Meet Christina Dzenyuy
As told to Alecia James.
She’s a force to be reckoned with. Her unmatched talent and musical prowess didn’t come overnight. This musical phenom with rich West Indian and Cameroonian blood started performing at the tender age of three. According to Christina Dzenyuy (pronounced Zen-U-We), CEO of CDzen Entertainment, "My sole purpose on this earth is to give of myself, to give back especially through music." Her contribution to the world of performing arts is a living testimony to this declaration. Not only is Christina a powerful vocalist, but this Howard University grad is a noted songwriter, musician, dancer, actress, producer, mentor and tutor. Her dossier boasts a plethora of musical and theatrical performances, various acting roles as well as three record albums which she released through her music publishing company, CDzen Entertainment. Perhaps one of Ms. Dzenyuy’s most remarkable works is her musical entitled "Chase Your Dreams Wearing Sneakers." It is an anti-bullying narrative depicted as "1 Woman, 1 Show, 15 minutes, 6 characters, 5 themes."
It’s time to bring you a story of empowerment, a story of success, and a story of a beautiful, humble, poised and multi-faceted creative mind.
Creative Ajay presents Christina Dzenyuy.
In your own words, "Music, dance, and drama have always been my passion, and youth empowerment through the arts remains one of my strongest core drives." What inspired your commitment to youth empowerment, and do you think that there are adequate opportunities to nurture, support, and develop our youth today?
I absolutely love performing, especially singing. I really enjoyed touring at the beginning of my musical theatre career; however, I think making an impact by teaching poignant themes through the arts is even more fulfilling to me than just singing for the sake of singing. I like sharing lasting, life-long lessons while performing and the people who usually need the most help are our young people. Unfortunately, I do not feel that there are enough opportunities in the world that nurture, support and develop young people. I work with a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in the Lower East Side and Bushwick, Brooklyn teaching financial literacy to middle school students and see first-hand the lack of quality people, places and things in their lives. Youth need guidance, attention and actually thirst for a push in the right direction. There is great need; however, there are so many competing forces, that opportunities that do exist are, at times, shadowed by less ideal influences.
To date, you have released three record albums under CDzen entertainment, titled "CDzen’s Season," "The CDzen of Empowerment Motivational CD" and "Yes We Can: The Live Album." How much work goes into creating an album? Where do you derive the tenacity and the driving force to complete these projects?
Making an album requires a lot of work, but is a lot of fun if you love what you’re doing. The creative process to make a song is ultimately a joy for me. It’s very therapeutic and is something that I can really get lost in. Time and space disappear and I am in a zone. Tracking the vocals is another part, more technical and repetitive, especially if you record in-studio. I like doing live albums more because you get the feel of the live experience and the real-time energy from a crowd. Mixing is an entirely different beast to undertake as you shape the instruments and vocals like drawing on a canvas. You have to place your main vocals in the center of the soundscape and layer drums, guitar, bass, keys, and horns in the right place. It’s a meticulous process as well with all of the tweaking of gains, cutting out unneeded frequencies in bandwidth, adding shimmers of reverb and delay for ambience. Again, lots of work goes into the entire process and we haven’t even covered mastering.
Just like you love creating beautiful looks for make-up design, I really love making music. I’ll wake up, eat breakfast, do a 45 vocal warm-up routine, an additional hour of piano and vocal practice, go to work, come home and then stay up half the night working on music because it’s fun. You know what your passion is when you can literally get lost in something you love. Time escapes you and you just exist in this vacuum of creativity. I guess the driving force is the joy that creating music and singing brings to my life. Some things I do can really just drain me, but creating music, without a doubt, re-energizes my soul.
You’re also an established actress who made your film debut as "Officer Jannette Simmons" in the independent short film "Second District." What are some of your other acting roles? Is there a poignant role that still resonates with you?
I've played "Mrs. Beauregarde" in Hartford Children’s Theatre’s "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Tina Turner" in Sharon TriArts Playhouse's "The Wedding Singer," "Ofunile" in "Oshun - A Yoruba Dance Drama" at the National Black Theatre, Inc. and "Female 3" in Theatreworks USA’s musical production "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and Other Story Books." Most of the roles I've played have been light-hearted and fun, which pretty much resonate with me because I’m naturally like that. The only role that really stretched me beyond the norm was when I played the villainous character "Ofunile."
