Sky's the Limit

SAMA nominated artist, Chiano Sky, and the style that made her a star

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

“Chiano Sky is my real name,” says Chiano Sky Kruger, who simply dropped her surname when the time came for her name to be emblazoned in lights. “Really! My mom had a friend named Luciano, and has always told me, 'the sky is the limit', and so she sort of put those two names together and, well, you could’ve just as easily been sitting in front of a Blue...”

When she was a little girl, Chiano Sky would put on productions that were so good (or maybe that bad?), that her mom decided to send her to a vocal coach at just ten years old. Then as she got older, Chiano Sky started participating in eisteddfods, studied drama at school, started to write and come up with her own melodies and everything kind of fell into place. Sort of.

“I was probably thirteen and singing at an eisteddfod at a church. I got up there and sang ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse and when I got off I got a certificate that’s lower than bronze – like, thanks for coming – and I ran out to the parking lot crying my eyes out. Later my vocal coach explained that it was probably an inappropriate song choice for someone my age…”

Chiano Sky was always a bit precocious though, and credits her dad’s rock and reggae roots and her mom’s jazz and blues albums for influencing her musically.

“When I first got into music I was singing things like 'Summertime', 'Take a Slow Boat to China', 'Fever'... It’s hard to say that one specific artist changed my life, as I’ve always been influenced by the old school and artists like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Ella James... The only pop princess that did it for me was Kylie Minogue.”

Having left high school to go and study music at the National School of the Arts, Chiano Sky’s days comprised of things like stage performance, music theory, keyboard and everything else she’d need to make it as a star.

“I was learning each genre, like getting up and singing a whole Black Eyed Peas song, everyone’s part, rapping, all of it, and that really helped me to decide what genre I wanted to go in and to understand music as a whole.”

Then Chiano Sky became a waitress. Acting on an ultimatum from her mother, Chiano Sky got a job working at an Asian restaurant, because she loves Asian food, and her big break came when a guy ordered a takeaway, asked her if she wanted to be on the cover of his album, and she used the opportunity to push her demo tapes onto him. Long story short, the 17-year old’s demo tapes ended up at EMI Music and two weeks later Chiano Sky was signed.

Looking at her now, wearing a red PVC number reminiscent of Britney Spears circa ‘Oops… I did it again’, it’s not hard to see how someone would want to put Chiano Sky on the cover of their album. The fact that she can sing, play and write her own music, too, makes Chiano Sky the full package.

From the north side of Johannesburg, Chiano Sky admits to being “a total Joburg girl” who overdresses for every occasion and will fetch a carton of milk in a pair of heels. 

“I guess there is a thing where Cape Town girls are a lot more comfortable in their clothing, a lot more relaxed and cool. But us Joburg girls love to get jewelled up with high heels and make-up done fabulously and the nails did and the hair done... We’re more than happy to freeze to death if it means wearing the small dress and heels.”

With just two pairs of flats, Chiano Sky is willing to endure a bit of pain for the pleasure she gets from her 60 pairs of heels, and loves the way that they change her posture, push out her boobs and bum, and make her that much taller. 

“I feel much more comfortable in heels. More in control. Heels complete me. If I do a shoot and they put me in flats I don’t know how to use my body properly.”

At 22 years old, Chiano Sky has spent the better part of five years, either on stage or in front of the camera using her body properly, and admits that from a young age she’s been in touch with her sensuality.

“I like being sexy. Being a kitty cat. I’m okay with it. I dress myself for my performances and if I can’t find something I want, then I’ll have it made. I put a lot of effort into how I dress because if I’m in the right outfit then I’ll give that much more of myself when I perform. I love fashion. I love dressing up. I love playing diva on stage.”

With a Glamour and a Style award, Chiano Sky obviously knows what she’s doing, and while she’s been known to buy up fabric from the Oriental Plaza and have Marilyn Monroe and The Spice Girls-inspired outfits made for her, the stylish singer has also played muse to the likes of Abigail Bets, Gert Johan Coetzee and Clive Rundell.

“I’m lucky enough where I have a relationship with these designers where I can call up almost anybody and ask for a dress to borrow. I have a friend who’s new in the game, Keith Fashion, who does a lot of beadwork and his dresses sell for R60 000. So it’s a trust thing, and it’s nerve-wracking where you end up not eating or drinking anything at all – but you look fabulous! I’ve been really lucky to have this opportunity to play with fashion and I think that’s because I’m so open to designers who want to dress me up and have their fun with me.”

What Chiano Sky is a lot stricter about, is the way her music’s handled, and having left EMI after they were bought by Universal, “because that hunger and passion wasn’t there anymore,” she’s now signed to an independent label in Cape Town, Future Now Records, run by Pierre Coetzee.

“There’s this mutual respect, and Pierre’s constantly pushing and hustling and there’s this genuine love for music and what he does. That was something I wanted to be a part of.”

When Chiano Sky recorded Hungry it was her first time recording in a proper studio, her first time experiencing the industry and a time in her life where she was both trying to figure out what excited her as an artist and what type of artist she wanted to be. So where her first album was more of a listening album, with a ballad, jazzy, pop influence, her new album, Inferno, features an artist who knows exactly who she is.

“I was really influenced by the original romance of where it started, the late 60s and early 70s, your Marvin Gayes and Donna Summers, and wanted to bring back that original romance. Music these days is so crude. It’s trendy to make songs with stuff like ‘drop that kitty down low’ and I wanted to take it back to ‘hold my hand’.”

Just then a man runs into the club we’re shooting at, shouting fire, and after a few quizzical looks where we ponder whether he’s scamming us, smoke starts pouring into the building. Chiano Sky looks around the space, panicked, and then runs in every direction in her stilettos frantically grabbing at dresses, accessories and as many pairs of heels that she can carry. Girl’s got her priorities straight.