, “Charisa is so gifted!” My mother would respond, “Oh thank you, that’s cute. Charisa – girl, go clean that bathroom before you watch TV.” She was not impressed with the flattery. She wanted my character and integrity to be strengthened.
Think big picture. My husband and I always have a term we share – RESIDUAL INCOME! Think big! House paid off and I am making money sitting on my rooftop reading a book. A good friend of mine said, “Charisa, you’re thinking too small.” Stop thinking too small.
Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you.
REF: Do you think it takes all that you have to achieve that BIG PICTURE?
Charisa: Absolutely! Anything worth having is worth giving your all. It’s been a process. Even my husband and I dealt with 7 months of hell. Gigs fell through, my car was hit a police chase, my husband’s identity was stolen, on and on! We even lost $3,000 in residual income. God saw us through that season. He will see us through this season and He will see us through the next. God is with us. He never fails!