You are currently the star of a one woman play entitled "Chase Your Dream Wearing Sneakers," a youth motivational musical and anti-bullying workshop, that you wrote, produced and directed. Do you consider this to be one of your most ambitious projects? What motivated you to creatively bring the subject of bullying to the limelight?
I definitely think that it’s a huge endeavor, but I know that I have a solid product. My mind operates in two distinct ways, creatively and strategically. From a creative standpoint, it was a fun project to design. There was a natural free-flow of energy, which made it come together, almost effortlessly. From the business perspective, it is hard work attempting to make this project a full-time endeavor; however, I am hopeful because the need that my product addresses is a national problem.
Fear has been my greatest motivation behind bringing bullying to the limelight. As a person with extremely high standards, when I was younger, I didn't need a bully to push me around because I basically beat myself up a lot. As a child, I would be afraid to do things on my own, but as an only child and just to spite myself or prove to myself that I could achieve different things, I would literally push beyond my fears. I remember the first time I fought back my fear. I was at camp when I was six or seven years old and my favorite counselor asked me if I wanted to jump off the diving board with her. I was so afraid and just shook my head, said "no" and ran into the girls' locker room. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, what are you afraid of? Just to show myself that I was stronger than I thought, I ran back out to the diving board and told the counselor that I was ready and we walked together, hand-in-hand, to the edge of the board and jumped off. I remember going back in the locker room and smiling at myself in the mirror. That was my first battle with my inner bully, fear, and I won. Art imitates life and in this play, I was able to forge these concepts by externalizing this fear, which brings light to bullying on the stage from the dark, internal recesses of the mind to a physical characterization of fear as a bully.
Do you think that talent can be learned, or is it God-given? What advice do you have for those who may have dreams of making a mark in the entertainment industry?
I think talent is God-given. Some people are more naturally talented, while others must work really hard at expressing their gifts. I believe God gives everyone a certain amount of talent and that it is up to each of us to build upon that which God has already given. I encourage people with dreams of entering into any industry to do their research, practice their talent and have a back-up plan ready to go to whip into place when there are bumps in the road. As you know, I have a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business from Howard University and an Associate of Science in Recording Arts from Full Sail University. I got a full scholarship to Howard University and believe that knowledge is power, so I would advise dreamers to also be realistic in their approach to life. There will be bumps in the road and having a solid plan in place is crucial to your survival. I am all about being a dreamer, but you must dream wisely, setting yourself up on the back-end, especially when you are growing in your dream.
Growing up in New England, Connecticut to be exact, did you know that one day you would end up in the entertainment capital of the world, gracing the stages, slowly etching your mark and declaring your presence with each lyric, each act, each dance and each song?
I never thought I’d be in New York City and didn’t think that I’d be performing my own musical, but I always knew I wanted to would be a professional singer. I’ve been performing since I was three years old; my dance training began at The Jane Hart School of Dance and The Artists Collective. Vocal and piano lessons followed at The Hartford Camarata Conservatory, which allowed me to sing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as a youth vocalist at the National Festival of the Arts.
Everyone has a story but truly defying the odds and overcoming obstacles are some things that are treasured and valued by many. Have you ever been told that you wouldn't be successful in the performing arts/entertainment? What message do you have now for the naysayers?
Definitely, I think the "haters" have been motivators in my life. I remember telling one of my co-workers that I was leaving Corporate America to pursue my musical theatre aspirations and she said, "No offense, but there are lots of people who can sing..." yada, yada, blah, blah...I don’t remember what she said after that because at that point, our conversation was over. I ignored her follow up comments because #1) she had never heard me sing and #2) I wasn't asking her permission to accept or pursue my dreams. Whatever she had to say was irrelevant to my situation and my vision, because I knew where I was going and nobody’s preconceived imaginings of my potential was going to box me into limitation. I have come to the conclusion that people will say any and everything, especially when they have not pursued their dreams. Matthew 19:26 says, "...with God, all things are possible" and about three weeks after moving to Manhattan, I booked a six-month musical tour with Theatreworks USA. So, for the naysayers, I am looking UP for my blessings, not at you and I am definitely not listening to what you have to say!
