Raised in Corsicana, Texas on a steady diet of gospel, it didn’t take long for Jalesa Jessie, aka Chief Cleopatra, to veer off the beaten path thanks to a serendipitous viewing of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” video at the impressionable age of eight. From that point on there was no looking back for the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter as she built a foundation of soul, funk, pop and hip-hop influences ranging from fellow gospel devotee Aretha Franklin to galactic partygoers Parliament-Funkadelic to the grimy rap of Wu-Tang Clan.
Initially drawn to piano, which activated her ability to play by ear, Jessie found a more natural home with the drumline of marching band. That passion for all things percussive led to Jessie’s mom gifting her a drumset when she was 13, encouraging to brush up on legends like Sheila E. and John Bonham. Before long Jessie was playing in everything from the church band to her school friends’ various musical endeavors.
Lured out to Austin in 2012 by the promise of better musical opportunities, Jessie connected with Leonard Martinez through mutual friends and the two soon began collaborating. They dabbled in a number of projects and bands together over the next few years, and in February 2019, they released their first EP together, Lesa x Lenny Vol.1, under Jessie’s new moniker, Chief Cleopatra.
The band was quickly noticed by and featured in the Austin Chronicle, as well as by KUTX, performing on the station’s popular hip-hop and R&B show The Breaks in 2019, resulting in the band being invited to play the third annual Summer Jam in 2020. Chief Cleopatra released her critically acclaimed eponymous EP that year as well, alongside music videos for “Gangstas in Love” and “Belushi.”
In Spring of 2021, Chief Cleopatra released her first single and video “Friends” from her forthcoming EP, Luna, garnering praise for the jaunty synth-led indie pop sound, which prompted comparison to Santigold. That year, Cleopatra was selected as an official showcasing artist at South by Southwest, where she was noticed by record label Park The Van, and signed a deal with them that summer.
Cleopatra’s new sonic direction echoes fellow pop experimenters Blood Orange and Thundercat, with the playful instrumentation framing the sultry, soulful, and subtly-powerful style she showcased on her 2020 Chief Cleopatra EP. Luna will find Cleo delving deeper into those psychedelic soul roots and more experimental instrumentation, with featured production by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Walker Lukens and performances by Curtis Roush and Jack O’Brien (The Bright Light Social Hour).