Admittedly, when I first saw your long flowing locks, it immediately incensed a burning desire for me to re-lock my hair. What are your secrets for growing and nurturing those long healthy locks?
Oh wow! I'm glad that I can be a healthy, natural hair inspiration because I do wash and style my own hair. I've been loc'ing for 13 years and use Dr. Bronner's Organic Pure Castile Liquid Shampoo to wash and olive oil to moisturize my hair. Loc maintenance is definitely a process, but is doable. I will say that even before I went natural, I was always extremely meticulous about grooming.
Dreadlocks have been around for a long time, and have been popularized by notable individuals like Bob Marley, through Reggae music and the Rastafarian movement. As someone actively involved in the realm of performing arts on the American scene, is it openly accepted by everyone? Or does your choice to embrace your cultural identity through your hairstyle limit your opportunities in any way?
When I was cast in a couple of musical theatre productions, the first question I received after getting hired was, "Can you take those out?" and when I told them "no," the production teams just told me that my hair was not an issue and that they would be able to work with it. I was always confused as to why they asked me the question if it really didn't matter anyway. So, I never feel that my locs have limited me if I don’t get a role. I always take into consideration that my overall look might not be what the casting directors were looking for, but not solely that it’s my hair. I was in Corporate America with locs and transitioned to the musical theatre with locs and now perform my musical with locs. Also, I believe that what God has for me, is for me regardless of my hair being loc’ed or straight, that’s why we have wig stylists.
Your unmatched talent, incredible work ethic and continued commitment to youth empowerment certainly have not gone unnoticed. Tell us about the award and recognition you received from the State of Connecticut. How humbling was this experience?
I was honored that May 5, 2012 was named, "Chase Your Dreams Wearing Sneakers: The Musical Day" in the City of Hartford, Connecticut by the Court of Common Council and Mayor Pedro E. Segarra. Upon receiving the proclamation, I felt validated to know that my hard work was paying off and that my vision was embraced by my hometown. When I received an official statement from Dannel P. Malloy, Governor of the State of Connecticut, recognizing my anti-bullying work through arts education, I was equally moved with gratitude. The awards and recognition motivate me to keep going, especially during dry spells, when booking the show and workshop is challenging. This is just the beginning of my journey with the show, which is a pretty humbling experience by itself.
What’s next for CDzen? Do you share our hopes of seeing you shining your light and entertaining on a Broadway stage one day?
One of my dreams is to play Aida on Broadway. I had the chance to see Heather Headley play Aida, which inspired me to want to begin a career in musical theatre. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I’m sure I’ll be shining my light somewhere.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
I'm hosting an anti-bullying youth rally, musical and workshop with NYC Mission Society's Teen ACTION program on Friday, October 25, 2013 from 4:00PM to 6:30PM at Minisink Townhouse, 646 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037. All youth in grades 4 through 12 are welcome to attend. Also, I'll be presenting "Chase Your Dreams Wearing Sneakers: The Musical" and anti-bullying workshop for the 5th graders at Harlem Link Charter School on October 29th.
Following my dreams has not been easy, but I encourage your readers to invest in themselves and their talents. I believe in working hard and going after what you want, but I also believe in making wise decisions for yourself and those around you. The journey of life is more fulfilling when you walk in the purpose that God has created for you. I believe in the power of prayer and also in the power of preparation, so that when the time is right, you are ready to soar!
How can one book you for their next event or learn more about your work? What are your online channels?
Oh, did I mention that I applied her dramatic eye makeup for a photo shoot without any knowledge of her fascinating story? Perhaps it's a good idea or my nerves would have gotten the best of me. Can someone say "star struck?" But I digress. What deeply resonates with me is her spirit, unwavering faith, incredible work ethic and continued dedication to youth empowerment.
How many of you have inner bullies that define you and continuously insist on dictating your course of action? Are we still allowing fear and negative energy to be the determinants of our destinies? Christina courageously demonstrated in her story how she valiantly faced her fear, head on. She also reminds us that you don't need to ask anyone for "permission to accept and pursue your dreams." If there are "diving boards" in your lives, then it's time to get up, stand up and take that leap of faith. When we conquer our fears, we can truly declare victory.
She is: BOLD, ALLURING AND DIFFERENT.
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